There is only one thing that seems to be certain in these trying times in the events industry: virtual events are here to stay, no matter the state of the pandemic and our personal preferences. And that’s why it’s time to talk about virtual event production -again. The #EventIcons podcast strives to talk to the very best in the events world. And wow, did we deliver this week!
Today, we don’t introduce you to one, but two #EventIcons guests: Kara Gladish and Sheehan Hubbard from Socio. For those who might not know: Socio is an event technology company that helps enterprises and SMBs optimize their events in more than 40 countries. Their clients include big names, such as Microsoft, Google, and Pinterest. Join Sarah as she has one of the most insightful, information-packed conversations ever witnessed on this podcast!
The Virtual Production (R)evolution
After an initial round of introductions, Sarah asks her guests to talk about the virtual production evolution as they’ve experienced it from the frontlines of the events industry.
“People have become more familiar with utilizing tools like Zoom, WebEx, and StreamYard,” says Sheehan. “Being able to go ahead and be experts at using these platforms has dramatically changed since the beginning. People weren’t super familiar with using these tools before the pandemic.”
As we all know by now, virtual evolution involves more than just the actual video experience. “People are thinking about virtual attendee engagement and looking at how can they make it more fun for attendees rather than have them just sit and watch a screen. The world of virtual production has changed from month to month.”
One of the major challenges has been replicating that beautiful sense of connection. “The human connection is huge at in-person events. Recreating that in a virtual setting is challenging, but finding different tools is making a big difference. That’s continuing to get better and better as we progress. Now, we have hybrid events and we’re going back to in-person events, but we can still keep that virtual component for those that aren’t able to travel to events.”
Virtual Production: Event Planner As A TV Producer
“Event planners are so resilient. This pandemic hit over a year ago now and it was such a heartbreak,” says Kara. “I was on the front lines as a customer success manager and so many events in March, April, May, and so on kept getting canceled. It was really rough, but so many event planners said they have to pivot. And now, pivoting is the norm.”
“We had to go from being onsite, having the catering and AV, to everything going so technological. That really was intimidating at first, but virtual production technology has gotten more and more accessible. Your typical savvy event planner can become a TV producer.”
“Originally, Socio was a networking tool, and we were really hitting our stride as a mobile event companion app,” says Kara. “Then, the pandemic hit. Like everyone else in the events industry, we had to pivot pretty fast. I give so much kudos to our product team who did that. Our suite just got more and more powerful. Now, as things have finally opened up a bit, there’s the Delta variant. Events are getting canceled again, but we have the tools to go hybrid.”
“So you may have some of your attendees in-person again, but a lot of folks aren’t ready to travel or they are working from home. That virtual element is still so important. Socio is set up really well. There’s the in-person mobile app for your in-person attendees and the virtual platform for your virtual attendees to have a great hybrid experience. Both types of audiences can talk to each other.”
The Misconceptions Of Virtual Production
It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of virtual event production! Sarah asks Sheehan to talk about some of the most common misconceptions people have about producing virtual events.
“Last year it seemed as if virtual production is going to be so easy,” she says. “‘Let’s just put a virtual platform on and have attendees join’, they said. I’m not knocking any of those things because they were really important in the beginning stages. But when it comes to virtual production, it does take more than just that. Planning in advance, thinking about what your goals are for those sessions, but also thinking through a line item by line item. Who’s going to go where?”
Sheehan delves deeper. “When you think of an in-person event, you think about who’s on the stage, who’s behind the stage, who is helping mic up the speaker, who’s helping make sure the attendees get into the room … There’s a ton of logistics on-site when you’re helping attendees there. And you need to focus on these very similar experiences when it comes to virtual events.”
Ask All The Questions!
“Ask yourself: what is the attendee experience? When they click into that session, will they have music welcoming them? Will they have a welcome screen? They might be clicking into the session and wonder if they’re in the right place. Think through the transitions for the different speakers and Q&A. How is this all going to flow?”
“Think about this and then focus on jotting it down, line item by line item,” Sheehan explains. “We’re used to doing that for our webinars and we definitely recommend that to all of our customers when it comes to executing sessions virtually. Have that production schedule ready to go and practice it. Make sure that you’ve gone through it and you’ve rehearsed it. You shouldn’t be doing it for the first time when you’re running that session.”
