Separated at Birth: 10 Reasons Product Managers and Event Managers are Kindred Spirits

May 4, 2013

Product Managers and Event Managers are similar


Creating a great event is like creating a great product. You need to have empathy for your user (attendee) and create delightful experiences that satisfy needs and make them come back for more.

Companies innately “get this.” It’s not surprising that some of the best product companies also produce great events. Two companies that come to mind are Apple and Salesforce. Let’s consider ten similarities between product managers and event managers.

1) Your job is defined by one thing.

Product managers are defined by their products. Event managers are defined by their events. I used plurals there, but more often than not, it’s singular: a product manager handles a product and an event manager handles an event. Most other jobs lack this singular focus.

2) Determining “market fit” is critical.

Before designing a product, a product manager needs to build the business case around market fit: will there be people willing to write a check for my product – and if so, how many are there and what’s the average selling price? Event managers need to follow a similar exercise, to determine whether people will attend the event and (in some cases) whether companies will pay for sponsorship.

3) Your work is determined and defined by a schedule.

Product managers and event managers work from a schedule

Image source: User sadiediane on flickr.

Yes, we all tend to work from a schedule. But product managers and event managers run against a schedule 12 months out of the year. For products, the schedule is built around the current release. For events, it’s built around the current event. After those “ship,” a new schedule is built for the next release or for next year’s event.

4) You apply feedback to make the next one better.

Effective product and event managers identify lessons learned and apply those lessons to make the next release or the next event even better.

5) Empathy for the user is a requirement.

Product managers need to put themselves in the shoes of their target customer. Event managers need to do the same with their target attendees. Without a sufficient amount of empathy, great products and great events will be merely good.

6) You need good marketing to succeed.

An example of good marketing

Image source: Boston Public Library on flickr.

A product never achieves greatness until it’s adopted by the market. An event can’t be great if no one attends. In both cases, marketing is needed to drive awareness and adoption. Without marketing, products may cease to have customers and events may cease to have attendees and sponsors.

7) You have a job that never ends.

I marvel at 24 hour news networks like CNN. Yes, I know that not all programming is truly “live,” but still, there’s programming around the clock. It’s similar for product managers and event managers: rarely is there downtime, because you’re always on to the next release or the next event.

8) The focus of your job is experiential.

So there’s my fancy term for this post, experiential. For events, this is obvious. And it’s true for products: craft a great user experience and you create great products (and events).

9) You’re required to lead multi-disciplinary teams across the finish line.

Great coaches lead great teams

Image source: User farmerdave8n on flickr.

Product managers and event managers need to lead. You’ll work with people across numerous functions and assorted personalities. In the end, you have a single goal: bring the team across the finish line to a great product release or event.

10) You need to make an impact to achieve customer loyalty.

Want customers to renew their SaaS subscription or purchase your next device? Want attendees to return to your event next year? It’s simple: satisfy their needs and make an impact.

Webinar Evolution

October 6, 2010


Do you attend webinars?  If so, what is your satisfaction level with the experience?

Webinar Q&A

I was attending a highly captivating webinar last week.  The speaker had delivered a great, crisp presentation and was doing a great job answering questions during the Q&A period.  While viewing the webinar, I tweeted the following:

Needed in webinars: tool for producer to dynamically insert Q&A topic on screen – better than seeing static closing-slide image

When presenters complete their presentation and transition to Q&A, the viewer is left with a closing slide.  That slide remains unchanged for the duration of the Q&A session.  Couldn’t the moderator play a role here by generating some updates that appear in the webinar player, adding some context to the presenter’s answer?

That’s one of many ways that the webinar experience can evolve.  About a year ago, in fact, I wrote a posting about applying Web 2.0 features to webinars.  Here’s a link to that posting:

Let us know your thoughts – how can webinars evolve?

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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For Virtual Event Platforms, User Experience Is Key

May 22, 2009

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Heard of this new web site?  It’s Wolfram|Alpha, whose “long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone”.  Unveiled with much media coverage (and drawing some comparisons to Google), the Wolfram|Alpha web site is exceedingly easy to use.  Other than the insiders at the company, we’re all first-time users of this service – and Wolfram|Alpha incorporates a lot of noble elements in User Experience (UE) – for one, the main page is prescriptive.

Not sure how the service works?  Well, click on any of the links in the “A few things to try” area and you’re off and running.  A left-click on any of the listed examples inserts the search term into the search box and the page dynamically updates to instruct you on what to do next [e.g. “Click here (or press enter) to get the result”].  Here’s a closer view of the “A few things to try” area:

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

Source: Wolfram|Alpha

How does this relate to virtual events?  Well, in 2009, virtual events have witnessed a dramatic surge in both interest and attendance.  The surge in attendance means that many users of virtual events have been first timers.  In fact, I’d estimate that of all virtual event attendees in 2009, one third (33%) were first time attendees.  Since first impressions are critical, this means that virtual event platforms need to nail the User Experience factor in order to have first time users return for more virtual events.

For first time users, it’s important for the platform to have the following attributes:

  1. Be prescriptive where needed – the last thing a virtual event platform provider wants to hear is a user who says that the environment is “hard to navigate”.  Especially for the first time user, virtual event platforms should add prescriptive features to the user experience – such that booth visits, search, chat, etc. leverage visual indicators similar to Wolfram|Alpha.
  2. Use examples – why not mirror the Wolfram|Alpha approach of  “A few things to try” – use that as a title in a navigational area of the virtual event and you’re sure to have users leverage it to get acclimated.  In a virtual event, a few things to try include: private chat, group chat, private webcam chat, view a Webcast, visit a booth, etc.  By providing these examples – and walking the first time visitor through each activity, you’re allowing these new users to take off their training wheels – and they’ll thank you for it.
  3. Be intuitive and easy to grasp – easier said than done, but the example I’ll use here is Netflix.  When I first joined a few years back, I immediately found the Netflix web site to exceedingly intuitive, with a savvy use of AJAX in just the right places.  Finding movies and managing the Queue were so easy and convenient.
Source: Netflix

Source: Netflix

It would be silly to think that attendees of a physical event partake in “training” in order to navigate and participate.  This holds true in a virtual event – if the platform handles UE properly, the first time user should be up and running as a virtual veteran within the first 30 minutes of that first session.

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