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2011 Predictions For Virtual Events

October 30, 2010

As we head into the final 2 months of 2010, it’s time for another round of predictions.  First, let’s review my 2010 predictions:

  1. The 2010 Predictions for Virtual Events
  2. The Mid-Year Report Card on the 2010 predictions
  3. A posting on the Future of Virtual Events

I assigned myself a mid-year grade of B.  And now, I’m designating a final grade of B-.  I hope to improve in this year’s predictions.  To assist with my predictions, I invited a few experts from the community to chime in, so I’ll be including their predictions with my own.

Market Expansion

To date, “market expansion” has meant a growing number of “pure play” virtual event platform providers.  In the US, we started with a handful of major vendors and we’ve seen new entrants into the market in 2009 and 2010.  We also saw the emergence of platforms outside the US, notably in Europe – and in 2009, in Asia Pacific as well.

For a large Requests For Proposal (RFP) in 2009 and 2010, the virtual event platforms knew whom they were competing against (each other).  Starting in 2011, it gets cloudier (pun intended), as the blending of virtual, social and Enterprise 2.0 means that a wider set of vendors are vying for the same business that virtual platforms got in 2010.

Consider the following vendors, each of whom has offerings that (in part) look, feel and smell like virtual events or virtual business communities:

Jive Software, Yammer, Pathable, Facebook Groups, Socialtext, SharePoint (Microsoft) and Lotus (IBM).

Virtual event platforms can expect to sell against some of these players in 2011 and some platforms may go the partnership route, to build a combined offering as a competitive advantage.

Service Level Agreements (SLA)

The virtual events industry is at a point in its growth where Service Level Agreements (SLA) make a lot of sense.  With a growing number of vendors, SLA’s help separate the contenders from the pretenders – if you’re offering money back (or a credit) if an event fails, then only the strong will survive.

I predict that one vendor will lead the way and proactively hit the market with an SLA – forcing others to follow suit later in 2011.  Expect SLA’s around availability and simultaneous users.

Later in 2011 (or perhaps in 2012), SLA’s will be defined around “quality”, such as response time.  This development helps the market – the assurance provided behind an event allows the market to expand, attracting new customer growth that exceeds 2010’s figures.

Market Upheaval

Market expansion and SLA’s mean the strong get stronger. But lesser platforms have a challenging year ahead. According to Cece Salomon-Lee, Principal at PR Meets Marketing, “some players will be bought by larger organizations, merging to bring together complimentary strengths or even some disappearing from the industry all together. No matter how, we will begin to see some consolidation within the industry.”

Meanwhile, Miguel Arias of IMASTE believes that US platforms will look abroad for acquisitions.  To “gain presence, customers and market knowledge” in Europe, Latin America and Asia, Arias believes US platforms will look to partner or acquire in-country platforms in those same regions.

In my mind, there is an enormous, (largely) untapped market within the US, which means that US-based platforms will continue to focus domestically in 2011.  Global expansion will occur in 2012 or beyond.  In addition, due to the “strong get stronger” phenomenon, I predict that one of the prominent US-based platforms will cease operations in 2011 – or, be sold at a below-market price.

Technology A La Carte


Today, virtual event platforms are “monolithic” – you enter an event and all of the functionality provided by the platform sits within that event.  You can’t experience the platform’s features outside of an “event”.  In my futures column, I predicted that virtual events “move closer to the end user”.

Driven by market demand, platforms will “break out” pieces of their technology platform in a la carte fashion. Customers who do not need a five course meal may opt just for an appetizer and coffee.  This may surface in a number of ways, including:

Thin desktop clients, mobile apps, browser toolbars, virtual booths embedded in banner ads, group chat embedded on a web page, etc.

Hybrid Innovation & The Year of the Hybrid

In 2009, some INXPO colleagues and I predicted that 2010 would be The Year of the Hybrid.  This was partially true – in fact, Cisco received the 2010 Grand Ex Award for their hybrid approach to Cisco Live and Networkers. However, the mass adoption of hybrid events (that we predicted) did not ring true.  But that’s OK, it’s always better to be a year early than a year late.

