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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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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: 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 .


The Virtual Unconference

January 25, 2010

Source: flickr (User: Jill)

According to the web site Unconference.net, an unconference is “a facilitated participant-driven face-to-face conference around a theme or purpose”.  The basic concept of an unconference is to throw out all notions of your conventional conference – instead of a central planning figure, a pre-planned agenda and a set of presenters/speakers, the unconference has no meeting planner and no set agenda – and the content of the conference is driven solely by the attendees.

In fact, one of the key moments of the unconference is the setting of the session topics.  Attendees with ideas for session content grab markers and write their ideas on sheets of paper.  The papers are then taped against a large grid, which denotes the location and time of the given session.  For further details, Unconference.net has a great article titled “Facilitating unconference agenda creation Step-by-Step“.

With virtual events increasingly complementing face-to-face events, it’s only natural to ask whether an unconference can occur virtually.  My short answer – virtual event platforms need some tailoring and customization to effectively support the virtual unconference.  Let’s consider the pros and cons of virtual event platforms.

Source: flickr (User: scottamus)

Pro: Self Service Capabilities

Naturally, a virtual unconference requires a virtual event platform with self service capabilities.  The self service tools need to be placed in the hands of the attendees, so that they can set up meeting rooms and presentations.  A self-service webcasting/broadcasting tool is a must, so that an attendee who wants to jump right into a presentation or talk can do so with little to no set-up overhead.

The virtual event platform will need to provide the right tool for the job, however – it should support the broadcast of audio (and video, if desired) and allow two-way participation from the audience – they should be able to ask questions and have the ability to annotate a shared virtual whiteboard.  Since attendees do not arrive at the unconference with prepared PowerPoint presentations, the tool should also support desktop sharing (of the presenter’s desktop), with seamless passing of control to other attendees (and back).

Pro: Efficiency of (Virtual) Collaboration

Previously, I wrote about the advantages of virtual meetings – whereby certain types of collaboration are more efficient online vs. in-person.  For instance, annotating a shared document or diagram is easy to do with 1-2 active participants (in person), but gets trickier with a higher number of participants.  In a virtual whiteboard, many contributors can be collaborating on the space at once, as long as they’re not overwriting each other or stepping on (virtual) toes.

In addition, I’ve found the dynamics of text-based group chat to be interesting, especially during a high volume of chatter, with multiple voices contributing at once.  Imagine the heated conference call where everyone has something to say – if done in a text-based group chat, you often find less chaos and more efficiency.  Text-based group chat could be a nice complement to the session and an important component of the virtual unconference.

Pro: Navigation

Unconferences are all about free movement from one session to another.  If the session you selected is not right for you, get up and leave during the first 5 minutes – neither the attendees nor the speaker mind.  In a virtual unconference, finding the right session becomes even easier, since one can navigate to the next session without walking down the hall.  In this manner, you’re nearly guaranteed to find a session that’s right for you – simply click around until there’s a good fit.

Con: Virtual Agenda Creation

With today’s virtual event platforms, it’s challenging to re-create the agenda creation process, with its scrawling of proposed session topics and placement on the shared grid (wall).  I suppose the agenda creation could be handled via group chat, but that may take a while and is not efficient as the master grid.  Another possibility is the use of Google Wave, although the output of the wave will need to be imported back into the virtual events platform.

In the end, I think that an app would need to be created that specializes in the unique agenda creation process – the sheets of paper would take shape online and be placed onto a virtual grid.  Attendees could then click and drag to move sheets around on the grid or delete sheets altogether.  When final, the grid could then auto-populate the event’s Auditorium listing and allow attendees to conveniently navigate to their sessions of choice.

Con: Spontaneity (structured vs. unstructured)

Today’s virtual event platforms utilize a structured model behind the events they create – unconferences, on the other hand throw structure out the window and breed spontaneity.  For instance, if one particular group decided they wanted to move their session to the local Starbucks, that would be completely fine.  In a virtual event, the same sort of spontaneous decision is harder to fulfill.

