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The talk of the town in the events industry is converting in-person events to virtual. But where to even begin? Should you choose a platform first? And how do you even figure out pricing? Because this is relatively new, planners everywhere are scrambling to make it work. And we just so happen to have been lucky enough to sit down with Mark Hillenburg. Mark is the VP of Marketing of Digital Monitoring Products (DMP). And boy, does he have some things to teach us!

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DMP has the art of converting in-person events to virtual down to a T. So much so that they converted their in-person event in a whopping 24 hours! And because we know you’re looking for some tips, we invited Mark to be our iconic guest in this week’s episode of #EventIcons. Will Curran will ask all the questions you want to see answered. So press play and join us!

Converting In-Person Events To Virtual: The Decision

Canceling the event simply wasn’t an option DMP was willing to consider. “I mean for us it’s sort of like CES. This is the show where you bring out all your new products”, explains Mark. “And the public relations before a trade show nowadays you can’t just drop it on the day of the trade show, they’ll never be seen. So we had already been counting down new product promotions. We were six days into 18 days of new products. And so we’re like, we just can’t stop this”.

“So we started thinking about what can we do. And we had actually done a live webinar where we had a big desk and we had a multi-camera shoot. And we had done that about six months ago for a significantly large private customer. So I knew that we had the capability to do that particular type of thing. And so I said to my team, “Hey, let’s do a virtual trade show. And let’s get the email like everyone is reeling and everyone is trying to decide what they’re going to do. Let’s do it. Let’s announce it and get people signing up now”.

Putting Things Together

Mark sums up the process of converting in-person events to virtual beautifully. “So I swung my team around and I sent out a message said, “Okay, this is what we’re doing. Here’s what I need you to do. I need somebody to go create the Zoom login details. You guys start working on graphic header. Pull up our MailChimp email marketing and let’s get ready to send an email. We’re going to get this whole thing spun up and out before the end of the day.” By four o’clock, we send out an email to 56,000 of our customers’ email content and started signing people up all through the weekend”.

“And then, of course, we just started dropping in on social and promoting it. And I actually got quite a few phone calls from people in the industry that were brilliant. This is what everyone’s going to do. But what I was excited that our team was able to pull it together and get it turned around within the day. So we literally had the entire weekend jump on everybody else”.

Converting In-Person Events To VirtualThe E-Mail

Sending out that e-mail is one of the scariest steps in converting in-person events to virtual. But Mark walks us through how DMP did it. “Sometimes you don’t get it 100% right. We’ve been promoting the show with a color graphic of our trade show, a photo of our trade show booth. So the first thing the graphic designers did was just knock it to black and white. It would have some continuity but people would see that it’s different”.

“So they knocked that down to black and white and I said, “Let’s make the headline Not Going.” The name of our trade show is ISC. “Not Going To ISC?” Because I thought that would get everyone’s attention. Because everyone at that particular moment just found out they’re not going to ISC. So I asked a question, “Not going to ISC?” And then we headlined”, he continues. “Even within the copy of the first e-mail, we were calling it a virtual trade show”.

The Follow-Up

“So then we followed up on Monday with a little cleaner graphic. It really just said start promoting the virtual trade show. And we tried to have some continuity and pull through. We’re doing a 90-minute webinar or a live stream six times today, tomorrow and Friday. So we’re doing one in the morning, one in the afternoon. And that’s kind of how we promoted it”.

The Team

Having the right team by your side is the first step to make converting in-person events to virtual a success. “So for the virtual events, we have like an ESPN or CNN kind of desk”, explains Mark. “We have a desk with four people on it and those are product managers, business development, a VP of sales, and a VP of software. So they’re sitting there behind the desk and one guy is the host. And one of the things that allow us to pull this together is we have a really amazing culture at the company, at DMP. We actually have a TestMasters built into our company. At lunchtimes once a month we are always working on public speaking and we did actual TestMasters for a few years”.

“So dropped the TestMasters charter and kind of built our own curriculum around our own products. So everyone would have the opportunity to test your elevator pitch. Tell us about this new product. And so that helps easily identify people that are great at public speaking. So I was able to just assign, you’re going to this. You’re going to do this”.

The Roles

“We didn’t have to write scripts. We put together an outline, a slide deck with the order that we’re going in. And so that’s kind of the way that we roll as a company. We have an amazing presenter, so that’s very helpful. And then Ryan is our video editor and he’s running the switcher. Then we have Pat, who is our videographer”, explains Mark. “He’s the camera operator for four cameras. So we’re doing a four-camera shoot. One of the cameras is on me and I’m sitting at a desk with a headset talking to them, monitoring the live Q&A boxes. And then I’ll let them know, “Hey, I’ve got a question.” They cut the camera to me. I ask the panel the question and then answer the question and so we kind of do the Q&A like that”.

“And then we have one camera locked in as a wide shot of the room. We have one camera that is close-ups. We have a wide shot of the entire room that’s kind of our pre-show. It’s just a GoPro clicked to the grid in the ceiling”, he adds. “And we have a wide shot of the room and so that kind of provides a little texture and background as everyone’s waiting to come in. And they’re kind of seeing that okay, this is not a guy sitting behind a laptop for the next 90 minutes. There’s a little bit more going on”.

Technical Production

“We happened to be using Zoom for this one and we have someone who is sort of our Zoom administrator”, says Mark. “Over the past five years, we’ve used all of the platforms. We’ve used WebEx, GoToMeeting, we used Adobe Connect for a while.  And we’ve kind of settled in on this. But we’ve all had them dump before in the middle of the session or no one can hear the audio. And so she just kind of monitors all that in the background and make sure that we’re good and everything is happy. So she’s sitting back and she’s actually outside of the studio, completely away just like a regular attendee would be. But she actually is the person who starts it up and turns it off and makes it all happen technically on the Zoom side”.

