What better way to learn more about the exciting world of event technology than listening to an awesome product spotlight episode of the Event Tech Podcast? Today, Will and Brandt bring two guests in to hear an unbiased review of Accelevents, an all-in-one hybrid, and virtual event management platform. After all, in a world where there are more than 100 virtual event platforms, it's sometimes hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Please welcome Jonathan Kazarian, the CEO and founder of Accelevents, and\u00a0Stephanie Baiocchi, the director of membership & events at IMPACT. Not only do they talk about this particular event platform's solutions, but they also nerd out about data analytics, virtual audience engagement strategies, and the ROI of virtual events. Press play and join them! Virtual Event Management Platforms Let's start in the beginning. Just like countless other event profs, Stephanie had to pivot to virtual events in March 2020. "We had this big conference plan, but we had to pull the plug on it. I had never actually done what would now be considered a virtual event or an online event. However, we had all this content prepared for the conference we had intended to have in person. We had keynote presenters who had full presentations ready to go. And so, we figured that there's no point in not sharing this with everybody. Everyone was psyched to learn. We looked at what that would look like in an online environment." They worked frantically to put the event together and Stephanie was happy with how it all turned out. "We had great attendance and engagement. Everybody was really happy to be able to come together and see some of these speakers that we were all excited about even in this online setting. The novelty was still there, though. We had our technical challenges and it was a bit of trial and error in terms of setting it up." In Search Of A Perfect Virtual Event Management Platform Stephanie didn't stop there, though. She researched virtual event management platforms to find the best fit for her events. "When I started researching platforms, there were at least 80 out there that were relatively good. Brian Fanzo was going through auditing every single platform and I was asking for his advice. I very quickly figured out that there are about four platforms that had figured out the concept of simulive. We had so much content and we knew there was no way we wanted three breakout sessions live at the same time." And then, she found her happily ever after: Accelevents. But before the Event Tech Podcast squad analyzes the platform itself, they explain what a simulive is. https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/watch?vL2a5bHs-Ag0 What's A Simulive? Simulive stands for 'simulated live'. "Simulive was our opportunity to have multiple sessions going at one time and not have them be live, but have the experience of watching it be live for everyone. Like a premiere," explains Stephanie. "Everybody watched the session and at the same time, the chat was happening. This allowed the speaker to be there chatting as well because they weren't presenting live, which added a little bit more engagement. People appreciated that. Great event management platforms like Accelevents have ways for you to work in other elements. For example, we could launch a poll during the middle of a session and have people answer it live." "When the lockdowns began last spring, the internet bandwidth across the country was down by 40%," adds Jonathan. "So the entire idea of live streaming was harder to pull off and execute on well, so it quickly became evident that simulive was a great solution for that. And to Stephanie's point, it doesn't matter if they're presenting live. It's almost better if they're not because they can be engaged in the chat. And speaking of chat, we see a ton of engagement in threaded messages because people go off the rails on one particular topic." Event Management Platform For Conferences After clearing that up, Brandt asks Jonathan to talk more about his event management platform. "Our place within the industry is conferences, the type of events that Stephanie puts on. These events have a lot of educational content, lots of different tracks, or breakout sessions," he says. "I'm from Boston, so have been going to INBOUND for the past nine years. When I think about a well-executed conference, that is one that always comes to mind for me. We designed our event management platform with events like that in mind. We also put a lot of focus on the exhibitor experience and some of the networking opportunities," he elaborates. Then, Will, Brandt, and their guests go over some of the solutions that Accelevants offers. Virtual Networking First, Jon elaborates on virtual networking solutions. "It's a one-on-one video chat based on different filters. It could be the ticket type that they registered with: members versus non-members, for example. It's useful for matching employees with employers." "Thinking about the entire event landscape, especially in the world of tech, we found that many more tech-oriented folks weren't going to those events in person. However, they love to interact with people from the comfort of their computers. They love it as an opportunity to get to know other people around the world," he says. Virtual Lounges Stephanie raves about lounges. "You can rename some of the stuff in the sidebar. We named each one, we gave it an image, and we had a specific time in our agenda over lunch. It would say 'from 12 to 1, it'll be networking lounge time' and people would go in and they'd come chat about this thing. We put a description or a guided discussion question. Then, it's like joining a Zoom call. It feels very similar. You come in, you've got your camera and you've got your audio." Workshops Stephanie has also been using workshops recently. "You can have up to 25 people live on video. They can volunteer to do a role play, or turn their camera on and read an example they wrote, for example.