Virtual event platforms can reach a similar level of spontaneity via self service tools – however, a balance needs to be reached so that the attendee creating the virtual coffee shop doesn’t take down the entire virtual event.  The virtual unconference may need to grant administrator rights to a small subset of attendees who have responsibility for overall virtual event production.

Conclusion

The notion of a virtual unconference makes a lot of sense to me – virtual event platform providers may have some work to do first.  And, similar to the in-person unconference, a business model will need to be established to subsidize the virtual event platform costs.

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Popular Virtual Event Blog Postings

November 19, 2009

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of virtual events blogging (for me) is the ability to observe which postings “work” and which postings don’t work.  I’ve come to learn that my intuition is often off – postings that I think will generate a lot of traffic don’t, while postings that I thought were marginal become very popular.

For instance, I wrote a posting on the concept of applying Web 2.0 to webinars – it was one of my better pieces of work, but the blogosphere voted with their mouse clicks and (unless we had an issue with counting / undercounting of votes) it didn’t even scratch the Top 10 list of posts [over the past 3 months].

With social media sharing these days, I found that the biggest factor in which posts receive traffic (relative to others) is how and where a given posting is shared.  All it takes is a few retweets from prominent Twitter users (i.e. with 20,000 followers each) to drive a lot of page views to a particular blog posting.  Or, someone posts your blog entry to a sharing site, such as StumbleUpon or digg – you’ll see traffic spike when that occurs.

Another factor is search engine optimization (SEO) – with some of my blog postings, I referenced people, places, certain virtual worlds, etc. – and received search engine traffic from users searching on those terms.

Examples include: Gregory House, My Little Pony (they have a virtual world), Online Dating, Club Penguin.  Some of those blog postings were marginal at best – but they continue to draw traffic to this day – by virtue of having common search engine terms in their content.

Here’s a listing of the Top 5 blog postings (on this blog) over the past 3 months – as measured by the number of page views:

  1. How To Promote Your Virtual Event On Twitter – the key point in this posting – to be able to best leverage Twitter, you need to work hard to build the right “following” first.  This posting received top billing (of traffic) by virtue of tweets/retweets, along with some postings to digg.
  2. Virtual Tradeshow Best Practices: Top 10 Exhibitor Tactics – written back in May, this is always a popular one – it has a fair number of in-bound links and also gets a lot of search engine traffic.
  3. The Advantages Of Virtual Meetings – I provided commentary around a Forbes Insights piece that presented the case for face-to-face meetings.  This gets a lot of its traffic via inbound links.
  4. Virtual Worlds: Where We Were, Where We’re Going, What Does It Mean to YOU? – a guest post by Linda Holroyd, CEO of FountainBlue.  Linda may not have known it at the time, but her posting is an SEO hotbed – it contains lots of relevant terms related to virtual worlds – and, lists the names of many industry executives and entrepreneurs (and their companies).  So this blog posting receives traffic when users search for those individuals’ names or company names.
  5. Hey Kids! I’ve Got a Virtual World For You – it’s like a boomerang (it keeps coming back) – I wrote this back in January and the posting can still make this Top 5 list of the past 3 months.  The reason?  It’s rich in search-friendly terms (Club Penguin, Webkinz, My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch, Beanie Babies, etc.) – I suppose I’ve managed to extend the reach of this blog to parents, who are performing searches on children’s toys!

So there you have it.  I’d love to hear from you – what’s been your favorite blog posting?


For Software Development Teams, The World is Flat (And Virtual)

October 18, 2009

Source: flickr (User: reinholdbehringer)

Source: flickr (User: reinholdbehringer)

Software development teams are traditionally located in the same (or nearby) physical office location(s).  It’s useful for these teams to work from adjacent cubicles (or offices) as the close proximity facilitates collaboration, mentoring and joint code reviews.  In fact, the increasingly popular agile software development methodology lists the following in its Agile Manifesto: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”.

