Evolving The Virtual Event Group Chat

February 26, 2010

Excerpt of LinkedIn Discussion ("Virtual Events Forum")

For me, the best content in LinkedIn is found in Discussion threads in LinkedIn Groups to which I belong.  Why is the content so good?

  1. It has a precise focus that’s aligned with the charter or focus area of the group
  2. It’s based around timely topics (i.e. what group members are currently interested in discussing)
  3. It’s interactive with a loopback mechanism – there’s a dialog that unfolds – someone making a wild claim will be called on it and will need to return to the discussion to justify the claim (or, lose credibility by remaining silent)
  4. It’s the best form of “user generated content” – from subject matter experts and hands-on practitioners

As such, some content in LinkedIn Discussions can prove to be more useful and valuable than comparable content in related industry publications and web sites.  The LinkedIn Discussion thread is a great example of the “wisdom of the crowds” surpassing the knowledge of a handful of individuals.

Virtual Event Group Chat

While allowing for the fact that a portion of virtual event group chat is logistics-related (e.g. “I don’t hear the audio on the Live Webcast”), chat content related to the event’s theme (topic) comprises some of the most useful and compelling content in the entire event.  Why is that?  It’s for all the same reasons I list (above) for the LinkedIn discussion.

The challenge in leveraging an event’s group chat, however, is this:

If I’m not actively monitoring the group chat, how do I participate?

In my mind, the virtual event group chat needs to evolve to better serve attendees.

Group Chat Threading

Attendees may visit a group chat area (e.g. Networking Lounge), with an interest to discuss numerous topics (see example with LinkedIn Discussion topics, above).  In an unstructured group chat, the introductory chat message (to start the discussion) is likely to be “interrupted” with other, unrelated messages.  The result is some “scattering” of the chat content, with the possibility that a meaningful discussion (on the original topic) never happens.

Today’s “Wild, Wild West” of group chat needs to become threaded – the group chat’s user interface needs to allow participants to denote which message(s) they are commenting on – with the resulting “chat window” nesting (or otherwise grouping) messages within the same thread.  Additionally, the chat system should auto-populate information on which user one is responding to.  This way, participants no longer need to preface their comment with the name of the person they’re responding to.

A wealth of additional features become possible once this sort of threading feature is enabled.

Embraces and extends chat topics

I submit a chat message, asking if folks are interested in “Topic X”.  If no one answers me back within the next 10 minutes, that chat topic is dead.  Threaded chat, however, allows attendees to bring topics back from the dead.  If a visitor enters three hours later and decides to reply to my original message, that section of “threaded chat” can be moved to the “current timeline” in the group chat area – much in the same way a comment on a friend’s Facebook posting moves the original posting “up” in your News Feed.

Real-Time Search!

If I’m not able to dedicate the time to visit and monitor a group chat area, the next best thing would be a virtual event search function that provides real-time (or near-real-time) indexing of the group chat content.  Imagine the following capabilities:

  1. Exhibitor: perform searches on my company name – allows me to determine whether I need to enter the group chat to repsond
  2. Attendee: perform searches on topics that interest me – and be able to see the entire discussion thread on that topic
  3. Attendee: search on other attendees in my Buddy List – show me chat comments posted by my buddies
  4. Attendee: search discussion threads for comments posted subsequent to my own comments

Content Re-Use

For a B2B publisher – and, for some corporations – the content of selected discussion threads could be re-used and posted on the web as original (or, semi-original) content.  B2B sites often publish “how to guides” and best practices articles – discussion thread content (with the “right” mix of contributors) can be re-published on the web – or, used as the basis for a more in-depth article.


With group chat being one of the most valuable components of a virtual event, its features should evolve to better leverage the “wisdom of the crowds”.

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Improving The Virtual Event User Experience

January 20, 2010

Source: flickr (User: kamomebird)

The Airport Experience

To get to your flight, one embarks on a journey through the airport.  First, you park your car (or arrive via mass transportation).  Then you take an elevator, walkway or escalator and arrive at your terminal.  From there, you use a self service kiosk to check in to your flight and receive your boarding pass.  Perhaps you check in an item of luggage or two.  Then, you enter the security checkpoint line and have your carry-on items (and yourself) screened.

