November 11, 2020
By Anna Linthicum

Making the transition to new technology is never easy, but is necessary when it comes to the unexplored landscape of virtual events. In this final behind the scenes of Cvent CONNECT Virtual blog post, we will discuss the four stages of scoping and implementing virtual technology:

  1. Scoping virtual event technology
  2. Implementing and aligning technology with cross-functional teams
  3. Executing the event using the new virtual technology
  4. Reporting on the event and gathering metrics

By completing each of these four stages, you will be able to ensure consistent data, improve the attendee experience, increase engagement, prove ROI, and build effective cross-functional teams.

Phase 1: Scoping virtual event technology

The first step to adopting any virtual event technology is to effectively scope out your various options. The marketplace is saturated with different providers right now and it can be overwhelming to sort through all the different features, tools, and custom integrations offered by each. By breaking the process down into the following steps, it becomes much more digestible.

Understand and define your event goals and objectives

When it came time to scope virtual technology for Cvent CONNECT, there were a few key points we kept in our minds. First, you need to define your event goals and objectives. Whether the goal is to increase attendance by a certain percentage, drive leads post-event, or increase memberships, there has to be a “north star,” or reason for putting on your event, that your team can use as a guiding light when making decisions. This reason becomes essential when evaluating your event technology. Once you’ve determined your overarching event goal, you can begin to evaluate the key features, data reports, and attendee engagement metrics of various virtual event providers.


Determine metrics needed for reporting ROI  

Virtual and in-person events are very different in terms of logistics and technology. One of the biggest differences is that you’re no longer searching for the perfect venue with breakout rooms and AV equipment. Instead, you’re looking for a virtual “venue” where attendees can come together simultaneously to consume content.

However, even though there are differences in venue and technology, you still want to gather the same quality and quantity of data for your virtual events. Virtual events are largely unknown, and quite often attract more registrants due to their low barrier to entry. Our key metrics for virtual events are quite similar to those we are interested in for our in-person programs:

  • Registration tracking
  • Attendee check-in numbers
  • Engagement metrics (length of time in session, feedback, participation, etc.)
  • Sponsor ROI

When scoping various virtual providers, make sure that you have a solid understanding of their capabilities and if they align with your goals. This way, you will be able to accurately compare your virtual event success to that of your in-person events.

Cross-functional teams​ and cross-products

virtual meeting etiquette

When creating your virtual event, don’t limit your potential technology to just one provider. Look internally first – is your organization’s current event technology able to meet the goals that you set for your virtual event? Check with other departments in your company to see if they have any technology to explore. Often, these departments can include IT, marketing, sales training, and more. You can have a volunteer from each department make suggestions and collaborate on the best way to move forward.

As our planning team was working remotely, collaboration was vital to the success of this event. We began to work closely with teams we hadn’t often collaborated with in the past. We worked with our IT department to learn the ins and outs of video conferencing. We analyzed our event data with our global demand teams to ensure accuracy. We collaborated with our client services teams on an almost daily basis to teach the nuances of virtual events so they could assist our attendees. Planning this event as a united front contributed to its flawless execution and made it one that we will not soon forget.

Consider your attendee/exhibitor/sponsor experience

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when scoping your virtual event provider is the attendee experience. When we were planning Cvent CONNECT Virtual, we wanted to create an event that would allow the industry to rally together during a time of uncertainty. So much of our research and work went into ensuring our attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors had a fantastic experience. There were a few key features that we thought would help make the experience unforgettable:

  • Streamlined registration
  • Navigable virtual event platform
  • Simple communication tools
  • Lead capture, appointments, exhibitor management

We also wanted to make sure that our attendees had ample time to sign in to the virtual event solution and explore it before the event began. Since this was new terrain for everyone, it was important for us to have a platform that would allow attendees to get their feet wet before jumping in for the entire conference.

Phase 2: Implementation/Build

Once we established which virtual event provider we were going to use (spoiler alert: our own!) we had to take time to learn the tool. We put ourselves in our attendees’, exhibitors’, and sponsors’ shoes: what would Cvent want to see if we were attending or sponsoring an event on a virtual platform? To provide this experience for those attending our event, we had to learn our platform. This meant a lot of hands-on practice watching training videos, attending weekly tech meetings, and asking plenty of questions.

Learning the limitations

Learning the product also meant learning the product’s limitations. Once we decided to use Cvent’s Virtual Attendee Hub® for our marquee event, we had to come to terms with both timelines and expectations. We were launching this product to the public for the first time at this event, and our planning team would only be getting our hands on it a couple of weeks before the event launch. Because of this, we had to really focus on the functionality that would be available for us, and just as importantly, the features that would not yet be available to us. Unfortunately, no technology will ever accomplish everything that you want it to – there will always be some limitations. You must keep an open mind and be willing to come up with creative ways to use the technology to accomplish your event goals.