Event and experience marketing agencies have adopted virtual in varying degrees – 2011 is the year where they demonstrate the most aggressive push to date.  You’ll see strong adoption from the “big brands” in 2011 and it will come by way of these channel partners to the virtual event platforms.  2011 will set the foundation for growth – with “hockey stick growth” coming in 2012.

Another major adopter in 2011 will be associations. They’ve done a number of virtual events to date – in 2011, you’ll see 200%+ growth.  Local chapter meetings will continue to occur at physical locations, while the annual, national chapter meeting of the association will move to a hybrid event, with the virtual component serving those members who were not able to make it to the physical gathering.

More generally, 2011 will see innovative technologies that blend the virtual/online world with the real world.  And these same technologies will be integrated into hybrid event experiences, blurring the lines between physical and virtual.  I’m referring to location based services (LBS), mobile, augmented reality and QR codes.  Expect to see a lot of hybrid events innovation, which benefits everyone.

Miscellaneous Predictions

From Miguel Arias, “After some virtual events vendors, marketers and event organisers have shown in 2010 with successful case studies what are the benefits of virtual events we will see much more events and movements in Europe and South America specially.  I expect a 250-300% growth of the total market size in those regions.”

From Cece Salomon-Lee, “I believe the players that will remain on the landscape will begin building out an ecosystem of services to plug-and-play on the platforms.”

From Miguel on vendor specialization, “With more vendors in the space and more clients asking for more tailored solutions we will probably see a leader in the corporate events environment, a leader in the generic trade show market, other for hybrid events, for virtual career fairs, etc.”

Conclusion

I’ll sum up this piece by using a number of nouns to describe what I expect to see in 2011: innovation, shake-out, growth, change, adaptation, expansion, excitement.  Check back here in 6-8 months for my mid-year report card!

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3 Virtual Worlds Technologies To Watch

September 26, 2010

On September 24th, FountainBlue held its annual virtual worlds conference.  This year’s event was hosted on Cisco’s campus in Milpitas, CA.

The event was attended by entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors and virtual worlds practitioners.  Several virtual worlds entrepreneurs spoke on the scheduled panel discussions and a few set up stations to demonstrate their technology.

I’d like to highlight 3 virtual worlds technologies that caught my attention.

RocketOn: A virtual world layer on top of the entire web

Presenting executive: Steve Hoffman, CEO

RocketOn takes my “Best in Show Award” for most innovative virtual worlds technology.  While Facebook and Twitter have propelled social networking to mainstream adoption, surfing the web is still a solitary experience.

While many web sites have added community features (e.g. membership, comments, Facebook social graph integration, etc.) – it’s still the case that when I browse my favorite content sites, I have no idea who else is reading the same page at the same time.

RocketOn seeks to change that.  Using a Flash layer placed on top of web pages via an i-frame, RocketOn users can create their own avatar and have them walk atop any web page.  They can then see other RocketOn users who may be visiting the same web page.

Perhaps you’re reading a movie review and happen to bump into a friend, who’s reading the same review.  You decide to visit a site that hosts a trailer for the movie, so you both navigate to the trailer site, watch it there and continue your chat.

A Foursquare for the entire web

One of the captivating features of Foursquare is the ability to see who else is at the same physical location as you.  RocketOn has built a similar feature for the entire web.  While the service is focused on a consumer audience initially, imagine how this technology could be used in a corporate setting.

Browsing your company’s intranet could become much more productive and engaging.  Now, water cooler conversations could occur online, as you bump into colleagues at the employee directory page (rather than the kitchen).