And now, moving on to the next topic of the virtual production conversation: monetization.
“That’s a huge question that we get: ‘Can I charge the same for my virtual event that I did in-person?’,” says Kara. “People are definitely willing to pay for virtual events. They can pay for a ticket and they’re still saving money. They’re not flying anywhere, they’re not getting a hotel, nor are they paying for the meals. And of course, on the event organizer side, you’re not paying for catering in the case of a virtual event. I would say everything depends on your production level.”
“As far as the budget is concerned, hybrid events are the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds. If you want to have really nice production, we recommend having an AV team. You’re planning an in-person and a virtual event at the same time. So there can be a big range based on the needs of your audience, how many people are involved, what production level you want. But again, virtual production tools are just making that production level more and more attainable.”
Kara suggests starting with the virtual event budget and going from there. “It’s smart to start with your budget because that’s pretty set in stone and then have different sets of tickets. Early on when a lot of customers were pivoting to virtual, they were saving so much money on the venue and the catering. They had cash to spare, so they made their virtual events production-heavy and gorgeous.”
Virtual Production Priorities: Clear Communication & Gamification
Sarah is curious to know: “What is something that people should spend more time thinking about?”
Sheehan goes first. “You have to train your virtual speakers, making sure they feel confident and comfortable when it comes to presenting in an event. Also, think about training your attendees by gearing them up with clear communication for the event itself. How are they going to join the event? How are they going to connect with attendees?” The same goes for the rest of the team: everyone needs to be on the same page. “Train your staff, your speakers, your attendees. Make sure they understand how to download their mobile app and how to access their web version if they’re going to be utilizing the computer for some live streaming.”
Kara is a huge fan of event gamification. “I like to describe it as the icing on the cake. It can add so much and also be a part of that communication that Sheehan mentioned.”
“At Socio, gamification revolves around codes. So for example, you could have a code that says ‘you have to join the event platform early’. You can use gamification to give extra points if people get there early. Then, they’re getting settled in. They’re good to go. That helps the usual influx of ‘how do I sign in’ and ‘what’s my password’. It really helps you with event management.”
“You can gamify paying attention in different sessions or going and talking to your sponsors. You can get a code every time you go to different virtual booths. Our sponsors love it. And attendees love competing. The game is always a huge hit. And I think that’s a major piece of what makes attendees feel like they had fun. That felt like in-person, not just a bunch of content,” she says.
Sarah wants to know what her iconic guests think of planning events in terms of time. How far in advance should planners think?
“Time is a luxury,” says Kara. “It’s possible to build an event on a very quick timeline, but of course, the more time you have, the more you can go beyond the basics. You can do that gamification and have some cool cameos or other just fun touches that take that event to the next level.”
“We have customers who have a fast timeframe and those who are cautious in this crazy landscape. Back in mid-2021, I had customers who said they’re going to be virtual in 2022. I didn’t even think about 2022 yet! It was a safe bet and it’s turned out to be a pretty good call,” she says. Now that COVID-19 cases are on the rise again, we must plan COVID-compliant events. And in that regard, no event is safer than a virtual event!
Kara & Sheehan Say: Embrace Virtual & Take Care Of Yourself!
Kara and Sheehan have covered it all: budgets, timelines, and platforms. Before they sign off, they share one more thought for all the event planners who tuned in.
“We may have to deal with more cancellations or pivots, which is a heartbreak, but I think event professionals are the ones who can make an incredible experience even in non-ideal circumstances,” says Kara. “The industry, the technology, the ideas are still just going to keep evolving. Even if we do have to stay virtual, I think virtual events are really fun. You can still get so much warmth, so much fun out of them.”
Sheehan references one of the past #EventIcons episodes and says that event planners must not forget to take care of themselves. “Focus on taking care of yourself and then also letting it transpire to your attendees. Sessions that go back to back for nine hours are challenging for your attendees. Allow for those breaks within your schedule for your attendees. Have them have lunch, go to the restroom, drink some water, take a walk. We tend to forget about these things,” she says.
And that’s a wrap on another amazing #EventIcons episode! Make sure to check out other episodes and tune in for the upcoming episode. Until then, stay iconic!