Once through, you walk towards your assigned gate, while stopping (if needed) to use the restroom, purchase a snack or pick up some reading material for the flight.  Once that’s all done, you may sit at the gate and relax for a bit before your flight takes off.  All in all, quite a complex journey – and, you’re no closer to your destination!  Believe it or not, however, the airport has provided subtle “tools” to make this journey a bit more efficient.

In the midst of one such journey (on a recent business trip), I drew comparisons between the airport experience and the virtual event experience.  Here are some tactics used at the airport that may improve the user experience for virtual events:


Bookmarks for frequently visited locations in the virtual event – after I park my car in the airport parking garage, there are a stack of reminder cards by the elevator.  The cards list the garage that I’m in (e.g. Domestic Flights) and allow me to make a small tear mark (on the card itself) to indicate what floor and section I’ve parked in (e.g. 7th Floor, Section F).

Virtual event platforms should support a bookmarking capability to allow me to flag preferred areas of the event – and get me directly there.  Exhibitors could use this capability to find their way back to their booth in one click.  Attendees could leverage this to get them back to the Lounge or Auditorium – or whatever area of the event they frequent the most.

Source: flickr (User: trektheusa)

Auto-generated bookmarks for quicker navigation – at the airport, I use the “moving walkway”.  And I’m not one to stand there for the ride – I like to walk on the moving walkway to double my speed (like most people).  The basic idea is, “get me where I need to go – and fast”.  In a virtual event, the attendee wants to get where they need to go – and they don’t want to “figure it out”, nor are they interested in multiple clicks to get there.

Expanding upon the bookmarking concept, a virtual event platform could use data from the current session and past sessions (for that attendee), to auto-generate a set of recommended bookmarks.  If presented in an unobtrusive manner to the attendee (and, if the recommendations are on the mark), users would perform the one click and be taken directly where they want to go.  And, they’ll be much happier about their experience.


When I pass through the security line at the airport, I usually view the monitors to confirm the Gate Number for my flight.  On my recent trip, I noticed prominently placed display monitors in the walk-way that had visual paging notifications (e.g. “John Doe, please meet your party at Gate 4”).  These notifications are typically communicated via audio announcements on the airport loud speakers – but for me, I’ve been trained to tune out those announcements.  The visual cue was much more effective.

At a virtual event, wouldn’t it be neat to have the show host leave notifications for attendees – and, for attendees to leave notifications to others.  If you’re expecting a colleague to attend the live event but don’t see her online, you can leave her a notification – then, when she logs in, she sees notification pop-ups from the show host – along with your’s.

Affinity Programs

Once through the security checkpoint, passengers are free to roam as they wish in the (secure) boarding area.  Passengers who belong to an airline affinity program, however, can show their credentials (e.g. frequent flyer membership card) to gain entrance into a Frequent Flyer Lounge.  I wrote about this previously – the notion of a virtual event affinity program to increase audience, engagement and “event loyalty”.

Source: flickr (User: tombihninc)


The airport experience can introduce a lot of inconvenience, which means that any little thing (to create convenience for travelers) helps. Even though I had already packed properly, it was nice to see a pile of clear Ziploc bags available in the security check line – travelers who forgot to place their toiletries in a clear bag could grab one to become compliant.

In a virtual event, there are a number of system requirements (or plug-ins) that are needed for an optimal experience.  For convenience, perhaps the platform performs a check during the registration.  While the registration is being processed, the user is informed that a silent background check is being performed.  Then, upon successful completion of registration, the registration confirmation page provides the outcome of the system check, including links to install required software/plug-ins that were not found.  This way, the registrant has the opportunity to “get what she needs” prior to her arrival on the live event date.


With virtual events now beyond the “infancy” stage, I think a key for 2010 will be improving and enhancing the user experience.

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