Additional Information

  1. The “About Us” page for RocketOn
  2. More details on the RocketOn platform
  3. Neat 2-minute video about the RocketOn service

Zenitum: Bringing virtual worlds into the real world

Presenting executive: Albert Kim, CEO

I admire technologies that flip conventional models upside down.  While we visit virtual worlds from the real world, Zenitum seeks to have virtual worlds elements visit us in the real world.  CEO Albert Kim receives the “Jetsettter Badge”, having attended the conference from Zenitum’s home base in Seoul, Korea.

When publicly released (later this year), Zenitum’s technology will be supported on iPhone, Android and Symbian.  Zenitum will provide their app and an SDK (software development kit) for free.  They are encouraging widespread adoption of their technology – consumers use their app and device manufacturers develop services using their SDK. Zenitum will monetize their service via advertising (“augmented advertising”, perhaps).

Our reality will forever be augmented

When you run the app, your smartphone scans your surroundings, attempting to recognize images.  If it finds a match, Zenitum overlays a 3D animated object on top (or around) the real world object.  For example, let’s say a comic book publisher is running a campaign and loads an image of a comic strip into the Zenitum platform.

The same image is on a billboard on a city street.  When I walk down that street with the app running (and my smartphone positioned properly), Zenitum detects the comic strip image.  It then inserts animated 3D objects (perhaps other characters from the comic strip) around the real world object.  As I move my phone left, right, up and down, the animated objects adjust their positions accordingly.

Possible use cases

Imagine the use of this technology at a museum – as you walk past a painting, its “virtual artist” could appear on your phone and speak to you about the inspiration behind the work.  At a trade show or conference, walking down an aisle could cause executives (virtually) to spring up and give you a brief pitch about their product.

Neat stuff – I hope we’re able to keep the distinction clear, though, on what’s real and what’s virtual!

Additional Information

  1. Zenitum’s “Company” page on their web site

Digitell: Bringing a global audience to your next meeting

Presenting executive: Jim Parker, President

Digitell uses the ActiveWorlds 3D platform to bring you hybrid meetings, virtual events, virtual communities and webcasts.  Jim Parker, Digitell’s President, notes that a common client of his service is associations, who want to extend the audience for their annual meetings.  Parker notes that the immersive experience of Digitell makes attendees “feel like they’re there” (at the physical event).

Parker’s clients who run these hybrid events often charge the same amount on virtual attendance as they do for the on-site event.  In this way, the common objection of cannibalization goes away, as the virtual component generates additional audience – and additional revenue for the meeting organizer.

Dispelling the notion that virtual worlds are for the younger generation, Parker notes that the average age of a Digitell user is 44 (wow!).  Users are so passionate about the experience that they often comment, “when’s the next event, I want to use my avatar!”.

Parker has created 3D replicas of museums, which allows students (across the globe) to visit and experience the museum’s works, without having to be “bused” to the physical building.  Imagine how easy it would be to have a virtual guide take students on a tour of the museum’s main works, any time of day, with students participating from all over the world.

Additional Information

  1. More info on Hybrid Meetings from Digitell

Conclusion

While the term “virtual worlds” has a negative connotation in the minds of many, it hasn’t stopped innovative entrepreneurs from developing new and exciting services.  It will be interesting to watch each of these technologies to review their adoption, growth and monetization.


ROI Case Study: Virtual Edge Institute’s Hybrid Event

July 28, 2010

Introduction

Virtual events have enjoyed phenomenal growth in demand and visibility.  Notable brands and associations have hopped aboard the virtual bandwagon, delivering innovative experiences and impactful results.  The first phase of the virtual event industry is what I call the “early dating period”.  As the industry evolves and matures, we are moving from early dating to an era of “meet the parents”.

That is, a phase in which we receive increased visibility and a challenge to prove and justify ourselves.  The parents, in our case, are the company executives who fund our virtual event campaigns (e.g. our bosses, our CFO, CMO, CEO, etc.).  To date, virtual events used for lead generation have been the most effective at demonstrating ROI.

Why? Because lead generation has existing methodologies and metrics on ROI (e.g. “cost per lead”, “cost per inquiry”, “cost per sales engagement”, etc.).  So a virtual trade show investment could simply “plug into” a corporation’s existing ROI methodology.  For other event types, however, ROI, impact and effectiveness have not been explicitly measured to date.

