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Creating the new playbook for hybrid event design with Cvent and RDC

hybrid event attendees




virtual session views in Cvent Attendee Hub

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) is a global member association committed to transforming the health ecosystem. As a mission-driven non-profit, HIMSS offers expertise in health innovation, public policy, workforce development, research, and analytics to advise leaders, stakeholders, and influencers from across the ecosystem on best practices. HIMSS has served the global health community for more than 60 years across North America, Europe, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific.

Establishing Partnerships to Support the Event Ecosystem

As the global health crisis has evolved, definitions of event success have changed. There are more choices than ever, meaning event success is directly linked to organizational success. For HIMSS, the question became - what does success look like and how could they future proof that success? As an established brand with a rich history of membership engagement, the challenges of the pandemic opened the floodgates of opportunity for HIMSS. They aimed to redefine the event experience, engage audiences in new ways, enrich sponsors, and empower the creativity of their team. They decided to partner with Cvent and RDC, an experiential advisory firm, to achieve their goals. RDC works closely with brands, agencies, and organizations to create moments that maximize online media engagement resulting in greater brand awareness and growth. 

As a member association committed to transforming healthcare, the annual HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition is the cornerstone of its membership connection, education, and influence for healthcare professionals globally. HIMSS needed to not only serve the needs of their 100,000+ membership community but also maintain revenue streams and set themselves up for future success as an organization. “Our strategy today will help shape the future of our events,” says Peggy Diab, HIMSS Vice President, Events. She adds, “The events landscape is changing. Events today are different than how they were two years ago. We have to rethink our approach to how we design our in-person and digital experience.” So began the strategic work of designing a digitally enabled experience that would complement the large-scale in-person HIMSS Conference & Exhibition, which would drive over 15,000 virtual registrations alone and garner record content engagement.

With significant size and scale, the scope of the HIMSS Conference & Exhibition saw  valuable experience design considerations and opportunities arise. The initial goals for the event were two-fold. “There were two critical components to developing an influential and effective strategy for the new HIMSS event design: relevant data and actionable customer insights,” shares RDC Founder and Experience Advisor, Robyn Duda. She adds that there were clear opportunities for the right strategy and event technology to benefit the organization. “With an event this robust, there are many goals to achieve including both short and long-term audience and revenue growth, content development and realignment, integration of sponsorship partners, and cohesion of tech and data that are additive to the experience and scalable,” Robyn adds. She explains that her team established two primary goals, noting, “First, design and implement an integrated experience strategy made up of a cohesive set of movements. Second, follow a framework I developed that aligns every moving part into one cohesive, integrated experience. I call this framework The Anatomy of Experience.”

RDC implemented the curated Anatomy of Experience to show how HIMSS, RDC, and Cvent worked closely together to navigate a complex content, tech, marketing, and design landscape. Leveraging the Cvent Attendee Hub helped weave together the entire digital journey, and using the integrated Cvent solution suite for both experiences helped ensure a cohesive dataset across the event.

Challenging the Status Quo with Cvent Event Technology

HIMSS and RDC put forward a clear ethos to keep the event relevant by defining one key goal: to design a high-value and engaging hybrid solution for both virtual and in-person audiences. Additionally, they outlined the mission to reform the global healthcare and wellness ecosystem in order to realize the full health potential of every human everywhere. To do this, HIMSS selected Cvent as their event technology partner and virtual event platform to support this critical point of collaboration. “The partnership between Cvent and HIMSS was outstanding, and that became an important backbone to success because the solution was so complex,” says Rob Hamlin, Cvent Regional Vice President. “With a robust tech stack, multiple technical teams, and reg and data integrations, having clear communication allowed us to stay focused on the attendee journey. It was critically important that even though we were solving for the curation of attendee data through multiple platforms, everything was smooth, integrated, and aggregated in a way that was usable and made complete sense.”

With a significant technical build out, it was clear the online experience had to be intuitive and easy to navigate. It also needed to be visually engaging, as it was the only immersion point audiences had. This is easier said than done when building a custom solution. “You are dealing with API’s, SSO, writing code, integration reg systems, and more, so it’s easy to get caught up in the back end around data and integrations,” says Rob. Cvent has made significant investments in building and enhancing their new REST API. This ensures technologists can more easily automate manual processes while saving valuable development time.

He adds, “These are important, but there’s much more to consider: does the product look great? Is it user friendly? So, we implemented a key role that we called The Event Quarterback.” The key support role was able to monitor progress across the event lifecycle to ensure a seamless experience for HIMSS teams and attendees alike. In fact, leveraging Cvent professional services, like day-of support, and working closely with their Cvent team across the event was key. From building custom road maps, to understanding the power of a first impression, to providing direct training, the focus on navigation was detailed—tying to the bigger picture that digital is a long-range investment—and this annualized content strategy is paving the way for how audiences will consume content now and in the future.

Curating a Content Experience for Hybrid Audiences

To put all of this smart digital and data foundation in place, HIMSS created customized education pods for a tight and curated onsite experience. In total, they hosted hundreds of hybrid sessions. They also developed 90-minute digital content segments that were designed to entertain and educate individual personas in TV-like broadcasts – as opposed to days filled with hour-long sessions by track. These sessions were anchor-hosted and included keynotes, fireside chats, panel discussions, and industry highlights, which were livestreamed via the Attendee Hub. “We didn’t want to end up with a media catalog environment,” insists Peggy. “We wanted to develop content wrapped around experience. We curated strong content, and allowed the attendees to design their own digital journey.”

