Make Your Events and Expos a Virtual Reality

Last month I attended one of the most engaging meetings I’ve ever experienced and I was not even there.  The event was EventCamp Twin Cities.  This was a one-day conference for event professionals.  It was a hybrid event, meaning they had a live conference with a virtual component.

I had the luxury of attending this event from my home office so I was able to ignore phone calls and e-mails and had no one stopping by my office for an impromptu meeting.  I was glued to my seat from 8:50 am to 6:00 pm, afraid to leave for fear I might miss something really good.  Actually, I knew I would miss something really good because the entire day was jam packed with great content, interactive breakout sessions, networking and good old-fashioned conversation.  This was all made possible through our virtual MC (a very live person on-site reporting to all 174 virtual participants) and Twitter.

Trade Shows as Hybrid Events

Now that I’ve had a chance to come down from the high of EventCamp Twin Cities, I am thinking about how to incorporate some of this engagement into your trade show marketing and conferences.  I’m not saying every conference must be exactly like Twin Cities, you need to find the right tools to accomplish your meetings objectives.

As planners we MUST become more customer centric.  That means putting the needs of our members or customers (attendees) first.  The fact is, not everyone is going to be able to attend your conferences or trade shows all the time.  Budget issues, family commitments, work loads; they all pile up to prevent even your die-hard attendees from being there.  But, as your customers, you have an obligation to provide them with education, information and networking.

The top two reasons anyone goes to conferences and conventions are #1 Networking and #2 Education.   For trade shows add discovering new products in there.

Education

  1. I do not consider a good virtual component to be sticking a camera in the back of the room during a session and letting it run.  You must engage the audience and include them in any discussion or breakout sessions.  If you plan on including a virtual component don’t spring it on your speaker.  Let them know far in advance so they can prepare specifically for this.  Create a tip-sheet for speakers so they know best practices.
  2. Set up a video booth or podcast booth to interview speakers or attendees during breaks in sessions.  This way, when there is a break in the broadcast from sessions, your virtual attendee will have something to participate in.  Open these interview up to your virtual attendees for questions through tools such as Skype or Twitter.
  3. Interview virtual attendees and broadcast to your live audience.  There are many tools out there to do this but one we use all the time on a smaller scale is Skype.
  4. Live stream new product announcements from the trade show floor.  Your exhibitors should be doing this anyway; but they will love you for arranging this for your entire audience.  So will your audience who could not attend the show.
  5. Have your speakers give their presentation/session via webcast prior to the event.  At the live event instead of the speaker delivering that presentation the entire hour or so can be devoted to discussion on the topic.
  6. Keep it interactive.  You will lose your audience if the only thing they have to do is stare at their screen listening to people talk for hours.

Networking

  1. Create a platform for your attendees/community/customers to exchange information throughout the year.  Don’t just allow in-person attendees to participate…give your virtual attendees full access as well.  Encourage participation by giving out small prizes or acknowledgements.  Maybe a connector badge to anyone who introduces five or more people in the community.  Or perhaps an Ambassador badge to anyone who answers questions about the event venue or host city.
  2. In a recent presentation I gave at Podcamp Philly 2010 someone suggested sending virtual attendees a swag bag as well.  It made me think that could be a great way to connect people.  Have live attendees choose “pen pals” through the community and send the swag out in their name.  This would really encourage interaction.
  3. By engaging your virtual audience in breakout sessions and having them work as a team they will get to know one another and build on their network.  I know I made many new friends while attending EventCamp Twin Cities.

Conclusion

These are just some of the possibilities in the future of hybrid events.  I’d love to hear some of your ideas as well.  Please let us know in the comments section.

This article originally appeared at InXpo and is reprinted with permission.

traci@red-cedar.com'

Traci Browne

Traci Browne is a specialist in trade show and convention management and exhibiting. She has spent years teaching exhibitors how to get more from their trade show marketing dollars and taught show producers how to structure their shows to make their sponsors and exhibitors happier. Traci is now producing regional B2B and B2C shows and events.