To evolve our industry, it’s crucial that event planners, platform vendors and ROI experts work together to define and implement methodologies to generate quantitative results for our virtual and hybrid event investments.

Michael Doyle of the Virtual Edge Institute (@virtualedge) is a firm believer in event ROI measurement.  The Virtual Edge Institute is “an international organization dedicated to advancing the development and adoption of virtual event and meeting technology and best practices for collaboration and marketing”.  Doyle hosts the Virtual Edge Summit, an annual hybrid event that brings together virtual event practitioners, experts and solutions providers.

For the 2010 Virtual Edge Summit in Santa Clara, CA, Doyle partnered with ROI of Engagement to measure the impact and effectiveness of the event.  The summit was a hybrid event, with on-site and virtual components running simultaneously.  As such, Doyle sought to study and measure feedback from each attendee group.

The study was based on ROI Methodology™, which ROI of Engagement describes as “a step-by-step approach to collecting data, summarizing and processing data, isolating the effects of programs, converting data to monetary value and calculating ROI”.  The methodology studies results along the following five levels:

  1. Level One: Reaction and Satisfaction
  2. Level Two: Learning and Understanding
  3. Level Three: Application
  4. Level Four: Impact
  5. Level Five: ROI

Virtual Edge Summit 2010 measured the first two levels.  The results of the study have been published here:

http://www.virtualedge.org/forum/topics/measuring-and-maximizing-the

On this page, you can download the White Paper, “Measuring and Maximizing the Impact of a Hybrid Event“.

Virtual Edge Summit 2011 is scheduled for January 2011 in Las Vegas and will be co-located with PCMA.  Doyle plans to apply valuable feedback from the 2010 ROI study to improve the experience for the 2011 event.

Doyle is focusing on consolidating the virtual component on a single platform (in 2010, there were several virtual platforms to choose from) and increasing networking opportunities for both on-site and virtual attendees.

In addition, the 2011 event will embark upon another ROI study – this time, the study will take advantage of all five levels in the ROI Methodology™.

Conclusion

It’s a great time to be in the events industry.  Never before has there been so many technology tools at your disposal (e.g. virtual event platforms and much more).  For continued growth in virtual and hybrid events, the industry will need thorough and proven ROI methodologies to demonstrate and quantify ROI, impact and effectiveness.  Event planners: look to the initiative from Virtual Edge Institute and ROI of Engagement and consider how similar methodologies apply to your next event.

international organization dedicated to advancing the development and adoption of virtual event and meeting technology and best practices for collaboration and marketing

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Virtual Events 101: Tips For Planning Your Virtual Event

May 7, 2010

Previously, I provided tips on selecting a virtual event platform.  In that posting, I covered team, technology and customer service considerations for selecting a platform.  Now, I’d like to cover the very important process of planning your virtual event.  A successful virtual event originates with a sound, strategic plan – one that’s researched, developed and documented well before the topic of platform selection is even broached.

Virtual events involve technology – however, as with physical events, it’s about the experience first.  Technology, while important, is there to provide the means to address your experiential goals.  Get the planning done right and technology decisions will fall out naturally from there.

Understand Your Audience

A virtual event planner must act like a product manager – to build the best “product” (i.e. event), you need to first understand your target audience / target customer.

Product managers need to employ “customer empathy”, while virtual event planners need to employ “attendee empathy”.  Product managers develop user personas – profiles of different users of the product.  Similarly, you ought to create attendee personas.

Identify the attendee profiles – and for each profile, document the “average user”.  Questions you ought to ask about your audience:

  1. Are they inclined to experience an event virtually?
  2. What topics/subjects are they most interested in?
  3. What online sites do they frequent the most?
  4. When they’re not online, what are they doing?
  5. How do they prefer to consume content?
  6. How do they prefer to interact with one another?
  7. What would prevent them from interacting, engaging, etc. online?
  8. What motivates them?
  9. What is their preferred form of reward (e.g. recognition, money, etc.)?
  10. How do you hold their attention?

