Virtual Shakespeare – fancy that!

My pre-teen loves Shakespeare.  It’s not something I can take any credit for since I didn’t really pay much attention in English Literature (I blame the teacher) and the sight of Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reaves striding around in riding breeches in the 1993 film version of Much ado about Nothing probably stopped me from appreciating the complexity and vivacity  of the language.

Despite having the RSC and Globe Theatre more or less on the doorstep we haven’t quite managed a trip to see the Bard’s  offerings live as yet, so there was little to reference when confronted by a project to design the stage setting for MacBeth.  However, we were saved from having to trawl through countless videos on YouTube by a brilliant event produced by Florida Virtual School on the 6Connex virtual experience platform.

The Florida Virtual School develops and provides virtual K-12education solutions to students in Florida, the U.S., and the world. Founded in 1997, it was the country’s first, state-wide Internet-based public high school. Today, FLVS serves students in grades K-12 and provides a variety of custom solutions for schools and districts to meet student needs. Its virtual Shakespeare festival was live on 26-27 April and once we had logged in we were able to see presentations from FLVS students as they acted favourite Shakespeare scenes or added their own interpretation.  With vignettes from other Shakespeare companies, including the very excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were able to absorb a lot of content and styles in a very short period indeed, presented in a way that felt extremely accessible.

Was something lost by the presentation of theatrical works in video that was a bit grainy and certainly wobbly in places? Possibly yes.  But many children and young people (and the rest of us!)  today live off a diet of YouTube video and homemade entertainment delivered via phone, iPad and PC so  my 12 year old wasn’t remotely phased by a lack of cinematic quality.  What she really enjoyed was being able to interact with the actors and presenters in real time. Networking was easy in this virtual environment  and the fact that most of the other participants were 4,500 miles away was of no concern.  Did she learn anything – definitely.  Did she enjoy  the experience – absolutely.

The debate about virtual vs live rumbles on, and on, but what this event shows is that these environments are  not just a business solution.  They offer a real opportunity to open up access to real live knowledge and expertise for all.

hellen @missioncontrol

Construct a virtual event in the same way as you would build a house

We are delighted to welcome Cece Salomon-Lee, founder and Principal of PR Meets Marketing, and co-founder of The Virtual Buzz as our guest blogger today, who shares below her thoughts on best practices for how to effectively design and implement a virtual event.

2010 was the year that virtual events – or digital solutions for meetings and events – were embraced by the larger physical meetings and events industry. No longer seen as an either/or situation, going virtual is a way to further extend an organisation’s audience reach, expand brand awareness and drive business objectives forward.

Though the benefits of virtual are more widely accepted today, best practices for how to effectively design and implement a virtual event vary from organisation to organisation. Oftentimes, organisations will select a technology solution first, and then work backwards, resulting not only in a poor user experience, but also falling short of business expectations.

Rather, a virtual event is very similar to constructing a house – start with the design, estimate costs, and end with the building phase.

Design with objectives in mind

If you’re building a house from the ground up, would you ever put up the walls and roof before consulting with an architect? Probably not. You need to consider each room’s function, how the occupants will interact with the room, and the best layout to accomplish this. The same is also true for a virtual event.

To develop your virtual event design, invite key stakeholders to participate during the design phase, such as IT, marketing manager, and executive sponsor. Key questions to address include:

  • What are the business objectives of my virtual event? Lead generation; customer appreciation; product launch; extend to global audience; etc.?
  • Is this purely a virtual event or an augmentation for a physical event?
  • What is the technology prowess of my audience? Novice or advanced?
  • How do I want to engage my audience? Broadcast only or engagement with video chat and games?
  • What is my budget?
  • What is my timeline?
  • What resources do I have to plan and staff this event?
  • How many people will be attending?
  • Private or public?

Estimating: engineer the costs

A virtual event strategy is equivalent to architectural designs for estimating the costs of your online event and even narrowing down which vendors to invite for your proposal. For example, you can eliminate providers who are unable to provide the full suite of solutions you’re seeking, such as social media integration and real-time language translation, or those who are too cost prohibitive based on your budget.

Furthermore, you are able to compare each proposal side by side and determine if there are any factors you haven’t considered. When comparing the proposals, consider these points:

  • Did the vendor address each item in my proposal?
  • What will the additional costs be if I add an additional webcast? Exhibit Booth? etc.
  • Did the company augment my proposal positively? For example, the company recommends adding ask-the-expert video sessions for your product launch.
  • How will the company staff my project?

Building: Construct to design

Once you’ve awarded your project, the next stage is overseeing the construction phase. To ensure that your virtual environment is built on time and to your design, don’t assume that the virtual event vendor will manage this on your behalf. Assign a project manager who will act as a liaison, monitor the timeline and track all milestones. Additionally, schedule a weekly meeting with your vendor to review progress and address any issues.