“And then she also, we’re streaming it live to Facebook. So we have a Facebook group. Because we’re in the security industry, some things that we talk about are not 100% open for just the whole world. And so we have a closed group. We’ve got about 2,000 people in our group. We built that up over the last couple of years. And that’s a great virtual community too”, he adds.

AV Technology

Will and Mark bring up a very important point when it comes to converting in-person events to virtual. “Training your remote speakers to be able to handle it and know what to do is paramount”, says WIll “And I think that’s where we’re going to see the people who are going to succeed are the ones who are learning right now how these platforms work. How they can have good microphones and things like that. And then the same way I think, have an AV team coming in and mic up your speakers and make sure that they look good on camera, make sure the PowerPoint’s working. Get a tech company to help you make sure that everything’s running well”.

“Just because you’re transitioning to virtual doesn’t mean that you don’t need AV technology”, adds Mark. “You definitely do and those guys are available. So maybe you have them bring in the gear and set it up on a one-time basis. Or maybe you hire them to bring it in and do a permanent install in your location so you can always be set up”.

Converting In-Person Events To VirtualConverting In-Person Events To Virtual: The Platform

One of the questions that most often pops up in the process of converting in-person events to virtual is the platform. In the case of DMP, they didn’t have too much time to research. So they went with the easiest and most reliable option – Zoom. But Mark has some advice on this.

“Whatever platform you’re using, these all kind of work in. They synch up the audio too because that’s one of the things that can really make the difference, having good audio”, he says. “If you’re going to have multiple people, you probably need to have multiple mics. So we chose that because that’s what we knew. I’m going to be looking in some of the other things that are available, but for right now that’s what we’re on. We wanted to have a little bit more and so that’s why we ended up with multiple cameras. We make a security app, so we’re doing live demos to that. One of the inputs is Apple TV and we’re literally doing AirPlay from a MacBook and AirPlay from an iPhone live switched into that”.

“And then we use ProPresenter instead of PowerPoint. ProPresenter is a piece of software that allows you to do a lot more things than PowerPoint does. We filtered in, we probably have six different videos that were already in the can that we had already done. And so when we would get to the point of that particular content, we would just roll it, introduce and roll in a video. That also gives the talent like 90 seconds to take a breath, get a drink of water, straighten your jacket or whatever you’re doing. And we can coach him a little bit and keep him on track”, he adds.

Selling Opportunities

Where does selling stand in the process of converting in-person events to virtual?  “We all want to be sensitive and we all want to not take advantage of anything. But at the end of the day, we provide products that secure lives and families. And we need to support our customers. So if all of your customers are shut down and they’re at home, then the support that you provide them may look different than we happened to be doing. But right now the demand for our particular products is up and so we are trying to fulfill that”, explains Mark.

“One of the cool things that happened, was one guy asked a question in the Q&A box. “Oh, I didn’t know. This is brand new. Could I get somebody to come demo that at my company.” And so I said, “Hey, Dave, absolutely. I’ll get somebody scheduled to do that.” So our VP training is watching this live, he sees that go out. He Slacks the trainer that’s in the territory and says, “Hey, I need you to make an appointment with Dave.” He contacted him before our webinar was over with and made an appointment”.

“Someone actually closed the loop for me. So I could scratch that off my list. But our whole team was on it. So our entire sales team, our entire training team, spread out across the county, most of them were in customer locations today as they were watching this live. So they had picked who’s my biggest opportunity. Who’s the customer that will allow me to show up at their location because that’s an issue right now. And so they were there. Some of them were just texting with folks. If you’re not doing that to your virtual events, you definitely should. Because then you know who’s planning on attending and who’s not”.

Don’t Disregard The Power Of The Recording

“If we get 100 people to sign up for an event, we get about 50 people that actually show up for the event. And then we record them. We put them on our website where people can get to them. And we’ll usually have an additional 50 or 75. We’ll get more people watching the recorded version than we did the live version”, says Mark. “Over time, over the next couple of weeks. And so we just have a routine. We have a place on our website where all of that stuff goes and we’ve kind of trained our people to say, if we’re having a webinar and you miss it, you can go and you can see it here”.

“And then also you can have the tool, you can have it just automatically send an email out with, “Here’s a link to the recorded version.” We exported out our list of who’s attending. Sent it out to all our sales team and said, “Hey, figure out who your best opportunity is. Touch base with them. See who’s registered. See who’s not registered and then go hit them up.” So our entire team was working on this. Because otherwise, they would all be standing around the trade show booth in Las Vegas. So all of our calendars were clear”.

Converting In-Person Events To Virtual: Final Thoughts

Mark’s last thoughts on converting in-person events to virtual are: “don’t be afraid of the technology. Lean on somebody that understands how it works. Second, do rehearsals. That really helps iron stuff out. Don’t just assume that everything’s going to work the way that it’s supposed to. So get that figured out, do a rehearsal. And invest in some coms. If you have multiple people on the AV side, they need to communicate”.


And that’s a wrap on this week’s incredible edition of #EventIcons! There’s a lot to unpack here, and hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what converting in-person events to virtual entails. Make sure you check out all the other information we have on the topic. And don’t forget to join us again next week for another iconic episode!

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Will Curran

Author Will Curran

Information junkie, energetic, and work-a-holic are just some of the words we can use to describe Will Curran. Aside from spending 20 out of 24 hours a day working as the Chief Event Einstein of Endless Events, you can catch Will ordering a chai latte or watching The Flash with his cats. He is also well known for his love of all things pretzels.

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