There are many more questions you could ask.  Understanding your audience is one of the most important planning steps, so make sure you invest the right amount of time and energy here.  When done, document your “audience profiles” and share the document with your extended team.  Ensure you’re all on the same page with regard to your target audience.

Identify Your Funding Sources

The virtual event never happens if you’re not able to pay for its costs.  Are you an association that aims to fund the event with association or per-event fees?   Are you a non-profit organization who submitted a bid for a grant?  Or, are you a B2B publisher who aims to fund the event by selling sponsorships at a virtual trade show?

For virtual trade shows, identify possible exhibiting companies and forecast the amount of revenue you can generate from the sponsorships.  Review past events you’ve produced (whether physical or virtual) – and, review competitors’ trade shows to see which companies are exhibiting at them.

Regardless of the scenario, ensure that your funding model is identified – and, that the funds are “firm”.  It does you no good to spend a month profiling your target audience, only to have that work go to waste when you’re not able to obtain funding for the event.  If possible, seek to have your funds secured before you begin the subsequent planning steps.

Define your Format, Venue, Style, Personality

There are many types of virtual events: virtual trade shows, virtual career fairs, virtual product launches, etc.  Chances are, you already have a format in mind and that’s good.  Following that, however, you ought to consider the additional details of the design, style and personality of your virtual event.

The most direct (and cost effective) approach is to select from the pre-existing “event templates” of your virtual event platform provider.  They’ll allow you to select a theme from their template library and you can apply customizations on top of the base image.  While this approach is time and cost efficient, keep in mind that it’s more challenging to distinguish your event, especially if your competitor uses the same platform and selects the same theme.

If you have the budget (and time) to create a unique experience, consider the venue and theme – a virtual experience is not bound by physical space limitations (or, by gravity), so there are endless possibilities.  Do you want an outer space experience?  Perhaps not, but that’s possible if you so choose.

If budget allows, consult with a creative agency or design firm – you’ll first want to “storyboard” the event experience in the same way you’d map out a new web site.  In addition to event components, storyboard the user journey and user experience – map out how you’d like attendees to move through your environment.

Identify the Event’s Content

Most virtual event planners associate “content” with “sessions” (e.g. Webcasts, Videocasts, etc.).  Sessions are indeed important – invest the time and effort to identify hot topics, develop session tracks and recruit speakers and presenters.  Once that’s complete, identify additional content formats to include:

  1. Break-out Sessions
  2. Training Sessions
  3. Scheduled Chats
  4. Quizzes
  5. Games

Virtual events no longer need to be focused around the session schedule – as you can see from the list above, many content formats are available – and some are more effective at engaging and involving the audience.

Identify Potential Dates

Who knew that virtual event planning would be similar to wedding planning?  With regard to date selection, your first step is “conflict avoidance”.  You want to eliminate important dates within your organization (e.g. the date of your annual customer conference) – as well as important dates within your industry.  Then, review competitive events and related events in your industry, as you want to avoid those too.

Finally, consider seasonality dependencies, such as the December religious holidays or the week leading to Labor Day (in the U.S.), during which many families with school kids are out of town.

Once you’ve done the “elimination” of dates, consider events or occasions that would work well for your event – you might want to plan your virtual event around an existing physical event of your’s – or, plan for event around a key product launch you have scheduled two quarters from now.

Identify the Event’s Duration

Single-day events are the most common today.  Your event, however, should have a duration that’s driven by your goals and objectives.  For instance, if you have more content than can be consumed (or scheduled) in a single day, consider the multi-day event.  If your event is based around an ongoing game, with points accrued over days (or weeks), then the game parameters will dictate the event duration.

For multi-day events, be sure you have an audience engagement strategy in place to incent Day 1 attendees to return for Day 2 (and Day 3, etc.).  In addition, keep in mind that multi-day events require staffing and support to be available for each live date, which adds hard and soft costs to the equation.