Biography

As founder and Principal of PR Meets Marketing, Cece Salomon-Lee has 15-plus years’ experience translating technology innovations into cohesive and successful campaigns that cross from public relations to marketing and virtual events. She has been an active participant in the emergence of the virtual events industry as co-founder of The Virtual Buzz and contributor to the Virtual Edge Institute.

 

Getting to grips with hybrid events

Still a bit confused by what this Hybrid Event is that everyone is talking about?  Let us bring you up to speed…

Hybrid events are physical events—tradeshows, conferences, product demonstrations, executive showcases—augmented by virtual technology marketing. They unite the best of both technology and offline environments to create a more powerful and profitable experience. They bring together the most compelling aspects of onscreen, in person and online dynamics.

Participants who can’t get to your event can join in from afar, interacting with exhibitors and attendees, and accessing presentations and content. Visitors who do make it to the physical event can view, download, and forward content from booth kiosks and displays on laptops and mobile devices (at last a proper use for that Internet Cafe you’ve been building for years).

There are three types of hybrid events —Concurrent, Inclusive, and Successive.

A concurrent hybrid event is a physical show launched in tandem with an online virtual counterpart that can be accessed anywhere in the world.

An inclusive hybrid event integrates key virtual elements inside an established physical environment such as an Executive Briefing Centre, sales facility or event specific “command centre” headquarters.

A successive hybrid event is essentially a two-part marketing experience. At the conclusion of a physical event, a virtual version is launched and made available to previous attendees, as well as new customers and prospects.

Want to read more? Read the complete White Paper which is available online now.

Are virtual events too predictable? Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability and the unexpected

Following on from yesterday’s post about taking a non-determinist approach, we are grateful to Ike Singh Kehal from Virtual Events Hub  for giving us permission to republish his very interesting blog post from 31st March.

Consistency is the best foundation for the unexpected

Over the last several years, virtual event companies have created reliable frameworks and systems to help their clients drive more leads and maximize event ROI. Unlike virtual worlds, such as Second Life, virtual event platform providers aimed to develop consistent and controllable experiences that their Enterprise customers could trust. This consistency of experience was critical to the development of the virtual events industry and without it online events might have been a non-starter.

At the same time, while consistency is a worthy goal, I sometimes think that it is holding us back from optimizing our online experiences for attendees.  Humans are not information consumption machines. They need to be entertained. They delight in the unexpected. And, they choose their friends emotionally, not rationally. For all of these reasons, virtual events will increasingly need to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected if they are to win the hearts of attendees and not just the minds of event organizers.

Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected

Random reinforcement in game dynamics – Over the last 18 months, virtual event providers have started to embrace game dynamics as a way to encourage attendees to engage with event content and connect with each other.  But, for the most part, the dynamics that providers have focused on have been fairly linear: do X –> get 10 points –> win prizes. The problem with this approach is that, as anyone who took Psychology 101 will remember, fixed-ratio schedules (where a reward is given after a set number of actions), are not particularly good at driving behavior. A better approach would be to introduce a level of randomness into the system to keep customers engaged.  For example, in addition to earning points for set activities, attendees might occasionally encounter unexpected prizes that are not announced up front. Small unexpected prizes would drive individual satisfaction and engagement, while larger prizes would drive buzz within the attendee community.

Unpredictability in content and experiences – Every event manager knows that people love surprises. As a result, it is somewhat surprising that virtual events rarely embrace unpredictability in terms of content and other experiences. Why not organize a surprise session on a previously unannounced hot topic? Why not invite the most active attendees to a VIP chat session with an industry expert of company executive? What impact would random acts of kindness (small unexpected gifts) have on driving attendee satisfaction.  For more on the topic of why we need to make virtual events more fun, check out my previous article Bring On the Virtual Bar.

Unexpected relationship building – many companies are investing heavily in Social CRM as a way to connect attendees at virtual events. These systems identify other attendees that you might want to talk to, based on your profile. Over the next year, the trick will be to develop systems that merge the science of social CRM with the art of relationship building. In other words, we need to match people based on their interests, but, we need to make the process of meeting feel as organic and “real” as possible. For example, rather than just giving attendees a list of people with similar interests, we should use games and game dynamics to get people to work together to solve problems and interact with event content. Studies show that people tend to feel closer to people that they work with to solve problems and we should definitely leverage this to the benefit of attendees and event organizers alike.

Do you expect the unexpected?

 Over the last several years, the virtual events industry has been built on a platform of consistency. However, in order for virtual events to reach their full potential, we need to build experiences that give event organizers the control that they need and attendees with the surprises that they crave. Doing so will require event organizers to embrace randomness in game dynamics, unpredictability in content, and unexpected relationship building.