Partnering with cross-functional teams

We were in a unique position as we were able to have direct contact with our product management team throughout the entire process, providing feedback and helping to shape the product roadmap. We established a give-and-take partnership with this team. We would host our event on our brand-new platform (scary!) in the hopes that it would spark industry-wide interest in our product and fuel our sales engine for the remainder of the year. Launching the Virtual Attendee Hub became our main event goal and establishing this helped us to make some critical programming decisions. Throughout this process, there needed to be transparency as to the limitations and timelines of this product. We all needed to be on the same page in terms of the product's functionality so everyone would know what to expect.

There are always risks when using technology, new or established. To minimize risk, we involved other internal teams in the preparation process more than ever before:

  • Quality engineer team
  • Site reliability team
  • Product management team
  • Product marketing team
  • And more

We also formed an internal crisis committee made up of stakeholders across Cvent. This team worked together to come up with action plans, escalation points, and necessary communications.

Training Relevant Teams

Since this was a brand-new product, we took the time to carefully train all relevant teams. Some of our tactics included:

  • Personalized trainings and pre-cons
  • Onboarding meetings
  • Office hours and daily check-ins
  • Training sessions going through the flow of the event

We also worked closely with our Client Services teams to ensure that all product FAQs were up to date for our sales teams.

Testing & Contingency Planning

Lastly, we had to prepare for the worst-case scenario: the product having major issues during the event. We had a record number of registrations and a brand-new platform, so we knew we had to conduct a “dry run” before the event. We decided to host our Global Town Hall on the Virtual Attendee Hub as a test. We had all 4,000 Cvent employees join and listen to Reggie’s speech on the platform. Performing this test internally was a great way to not only give our team confidence and insights but also allow the rest of the company to experience the product and play a vital role in the event's success.

You want to be prepared for every possible scenario so you are not caught off guard during the event. It helps to define the levels of crisis, who to involve, and which situations require escalation. The key to defining your crisis plans is to make sure that your event goals are top of mind. When your event outcomes are no longer being met, that is when you must take larger and more drastic action.

With our event, however, we had the added challenge of planning for the extremely unfortunate scenario that the Virtual Attendee Hub might have issues, when the goal of Cvent CONNECT Virtual was to showcase this product. The pressure was very high and we were very finely straddling the line of "at what point are we no longer achieving our event goals?" With that being said, in this new virtual environment, the pressure is high at every event. Every event has its own stakes and all event professionals have their own pressures and risks. Our attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and stakeholders are counting on us for a great event, so having a contingency plan in place is of the utmost importance.

Phase 3: Execution

The execution of Cvent CONNECT Virtual was a whirlwind. While it was exhausting, seeing the team’s long hours, hard work, and creative output come to life was incredibly rewarding. Executing a virtual event is quite different from the in-person experience of being onsite. You are no longer running around the venue, dodging booths and attendees, and eating bites of a granola bar for your “meals.” To make the transition easier, we implemented a few different strategies.

In-person war room

In previous years, our core team was onsite during Cvent CONNECT. This year, however, we were not all together and were instead executing a 42,000-person event from our living rooms. We were able to have a small group of our team meet and socially distance in Cvent’s headquarters to execute the event from the war room. Being able to be together gave us a small semblance of normalcy during this otherwise unprecedented event. We had breakout sessions displayed on the computers, and virtual booths streaming live from the room, all managed by our in-person core team.  

Virtual war room

Obviously, there were only a few people who were able to come into the office, so we also created virtual war rooms. These allowed key teams to join day-long Zoom meetings to ask questions, provide updates, troubleshoot, and more. It is important that your virtual teammates can join the war room to contribute to the event's success. 

Drift (chatbot) with virtual info desk

We also needed to make sure that our attendees had a place to go for support and answers. We used our chatbot, Drift, to help in providing those answers. We put ourselves in the attendees’ shoes to determine what features or aspects of the event could lead to questions. After we determined some common scenarios, we wrote four different playbooks to cover each aspect of the event.

We knew that our chatbot wouldn’t be able to answer every question, so we added streams to route attendees to our sales team for one-on-one demos or support if needed. After the event, our reporting showed that our thought-out answers and flows answered 70% of all attendee questions. By taking the time to think like an attendee and create these different playbooks, we were able to provide a much better attendee experience.

Slack

Finally, we used Slack, an external communication tool, to keep up communications internally, between account teams, and with exhibitors.

Internal

Cvent has offices globally, and now with remote working in place all of our employees are spread out around the world. We needed to have a communication tool for people to ask questions and see announcements about the event. Slack provided an opportunity for us to share major updates and messages to all our internal teams about our event. 