Conclusion

Hold your horses! Technology is fun and exciting, but before you jump into that step, be sure to spend the necessary time and effort to complete the planning steps outlined here.  In the end, you’ll be rewarded with a successful event.

Related Links

  1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
  2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


Virtual Events 101: Common Use Cases For Virtual Events

April 28, 2010

Some event planners just know that they want to produce a virtual event.  Others take a circuitous route to a virtual event, considering other options first.  For those of you “on the fence” – you’re interested in virtual, but not sure if a virtual event makes sense right now, read further about common use cases of virtual events.  Based on what others have already done, perhaps you’ll find a similar use case for your business need.

Corporate University, Virtually

Consider a conventional corporate training program – employees travel to the training site and receive instruction.  Training is often in the form of long and elaborate PowerPoint-based presentations, with some intra-class interaction mixed in.  Some training programs may incorporate hands-on learning (e.g. in a lab or in the field, where the company’s products are used).

Now consider virtual training or virtual university.  First, employees (and instructors) skip the flight and hotel – instead, they all participate from their office or their home.  Next, each student enters a virtual university environment, with a customized learning program created by the instructor(s).  In a virtual university (like in a virtual trade show), the attendees’ actions are tracked.  The result – heightened accountability for the students.

Sure, students are still able to view their BlackBerry or iPhone while an instructor is speaking – in virtual, however, learning effectiveness can be measured with precision.  For example: number of sessions attended, average session stay (or, “non-idle time” during the session, if the platform tracks that), number of questions asked per session, number of polling questions answered, number of “engagements” with other students, etc.

Quizzes (e.g. certification) can be given, with automated grading provided by the platform.  In addition, a variety of learning formats and learning tactics can be employed online: live presentations with “pass the baton” (students take turn as presenters), on-demand presentations, interactive games, online quizzes, user-generated content, Q&A sessions facilitated in a group chat room, etc.  Relative to a physical classroom setting, the possibilities are nearly endless, with tracking on a per student, per activity basis – powerful.

Test The Waters in a New Market

Event planners need to consider the creation of new events and new event franchises in order to generate revenue growth and explore new markets.  Consider the commitments required for a physical event vs. a virtual event.  For a physical event, you’ll need to find and secure an event site and pay a deposit to lock in your event date(s).  Then, delegates, exhibitors, presenters and the event staff make travel arrangements to the event site.  Finally, exhibitors and the event staff make arrangements to ship booths, printed paper, computers and related gear to the site.

For a virtual event, there’s a commitment (to secure the virtual event platform), but no physical site, no travel and no shipping.  In other words, the upfront cost commitment and “overhead” is significantly reduced.  This means that you’re more free to test the waters in a new market and evaluate attendee response and sponsorship sell-through rates.  If you discover that the market is not right for an event (virtual or physical), you can move on to the next opportunity.

If, instead, you determine that the market is ripe for ongoing events, you may choose to continue the virtual event – or, create a physical event around the footprint you’ve created virtually.  If you managed to create a loyal community around your virtual events (i.e. attendees are visiting the environment and engaging with others outside of scheduled events), then you have a natural outlet for promoting your corresponding physical event.

Cancellation of Physical Event

The economic downturn of 2008-2009 caused many physical events to be canceled due to budgetary factors.  Despite the cancellations, events planners were left with a mandate from management that “the show must go on” – it was not an option to cancel the annual customer conference or the sales kick-off meeting.

What resulted in 2008-2009 was a lot of virtual event innovation, stemming from savvy event planners who migrated their legacy on-site event or conference into the virtual world.  The result for these planners?  A larger and wider audience (virtually) that appreciated the opportunity to connect and interact – you can’t replace the handshake or the post-event cocktails, but connecting virtually was better than not connecting at all.

