Procuring Hybrid and Virtual Event Technology
By Ash Rowe, Senior Event Logistics Manager at the IET
Some of you may have now experienced your first post-lockdown event in some capacity. Getting down in the detail, I’ll be sharing top tips on what to look out for in the tech world when planning your virtual or hybrid events.
Planning your virtual or hybrid event
Firstly, it is important to note that the initial phases of development in many cases require as much resource (if not more) to deliver and so it is critical that these events are given the same due care and attention as any physical event.
Your content and your technology should marry up as best as they possibly can, so both should be produced alongside one another. It is incredibly challenging to shoehorn content into an already selected technology platform as much as it is challenging to apply technology to already produced content. These areas are one and the same and should be treated as such.
My initial piece of advice would be to define a selection of non-financially focussed KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) relating to every single event that you work on. Personally, I would suggest a minimum of five but no more than 10. This will provide you with a clear benchmark for procuring your technology and for creating your content.
For example, what should the user-experience be? What level of interactivity are you looking for? How would you ideally like to produce your content? Will it be live or recorded? Will there be on-demand content? It’s important that you strip your events down to base level and really explore what it means to be a delegate, a contributor, an exhibitor or a sponsor so that you have a clear path to success.
Let’s go shopping!
So, you now have your list of objectives for your virtual or hybrid event. You know exactly what you want to achieve, and you have a clear picture of the product that you’re likely going to need to deliver your perfect event. It’s now time to create your shopping list and to start looking for your supplier.
A shopping list for me is the most important part of procuring event technology. Using your new KPIs, you can now brainstorm a list of functionality desires to take to your potential suppliers. This allows you to guide conversations with suppliers but also ensures that you have a measure of how well each supplier meets your needs.
When looking for event technology, try creating a spreadsheet containing all the suppliers that you’re in discussions with and provide a score of 0-5 against each item on the shopping list. This gives a clear indication of not just whether a supplier meets your needs or not, but how well. It also enables you to create a scoring system which (in many cases but not all) will make it easier to meet the extensive requirements of a tender process.
At this stage, when you’re approaching suppliers, it is paramount that you enter this with flexibility in mind. You may come across suppliers that provide functionality that you haven’t thought of before and equally you may find that some things on your shopping list aren’t as important as you once thought. Think of this stage more as buying a house than event technology. You have a great idea of what you want but there may be compromises along the way and there also may be certain things that change your mind completely. Generally speaking, if it feels right, it usually is. You know your events, you know your customers, and although sometimes it’s hard, you need to trust yourself too. With that being said, however, I would try and always double-check reviews on G2 or Capterra so that you can see what other people’s experiences have been!
Prepare to integrate
When looking at virtual and hybrid events, the chances are there will not be a single supplier that is able to accommodate everything that is on your shopping list. It may, therefore, become necessary to integrate some software, which might sound scary to some event managers.
Integration, put simply, is linking two independent pieces of software so that they run effectively together. For example, the most common integration that you are likely to see is a registration system linked to your CRM. This allows any data collected to be transferred to your CRM for safe storage (a must-have in the days of GDPR!).
In many cases, virtual technologies will offer a free integration service but this can sometimes be an additional cost and so it is critical that you consider this as part of your planning. There are also applications such as Zapier that can link software but this charges, depending on how frequently your integration will be triggered. It can, however, be a fantastic resource for companies, teams or individuals to seamlessly integrate without support from suppliers.
Once all the above has been completed, it is time to budget for your event. Why? Because only at this stage will you have definitive costs relating to your event. You’ll know how your content needs to be produced, you’ll know the cost of your platform (which can vary wildly) and you’ll also know how much any integrations may cost throughout the lifespan of your event. But what if it costs too much? Haven’t I just wasted time? In my opinion, no. No time has been wasted.
All your research has been related to your initial KPIs. If your event is either not financially viable or doesn’t make enough money when looking at a standard profit and loss, then it is important to revisit those KPIs and re-evaluate how your event could look. It is critical that you do not sacrifice quality and user experience with virtual and hybrid events, and therefore this process is a must. It gives you an indication of how deliverable your event is and allows you to make decisions on whether to take a financial risk or adjust the scale of your project. It provides a safety net and over time will allow you to fine-tune your knowledge of event technologies in general.
Other things to consider
Some other things to consider when planning virtual events exist in the physical world. It is vital when procuring your technology that you consider a range of other elements.
Will you need a studio for your event filming? If so, will you need to dress a set, or does this come within your package? How will this be manageable in a socially distanced time?
How will you mitigate the risk of network outages? Can you have staff members in different locations of the country which would allow you to prevent an outage from affecting your event?
How will you manage webinar fatigue? It is important that no session is too long and that you have enough to keep someone in their seat and engaged but also that your breaks are frequent and long enough.
There are many distractions when people are viewing an event in a virtual world. How will you keep them engaged? What interaction will ensure that people aren’t popping to the kitchen to make some food or leaving the stream for extended periods of time?
In summary, it is critical that due care and attention is paid to virtual and hybrid events when it comes to technology. There are many risks but also huge potential opportunities to ensure that any event that is virtually focussed can provide all the elements that a physical event would. Most of all, however, it is critical that we trust our experience and our event processes. These have not become irrelevant and if anything, have become more important. It is an exciting time to be an event manager and we need to embrace this moment and run towards the future!