Account Teams

At an in-person event, sales representatives and account managers will often be able to chat with prospective or current customers one-on-one for organic, intimate conversations. We had the challenge of figuring out a way to replicate this TLC during our virtual event. Using Slack, our sales teams were able to create custom channels for their clients to provide a personalized experience. To up the ante, our executives made a point of making some surprise appearances in these chats as well.

Exhibitors

Typically, if an exhibitor has a question at an onsite event, it is easy to flag down event staff for help. We wanted to make sure that our virtual exhibitors had that same level of support. Slack allowed us to be there for our exhibitors to answer questions and to provide assistance.

Phase 4: Post-Event Recon

And that’s a wrap! Just kidding. Once the event was officially over, this is when the analytical work began. We had just hosted a virtual event for over 42,000 people. We had to compile, organize, and analyze all that data to come up with actionable insights and deliver results to our stakeholders.

Data collection review and analysis

When dealing with post-event data, regardless of the system(s) used, there will most likely be a variety of different types of reports. These will have to be filtered, compiled, and delivered in a visual format. This deliverable must be digestible and easy-to-read when presented to the stakeholders. 

Actionable insights

The purpose of gathering data is to determine the story behind it. Throwing numbers up on a screen without any context or reasoning will not be helpful in creating future events. There must be actionable insights - the metrics and findings from your event that ultimately drive decisions to be made and improve time-over-time.

Ideally, you should also have event-over-event data that is consistent, regardless of in-person or virtual. Some examples may include:

  • Attendance and duration tracking
  • Engagement tracking
  • Leads

Being able to compare these statistics year-over-year is important and helpful for your long-term event programming.

Exhibitor follow-up

Exhibitors are key stakeholders at your event, and you must take the time to follow-up with each and every one of them. Make sure that all your exhibitors know how to download the leads they received from your event. Take the time to gather feedback on their virtual experience. This way, you can improve the virtual exhibitor experience for your future events. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What did you like best about the virtual exhibitor experience?
  • What was confusing about the virtual exhibitor experience?
  • What features would enhance your experience?

Take the time to call and speak with each of your exhibitors. Not only will this provide you more personalized insights, but your exhibitors will be impressed with your effort and will remember that when it comes time for next year’s event.

Finally, send out post-event surveys specific to their participation levels. For example, if an exhibitor had a virtual booth, ask questions about that experience. If they solely used a messaging feature, focus on that.

Stakeholder follow-up

Feedback from your internal stakeholders and your team is just as important as feedback from your attendees and exhibitors. Your team had the experience of creating and executing this event, so they have very strong opinions as to what worked well and what could be improved upon. Find time to meet, celebrate your wins, and plan improvements for future events.

A New Era of Events

This blog post wraps up the Behind the Scenes of Cvent CONNECT Virtual series. We walked through each step of the planning process, the challenges and joys of creating a virtual event, and our thoughts on the future of events.. As we all know, virtual events are here to stay and will be an integral part of our events programs for the foreseeable future. We hope that these honest and detailed behind the scenes looks provided helpful insights and answered some questions for you as you and your organization begin to tackle a new era of events.

Q&A

What is the most effective way to engage attendees in a virtual meeting?

There are a couple of different ways we are seeing that work best to engage attendee within your virtual platform. The first is using any type of live Q&A, gamification system, or anything else your platform offers. The next and most important in a virtual space is to make sure that you are creating content that is really exciting and entertaining for your attendees. The goal is to make sure your attendees won't want to look away from the screen.

How much time prior to the event do you recommend launching the Virtual Attendee Hub?

This will of course vary by the type of event you are putting on, but we have found that the sweet spot is 1-2 weeks prior to the event start date. However, this is dependent on what the event entails. If it is a webinar or a series, you don't need to be launching two weeks before, maybe just a couple days prior. Also, if you think your attendees need that extra time to get familiar with the tool, then you'll want to launch a bit earlier. As you can see there are many factors that will help you determine the right time frame to launch, but it will likely be within the range of a couple days to a couple weeks.

We are struggling with presentation lengths and PowerPoint overkill. What do you recommend for presentation best practices?

For presentations in online platforms, we are seeing that it is best to keep presentations shorter. Having too many slides can be too much for attendees and they lose focus. Instead we recommend having less slides, more pictures within the slides, and overall shorter presentations. You want to keep your attendees top of mind and ensure they stay engaged throughout the presentation.

How was this session produced?

Check out the on-demand version of this webinar to hear the answer to this and more questions!

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Anna Linthicum

A recent graduate of Washington and Lee University, I am currently the Sales Development Representative for the Marketing Partnerships team here at Cvent. My writing journey got its start with stories about my cousins and our incredible adventures together on family vacations. You can find me organizing my closet, doing Kayla Itsines workouts, or watching The Office for the umpteenth time.
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