As economic conditions improve and budgets for the on-site conference come back around, event planners are not abandoning virtual to return 100% to physical.  Instead, they’re leaving the virtual component in place (in some cases, the virtual component grew into a vibrant online community) and pairing virtual with physical to create a hybrid experience.

Real Products, Virtual Launches

Microsoft made a big splash with its product launch for Windows 95 (in 1995) – the product was ushered in by the Rolling Stones’  “Start Me Up”.  These days, you’re more likely to see Microsoft produce a virtual product launch, rather than a multi-city, on-site road show.  A virtual product launch allows for effective and efficient dissemination of product information to a global audience.

Audience segments can be conveniently managed, with hosting of analysts, media, customers, prospects and partners in areas that are virtually “walled off” from one another.  This event model is analogous to “computing virtualization” – whereby logical “sub events” can ride over a single event platform.  So rather than separate analyst day, media day and partner summit meetings, your analyst relations, PR, product marketing and partner marketing organizations can leverage a single platform to engage with all of their constituents simultaneously.

Virtual Events as Listening Platforms

In my mind, we (as marketers) speak too much and listen too little.  In a challenging economic environment, it can be easier to grow existing accounts than convert new prospects.  To do so, you need to listen more to your customers and become more in tune to solving their business needs.  This is where a virtual events platform can help.

Today, we have the virtual customer conference and the virtual partner summit – those formats, however, are largely focused around “vendor to the customer” content, rather than “customer tells vendor what they need” content.  I think a “virtual focus group” should become a part of most virtual customer conferences, where the given “focus group” can be as small as a single customer to as many as 20.

Virtual event platforms can effectively provide listening tools (e.g. chat rooms, webcasts with “pass the baton”, etc.) – to enable better listening, the platforms may need to build better interpretation and analysis tools.  For instance, the ability to parse all of the chat room content, summarize the key points made and generate a sentiment rating.  Without such tools, event organizers are forced to read through reams of chat transcripts themselves.

Conclusion

I’ve covered a few of the use cases of virtual events – there are many more.  What interesting use cases would you like to share with us?  Leave your thoughts via the comments section below.

Related Links

  1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
  2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


InXpo: Visit Us In-Person Or Virtually at InXpoLive@VirtualEdge

February 10, 2010

Source: flickr (User: santaclaraflickr)

That’s right, even the virtual events industry has a need for an in-person event.  On February 22nd and 23rd, InXpo will be attending Virtual Edge Summit 2010 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.  There’s an All-Star Roster of Virtual Event strategists, practitioners and visionaries on tap, for an impressive 2-day schedule of keynotes, presentations and break-out sessions.

If you’re unable to join us in Santa Clara, InXpo is holding a hybrid event – we’ll have a virtual event running concurrently with the in-person event.  We’ll provide virtual attendees with a means to view the live video broadcasts of the keynotes, presentations, etc. – and, we’ll be utilizing webcams to bridge the in-person event into the virtual event.

You can pre-register for the virtual event (InXpoLive@VirtualEdge) here:

InXpoLive@VirtualEdge pre-registration

How To Find Me

I’d love to meet up and place faces to names – most of the time, I’ll be stationed in the InXpo booth, so feel free to drop on by.  In addition, InXpo is sponsoring lunch on both days, so perhaps we can grab a sandwich together.

Lastly, I’ll be presenting in a Day 2 session titled “Prevent Virtual Event Nightmares: How Producers Prepare Speakers, Exhibitors and Attendees” – it starts nice and early, at 8AM PT.  I’ll be joined in the presentation by Susan Friedmann, The Tradeshow Coach (@Tradeshowcoach).

Hope to see you there, whether it’s in-person or virtually!

Prevent Virtual Event Nightmares How Producers Prepare Speakers, Exhibitors and Attendees

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The Future Of Virtual Events

February 1, 2010

There’s no time like the present … to think about the future.  I previously wrote about predictions for the virtual event industry in 2010 – those predictions were based around a short-term outlook and have a reasonable chance of coming true.  Now, I’d like to weigh in on 2011 (and beyond) and discuss where the industry (and the technology behind it) may be heading.