\u00a0 And then, you can still have a couple of hundred other people just listening and not have their cameras on. That's been fun for us. We do a lot of guided coaching, interactive workshops," she explains. Designing Virtual Audience Engagement "Stephanie, you touched on something that I want to make sure we just pause and acknowledge," says Brandt. "We've talked in the past about having influencers be admitted to the platform early so that when the attendee arrives, it's not an empty conversation. It sounds like you've done several things to seed the conversation to help move things along." Stephanie gladly expands on the ways she promotes virtual audience engagement. "We start sending communications out to our attendees from the moment they register and through to a day or two before the event and the morning of, of course." Talking about perfecting the art of event timelines! "It switches from just being the registration and information page to actually having the event hub open, and we have sent emails to some of our key members ahead of time and said: 'Make sure you jump in, add an image to your profile, make sure you got your name and your pronouns in there'. We have a welcome video for people to watch on the morning of the event. That'll guide them on where to go, what to do, how to fill in your profile." "And yes, the chat starts right away," she confirms. "We've got a few early folks in there. We also have the guided discussion questions in the lounges and we always have someone guiding those experiences. So we try to make it as enjoyable for people as possible." She understands that attendees differ from one another. "I've talked to many people who join an event and while I'm super excited to flip on my camera and get mashed with somebody randomly, that is super intimidating to some people. We do anything we can to mitigate that." "And that's why I wanted to just take a second to acknowledge that," says Brandt. "Because so often we hear stories of 'I got this engagement tool and it doesn't work'. Well, what did you do to promote that? What did you do to make it frictionless on the design side to kickstart it?" Branding Matters! The conversation then steers into analytics, Hubspot integration tools (Accelevent has one!), B2B marketing budgets, and finally, branding. "You guys have always had really great branding," Will tells Stephanie. "Having everything look modern and clean. What's the branding and user experience as it relates to what you guys were looking for in an event management platform?" "It's exactly what I want because I can customize colors, graphics, logos, images, and all elements of the pre-event experience. Also in the event: the on-demand and showing past sessions. I can customize all of these things, but I don't need a developer to do it. It is robust and comprehensive enough for me, but also so easy to use that I don't have to pull in somebody else that does not need to be spending their time on this." Event Management Platform With Responsive Support Brandt is curious to know more about Accelevent's support. "There are a lot of people out there that have had experiences where their event management platform was with them up to the day of the event. And then the day of their event, they're ghosted," he says. "No, it's not like that at all," replies Stephanie. "Their support is fantastic. In fact, in the past, I've asked Jon how did he get those people. They're super responsive and they ask questions first instead of diving into something without fully understanding the question I'm even asking. If they do understand, they solve it quickly and they'll teach me how to do something." "Except for the military, there's no profession that has a higher sense of urgency than event professionals," says Jon. "And most of our support team has come out of the event industry, so like they inherently get it." Exhibitors & Sponsors At Virtual Events Brandt asks Jon if there is anything else he'd like to share about his event management platform that Stephanie hasn't covered yet. "From a business perspective, one of the biggest opportunities for growth for us has been events like Stephanie's that bring in sponsors and exhibitors. We put a lot of effort and emphasis into that side of the platform and ensuring that exhibitors in virtual events are getting real-time engagement with leads. As a result of that, 20% of our lead volume comes from people who were previously sponsors and exhibitors of other events. I know people wonder whether or not there is an ROI for sponsoring virtual events. And I can tell you without a doubt that with the right experience there absolutely is." "A lot of what we see in addition to people buying a booth as part of their sponsorship packages, they're also buying a time window to do a presentation. And then, they get all of the data from that, which also then tends to drive people back to their booth. You can spend time building out the booth, but if you're not actually there staffing that booth and interacting with people in real-time, then it's no different than them visiting your website." Conclusive Thoughts "As we think about the shifting event program for years to come, it's this redefinition of what the event landscape looks like and how it's a bigger component of demand gen," says Jonathan. "And a lot of that ties back into how all of this data is integrated with the CRM, how it's used for execution. And it also boils down to this concept of permission-based marketing. People are giving us their time, their attention, often their money as well, and they're coming and listening to what we have to say. It's our opportunity to educate them, but also use that as a marketing opportunity. And we're doing it to a very targeted audience who again, is giving us their permission, their time, and their focus for that. And if you execute well on pulling that off, it certainly does yield the reward," he concludes. Stephanie also wants to share a thought before they sign off. "Everything has happened in the past 18 months has raised the bar on event experiences across the board, whether it's an on-demand event, a live event, or some combination with simulive and in-person event. We can do everything better now than we could 18 months ago. And Will, what you said yesterday at Untethered, it's 2021! Don't go back to 2019 just because it's comfortable." Join The Conversation! And that's a wrap on another information-packed, product spotlight episode of the Event Tech Podcast. If you liked this conversation, join Accelevent's Facebook group\u00a0Event Talk, a place for event professionals to come together, interact, bounce ideas around, and talk about the changing landscape of events. And last but not least: if you think that Will and Brandt should do more episodes like this, send them an email at email@example.com. They're always happy to hear from you all!