Building real engagement digitally was another key challenge that RDC and Cvent had to solve for with HIMSS. Robyn adds, “Likewise, evolving how we ensure people connect in-person has shifted.” She likens the strategy design to popular digital media platforms. She explains, “Putting this connection at the forefront means we find experiential and content-based ways to say ‘yes’ to the right audiences, make them feel at home, and design programming they don’t have to search for but that we put front and center – a la Netflix and YouTube recommendations.” She adds that the partnership between the different organizations was key to their success. Robyn says, “Working with HIMSS and Cvent, we put connection in the driver’s seat and that was woven through the entire design experience.”

Community as a Cornerstone of Hybrid Event Design

To develop an environment that enabled meaningful connection, HIMSS invested in digital production design, custom staging, and professional anchors to guide the experience. These anchors would read live questions, interact with attendees, and answer tweets on-air, bringing personal names to the forefront as opposed to leaving networking and connection solely as the responsibility of attendees. “We are proud of the new experience we delivered to our audience. We now have a foundation to build on. Content is king, and the experience is just as important,” shares Peggy.

HIMSS also took advantage of integrated features within the Attendee Hub to build community and engagement amongst the virtual audience. Custom cards and custom pages helped drive attendees to specific sessions or areas of the platform while push notifications meant event organizers could communicate key information to attendees with a single click. The integrated, moderated chat feature allowed attendees to connect digitally and respond to points of interest with embedded reactions. Gamification meant event organizers to further incentivize attendee engagement, configuring the game based on their specific event goals, stakeholder priorities, and desired attendee behaviors.  Moreover, session recommendations based on user behavior and registration information helped drive deeper engagement. With the integrated Appointments tool and the attendee list, HIMSS could recommend certain attendees connect via the Attendee Matchmaking feature.

The virtual exhibitor experience within the Attendee Hub not only helped generate engagement with sponsors, but also provided valuable lead generation opportunities. Thanks to the inclusion of dedicated sponsor and exhibitor pages, as well as integrated virtual booths and the Cvent Appointment solution, the 45 virtual sponsors saw nearly 1,100 page views, over 200 inbound leads, and nearly 100 attendees joined a virtual meeting room. Sponsors and exhibitors could include organization overviews, contact links, social media links, documents, and much more within their virtual booth. There were over 6,200 virtual appointments created using the integrated Appointments solution. With a plethora of ways to engage with attendees, they could then access that attendee data post-event and gauge ROI via on-demand reports within Cvent.

Onsite, HIMSS created digital connections through the Cvent mobile event app. Within the app, they were able to feature specific sessions, exhibitors and sponsors, speaker information, and opportunities for networking. Moreover, attendees could build and manage their own agenda within the app, connect with other attendees via direct message, and view key venue information through interactive maps. The HIMSS team could also leverage push notifications to keep attendees updated with important information and safety regulations.

Proving the Value of Hybrid Events with On-Demand Data

The shelf life of digital has changed the game. While in-person events can still remain moment-in-time experiences, the virtual additions and brand relationship-building that now happens year-round is a tremendous opportunity. To keep and hold audience attention means content, timing, messaging, and production need to be at the forefront of all planning. Peggy explains, “Attention spans have shortened, experience is crucial, and if we can’t get our content across in 20-30 minutes, then our message will get lost. To address these design criteria, we invested in a production agency experienced in producing television and movies.” HIMSS was able to secure new speakers with fresh, diverse voices given the new focus on digital programming and 365 virtual engagement. These new panels gave rise to opportunities for audience expansion globally with over 20 countries tuning in for pre-event coverage and streaming the on demand packages post-event.

HIMSS also provided the digital program via the Cvent Attendee Hub to anyone attending in person. In fact, the virtual programming was launched as a way to think long term and train audiences to consume content in new ways. An on-demand library of both the pre-recorded and live sessions meant attendees could continue to engage with content well after the close of the event. With each post-event on-demand marketing push, views increased and the attendee journey was extended. In fact, HIMSS was able to track over 10,000 digital session views during the conference and an additional 18,000 session views on-demand through Cvent.. They were also to evaluate session performance through session duration tracking and integrated surveys. “Digital doesn’t end when the show ends. We can continually serve up content that evolves our industry and solves our members' problems,” Peggy adds.

Evaluating the success of the large scale hybrid event meant HIMSS needed a central reporting structure for both the in-person and virtual experience. They used integrated session-level surveys within the mobile event app while offering event-level surveys for the digital experience, and a standalone survey post-event for overall feedback across audiences. They exported the survey detail reports from the mobile app and from Cvent surveys for an integrated set of analytics and reporting. In fact, thanks to their successful experience using integrated Cvent solutions, they continue to grow their product use across events. For two additional events in November 2021, they used the Attendee Hub along with the Event Management and Appointments solutions.

Event design has forever changed. Digital moments now complement in-person experiences. Audiences’ expectations stem from the real-time engagement and customization that consumer brands offer. The lift for event teams can feel like both a sprint and a marathon. HIMSS was able to create raving fans, de-risk 2021 revenue, and create a foundation for incoming three-year revenue streams derived from both community and events. Their members felt connected, event audiences felt seen and heard, and audience KPI’s increased.

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