Virtual Event technology moves “closer” to the end user

To spur increased adoption, the virtual event experience will move closer to the end user.  To move closer, the browser-based experience of today will be complemented by numerous apps that live outside of the browser.  A relevant analogy is Twitter, which could not have achieved its place in the world on twitter.com alone – its power is broadened with desktop clients such as TweetDeck and Seesmic.  Possibilities include:

  1. Browser toolbars that encapsulate a subset of virtual event functionality (OK, we’re still within a browser here – so consider this an initial step only).
  2. Desktop applications – initially, these apps may provide a real-time dashboard for attendees, exhibitor or show hosts.  You’ll get to keep tabs on activity within a virtual event without having to be logged into the event (from your browser).  Subsequently, the apps will become more sophisticated and take on more of the virtual event platform’s features.
  3. Asynchronous alerting services – attendees, exhibitors and show hosts will be able to configure alerts that inform them of important activities.  The alerts will have numerous transport mechanisms – email, SMS text message or social media notification (e.g. a direct message on Twitter).

Virtual Events Go Mobile

Related to “getting closer” to the end user, mobile is the “elephant in the room” for virtual events.  The mobile apps will start off quite simple – think again of the dashboard app, which provides a real-time view of what’s going on within the event.

Building onto the dashboard will be basic interactivity (e.g. text chat) – allowing attendees and exhibitors the ability to chat with others.  An exhibitor, for instance, can now staff her booth “on the go” from her iPhone.

As we look to 2011 and beyond, I see a clear shift in the computing landscape, whereby more and more “computing” moves from the desktop and laptop and on to mobile devices.  In this decade, the smartphone becomes the PC of the past decade.

The challenge for virtual event platform providers is to determine where to place their bets (investments) across iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile and Palm.

Tighter Integration Inside The Firewall

Virtual events see major adoption from multinational corporations, who leverage the events for internal-facing communication and collaboration (e.g. sales kick-off meetings, human resources programs, learning programs, executive briefings, team/departmental meetings, etc.).  Corporations will begin to request the following:

  1. Integration with other enterprise applications (which often sit inside the firewall)
  2. Tighter security measures

This drive from corporations will cause virtual event technology to morph a bit, shifting from a 100% software as a service (SaaS) model to a hybrid model that combines SaaS with on-premise software.

At first, integration points to a company’s enterprise apps may reside “on premise” on corporate servers – subsequently, corporations may require the underlying virtual event platform be hosted inside the firewall – a model that mirrors Linden Lab and their Second Life Enterprise.

Augmented Virtuality

Virtual events and in-person events meet augmented reality – resulting in “augmented virtuality”.  I previously wrote that 2010 is The Year of The Hybrid Event.  There will come a day when every in-person event has a virtual component.  With existing smartphone technology and the emergence of augmented reality – we’ll soon hit a sweet spot whereby in-person event attendees will wield enormous power in the palm of their hands.

Physical event attendees will begin to experience an event through the lens of their smartphone – holding up the smartphone at any location and seeing overlays of relevant information.

Augmented virtuality will blend augmented reality with the virtual event platform – elements of the virtual event appear as overlays on the smartphone (e.g. the virtual booth is layered on top of the smartphone’s view of the physical booth – and virtual staffers are displayed as being available [via the smarthphone] if the in-person staffers are busy).

Bye Bye, “Virtual Events”

Based on the trends I’ve outlined, by 2011 (if not sooner), we’ll no longer refer to “virtual events”.  Instead, they’ll have “grown up” and migrated into a broader category of business or collaboration application.  Virtual event technology becomes a toolset in a larger ecosystem – or, they’re integrated into a broader suite of tools (rather than being a standalone solution).

Conclusions

In a few years, these will no longer be your mother’s virtual events!  The industry and technology will change, morph and adapt to suit the needs of the market.  Let’s all be thankful that we’re along for the ride.

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