Have ‘Realistic Expectations’ – Thoughts on Virtual Event Platforms

“The single most important thing [for a virtual event] is realistic expectations about what the sponsor and attendee can expect,” said Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communications U.S., in a webinar held early in the pandemic. “You are not reimagining the show. How many leads can I expect? How will the learning be? Are you implementing video? Are there trainers or is there an audio webinar?”
“We’ve been pulling together, in the past five days, a virtual event for the same time that the live event was scheduled,” Alicia Evanko, executive vice president, Travel Group Global Events, Northstar Travel Group, added. “We’re just doing an appointment event so we’re using Zoom. We’re exploring other options for the content piece.
“The #1 priority is bringing those buyers and sellers together because we’re already getting requests, ‘Hey, can you get me the list? I’ll set those appointments up myself.’ Zoom will handle the appointments. We will have content available.”
The platforms that she named included Brandlive, eZ-XPO, Bravura Technologies and 6connect communications.
Of course, almost every company doing events has had to switch to some form of virtual platform. Through our former excellent events director Emily Ruf, I found a blog from her new company, The Linux Foundation, recommending these virtual event vendors. A lot of research went into their selections:
inXpo Intrado
Best for large events with high budgets requiring a virtual conference experience with few compromises. InXpo Intrado has robust hosting capabilities and uses hyper-scale cloud providers for its infrastructure to provide highly reliable and resilient performance.
Best for medium to large events with smaller budgets that want to offer a 3D environment/booth experience. It has many of the same robust features for sponsors, virtual trade shows, concurrent sessions, and attendee networking features that InXpo Intrado does, but at a lower cost of entry.
Best for any size event where attendee networking tools are a priority and sponsor ‘booths’ aren’t required. It does not have a 3D virtual exhibit hall/booth capability. That said, the sponsor benefits built into this platform are robust, and they have excellent attendee networking capabilities. As with vFAIRS, you can use Meeting Play’s own integrated video conferencing solution for content delivery, or use your own.
QiQo Chat
QiQo is best for smaller technical gatherings that don’t need all the bells and whistles of an industry event focus. This is a great option for a focus on small group collaboration, such as developer meetings and hackathons.QiQo acts as a Zoom wrapper for attendees collaboration and session broadcasting and is ideally suited for smaller events that have a more narrow focus
For smaller open source options, they recommend: Jitsi Meet; Open Broadcaster Software; EtherPad; and Big Blue Button. There’s more information in their post.
Remo is recommended for its networking capabilities. It features a “discussion table format that mimics mingling around a cocktail table at a reception. Attendees can click on a table in a virtual banquet room to join, which takes them into a live video chat with the other five or so people at that ‘table.'”
And the very popular Hopin. “Similar to speed networking, the tool randomly connects two participants into a live, one-on-one video chat where they have a set amount of time to talk and possibly add each other as ‘contacts’ before time is up and they are both connected with other participants.”
At Connectiv and SIPA we are partnering with BeaconLive on CES Deconstructed, webinars and for the upcoming SIPA 2020 Virtual Conference and have been very satisfied. One piece of advice that I’ve heard often is to start with the platforms you already use. Have discussions with your current vendor(s) about what you need and what they can do. A vendor might not even have be fully aware of what they are capable of until they’re told what you might envision.

Virtual Event Platforms Are Out There, Listening and Ready to Fill in

I peeked into Education Week’s Online Summit last week and was very impressed. Halfway through they already had almost 1,000 live attendees and 550 comments! It took place on a platform called Brazen, that’s usually associated more with virtual career fairs. But it works very well for their summits which are centered around text-based chats with editorial staff—and experts in the K-12 world—and entering various “reporter” or “sponsor” rooms.
“Brazen has been with us since the beginning of our online summits,” Matthew Cibellis, director of programming for live and virtual events for Education Week, wrote to me today. “That’s because we were already using them for our online job fairs. The price tag back then was too high, and we didn’t have sufficient job fair sponsorship to merit keeping them. But my production director asked me to meet with them to discuss how versatile it could be for more content-driven meet-ups. Brazen only convinced me when I started vamping about what I’d like to create. They were nodding their heads and offering to come back to the table with solutions.
“With that negotiation settled, we learned what didn’t work in real time and what features we had to disable for the platform to work better. As the interactive experience is nearly completely text-based—we do show videos and livestreams which we embed in the event navigation—it didn’t seem that it would provide educators the cross-chatter interactivity that Brazen ensured me of. However, they were right. Professionals began cross-communicating within discussions, hearing something meaningful from another attendee and then replying to the attendee in real time.”
With Online Summit producer, Emma Prilliaman, Cibellis hopes to bring in new features soon—ones that he’s told Brazen they are seeking—and Brazen has already updated the platform in part with feedback provided last year.
Of course, it’s no mystery why virtual event platforms are top of mind now. In the webinar we held last Thursday—you can listen to it or download the transcript here—the three panelists mentioned some of the most popular platforms.
“We’ve used vFairs,” said Brian Cuthbert of Diversified Communications. “The single-most important thing [for a virtual event] is realistic expectations about what the sponsor and attendee can expect. You are not reimagining the show. How many leads can I expect? How will the learning be? Are you implementing video? Are there trainers or is there an audio webinar?”
Rich Luna of Meeting Professionals International named Facebook Live, YouTube Live. Discord StreamKit, Vimeo and IBM Live Streaming. “There are a number of really good platforms out there.” Alicia Evanko-Lewis of Northstar Travel Group has been pulling together an appointment event for sellers and buyers that they will use Zoom for. Other platforms that she named include Brandlive, eZ-XPO, Bravura Technologies and 6connect.
In an article on virtual platforms last week, Jennifer Cannon of Marketing Land wrote about the rush to these platforms taking place now. Mark Bornstein, VP of marketing at digital experience platform ON24, verified the uptick in business.
“In some cases, we see companies moving seminars and turning them into interactive multimedia webinars, which is great,” said Bornstein. “In some cases, there are larger trade shows and conferences, which we’re moving to more Netflix-style content or engagement hubs.” Bornstein highlighted two events that were repurposed from live events to digital-only, and both proved very successful.
Cannon then listed these tips for virtual-event seekers:
Start with the platforms you already have. Cibellis didn’t even know what Brazen was capable of doing until he met with them. In fact, they might not even have known what they were capable of until he told them what he needed—great lesson.
Leverage the communication tools you have. Skype, Slack, even Google Hangouts Meet gives you the option to live-stream and record meetings.
Think video. “What matters most is translating your scheduled live event content into a digital presentation,” Cannon writes. “And while live event platforms offer so much in terms of registration, Q&A, networking, virtual booths and more, if the main goal is to engage your audience and customers with your scheduled content, tools are within reach… Wistia’s Soapbox tool is another interesting option for recording presentation-style videos. Whatever you use to capture video, you can use a number of platforms to build collections akin to an event agenda (Ahem, YouTube).”
Experience matters (to a point). Yes, that was Stephen Colbert uploading videos from his bathtub last week. NPR’s “Live From Here” variety show is now a collection of home-based performances on Instagram tied together by a #livefromhome hashtag. “Content and authority is king, but experience is certainly changed right now. Don’t overthink it.”
Remember the landscape. There is no shortage of tools out there and, in the current atmosphere, they are ramping up each day.