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Virtual Events – Capturing More Audience For Your Show

Event organizers are thinking twice about everything these days: how big a space to book, how many hotels rooms to block, even whether to hold the event at all. Never has the cost benefit ratio been under more scrutiny for meetings and shows of all flavors. That’s why many organizers have turned to the virtual event as a solution.

Associations such as the National Association of Broadcasters and the Case Management Society of America, publishers such as UBM and IDG, and corporations like Symantec and Xerox all have embraced the virtual event in their quest to engage a wider audience. Some organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association, are even going a step further – in 2009 the association will forgo its on-site event altogether, in favor of a totally virtual event. While thousands of live events are still alive and well, virtual events are becoming a rapidly growing adjunct to the traditional trade show. Online virtual event vendors such as Performedia, ON24, and Inxpo, are just a few of these advancing media production companies.

In the typical virtual event scenario, keynote and breakout sessions are captured on site on video. If there is an expo hall, a number of vendor exhibits are captured on video as well. The content is bundled into a virtual event that makes this content available over the web for some number of months after the event is over. The result is that hundreds or even thousands of potential attendees can still participate.

Events that extend themselves through virtualization reap a variety of benefits:

1. Attendees stay connected to the event and the hosting organization, increasing the chances that when time and budget allow they will attend a live event again.

2. Sponsors and exhibitors experience increased traffic and garner new qualified leads via their virtualized booths, helping the organizers recruit new members and/or attendees.

3. The overall flow of information and ideas is vastly expanded, benefiting the event’s industry as a whole.

Here are some things to think about as you prepare to virtualize your event. First, should you try to accomplish this with your in-house staff or outsource? While the prospect of saving money by using existing staff is certainly attractive, will they be able to handle all the disparate pieces that go into making the event a success online: professional video capture of sessions and booth demos; an attractive and engaging online event site that provides registration, tracking, pay-per-view, and social networking capabilities; hosting capacity that can adequately handle the streaming requirements for such an effort?

When polling vendors, be sure to inquire about the following:

1. How turnkey is the solution – will the package offered cover the bulk of the organization’s needs or will there be a complex array of a la carte options to navigate?

2. For session capture, will the multimedia player be limited to simply showing the video of the presenter and their slides? A qualified vendor should be able to capture any visual component of a presentation – software demos, web tours, etc.

3. Will the content be indexed so online attendees can go right to the items that interest them the most?

4. As for the expo hall – will visitors be able to see the actual presentation the exhibitor was showing on site?

The bad news is the economy. The good news is that the need for events and the information they collect and pass on has never been greater, and virtualization has arisen as a hard-working analog to the on-site show. The question is: while you ponder the budgetary crevasses facing your event, will you take the time to consider a bridge not only to better audience and revenue numbers, but a better event over all.

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