“There’s no such thing as a black swan…”

File:Cygnus atratus Running.jpgOnce upon a time, when hand to hand combat was the norm and eating vegetables a sign of poverty, people believed that there was no such thing as a black swan.  That was until Cygnus atratus was discovered by the English naturalist John Latham in 1790.

In 2007 Nassim Nicholas Taleb published Black Swan The Impact of the Highly Improbable  in which he expounded his Black Swan Theory on how random events are much more common than we think, have huge impact, are impossible to predict and yet we spend huge amounts of time (which could be better spent) trying to rationalise them.

It is this process of attempted rationalisation that is most damaging.  Drowning in an overflowing and ever increasing sea of information and data, individuals and organisations spend so much time trying to second-guess what might happen and what the affects might be that they become glued to the past and present rather than being able to adapt and deal with the future.

Taleb advocates “stochastic tinkering” as a method of scientific discovery rather than research which is dictated by top down thinking.   This non-determinist approach fits well with the virtual business solution.  Starting with a question, which might not be the correct one, the participants in a virtual event or virtual communication space can use provided content and information to begin their own collaborative process, where randomisation can be embraced and included in the process without the fear that this will result in a poor (or the predicted ‘wrong’) outcome.

Bye-bye Mr Association – we don’t need you any more…

Wow that’s scary.

According to the ASAE – American Society of Association Executives, in 2009 they had 90,908 Trade and Professional association members and 1,238,201 philanthropic or charitable association members.  That’s an awful lot of people.

But hang on a minute.  Let’s examine the individual’s motivation for joining an association.  For tradespeople and professionals it may well be that they are unable to practice without membership or affiliation; or that the letters they receive after their name are the kudos they need to get the job.  Within philanthropical or charitable associations the incentive is clear, an individual may be driven by personal circumstances or a desire to affect change in a certain area.

What we must examine is just what proportion of the membership actually participates in the activities of the Association and therefore has a real relationship with the organisation it gives its annual fees to.  At a recent conference we asked a roomful of event managers from Associations what proportion of their membership came to their conferences, meetings and other events.  There was an audible gasp when one individual said 50%.  Not in horror, but in awe.  Because no one else in the room was able to quote a figure above 5%.

Which means that for most Associations, the events, educational seminars and other niceties they spend the membership’s money and their time on creating are failing to engage 95% of their target audience.  If you have 5000 members therefore you can only really rely on 250 people when the chips are down.

Why bring this up?  Because if you are an Association you need to understand that unless you offer something that your members absolutely can’t do without, then they can go elsewhere, for free.  Social networking enables the creation of special interest groups, the ability to get expert advice from verifiable experts and be able to create meetings in venues that are convenient to all.  If you want to make sure that you are delivering something different, tangible and valuable then you need to embrace the new virtual technologies, like 6Connex, to create ongoing content, events, comment and advice that puts you right at the heart of your membership.

Otherwise, quite frankly, they are just going to go someplace else.

Virtual set to become the norm rather than the exception

Six months ago, if you mentioned the word virtual event 5 out of 6 people would shrug, look sceptical or even splutter at your naïvety.  Like all new innovations, trying to explain the capabilities and opportunities created by this technology was easily lost in the objections.

Not any more.

While technology companies and those used to employing disparate, often home-based, workforces were eagerly embracing this new way of communicating, professional protectionism has held other sectors back in terms of both understanding and implementation.  Areas of business that could benefit hugely from the ability to disseminate large amounts of complex information, with the ability to receive live feedback and action plans were either unable to see the possibilities or quite frankly were singing with their hands pressed over their ears.

But the economic, business and learning opportunities offered by the very best virtual solutions platforms have been hard to ignore.  Recent research by e-learning consultant Jeff Cobb among associations in the US showed that nearly 20% had already held a virtual conference with a further 45% planning to do so.  Although it is the big organisations that have been the early adopters, this research showed that the smaller groups are also able to see the benefits that this could deliver to them and were looking to follow suit.

While virtual events can’t replace that impromptu chat, where they do win hands down is in their attendance figures.  Just as many exhibitions are currently struggling to convert more than 30% of their registrations into actual visitors, virtual events are seeing conversion somewhere in the region of 70%.  In fact we have one commercial event where 1300 registered and 1297 logged on to participate in the event.

But it is when you start to see organisations like the American Nurses Association adopting the technology to enable them to deliver one of their six-monthly meetings virtually and saving approximately $80K (and all those greenhouse gases) that you should understand how communicating this way removes cost directly from the bottom line, and yet affects service delivery not one iota.

Which is probably why no one is singing any more when virtual events are mentioned.