I won’t debate this particular point, but I do think that the trends are pointing towards distributed (vs. centralized) software development teams.  Some of the factors that are causing this trend:

  1. Outsourcing and off-shore development – while the core software development team may be based out of a single physical location, corporations are increasingly leveraging off-shore development – both for its lower costs and its ability to tackle ad-hoc product requirements and requests.
  2. Working from home / telecommuting trend – whether it’s a child’s doctor’s appointment or the local outbreak of the H1N1 virus, workers are spending more and more time getting their work done outside of the office.  Ever walk into a large software development shop’s offices during the afternoon?  You probably noticed that more than half the developers’ cubicles were unoccupied.
  3. Good developers can be hard to find – your software development team’s most attractive developers may be located half-way around the globe.  Talented developers are hard to find these days – so why not extend your team’s depth but bringing on remote workers?  As an example of a distributed team working together on a large project, consider the development of the Linux kernel – according to the Linux Foundation, “over 3700 individual developers from over 200 different companies have contributed to the kernel”.
  4. Software developers and product owner in separate locations – it’s not uncommon for the software developers to be in a different location than the business or product owner who’s driving the product and project’s requirements.  As the internal customer, the product owner is obviously a key member of the team.

With all of these factors at play, it seems reasonable that alternatives need to be in place when face-to-face meetings are not possible.  And I have good news on that front – with the emergence and maturation of virtual worlds / virtual meeting technologies, there are plenty of solutions available.

Some technologies available to distributed software development teams:

  1. Virtual Meetings – e.g. WebEx Meetings, GoToMeeting, Adobe Breeze, etc.  These technologies allow users to share their desktops and participate in shared whiteboards.  With the desktop sharing, this allows one developer to “look over the shoulder” as another developer codes.  The New York  Times recently published an interesting article on pair programming – with virtual meeting technology, the “pair” can reside in separate physical locations.  A shared whiteboard may not be useful for writing code together – however, it could certainly come in handy during the pre-coding stage, to map out an architectural diagram or outline a software program’s flow chart.  For a no-cost alternative, developers can interact with audio and video on Skype, which now includes a free desktop sharing feature.
  2. 3D / Immersive Technologies – these solutions provide similar features to a virtual meeting, but add a layer of 3D and immersiveness.  There’s Second Life, of course – and there are also solutions tailored for very specific enterprise use.  Options include Teleplace (formerly Qwaq) and Forterra Systems.  Teleplace offers a solution called Program Management that seems well suited to the distributed software development team – it offers text chat, VoIP chat, video via webcam, shared documents and shared applications (all in an immersive 3D environnment).  Similarly Forterra’s OLIVE platform enables collaborative meetings, training and more.

In this “flat world” that we now live in, I expect software development teams will increasingly collaborate virtually.


How To Run A Virtual Event Command Center

September 19, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Verizon Business)

Source: flickr (User: Verizon Business)

Your extended team worked weeks and months to plan and strategize for your virtual event – now, it’s time to deliver.  While your attendees enjoy the convenience of joining the virtual event from anywhere, the functional leads on your team ought to convene in a single physical location while supporting the event.  As I wrote in a posting on Virtual Tradeshow Best Practices, it’s a good idea to set up a virtual event war room – or, what I prefer to call a Command Center.

The notion is ironic – attendees gather virtually, but the support team gathers in person?  Well, there’s tremendous value to face-to-face when supporting a large scale event.  The benefits include:

  1. Instant communication – If I discover an important issue, I can yell out my discovery and have the entire room hear me.  Those responsible for addressing the issue can jump right onto it.  I suppose you could set up an audio conference bridge to accomplish this sort of coordination, but sitting around the table (in the same room) makes it all the more convenient.
  2. Better facilitates instant collaboration and problem solving – if there’s an issue that requires triage, I can lean over and look over the shoulder at my colleague’s monitor.  We can troubleshoot the issue together and call over other functional leads as necessary.
  3. Quick turnaround on requests –  in any virtual event, there’s a series of requests that one functional team requires another to implement.  Rather than handle the request communications via email or IM, it can be easier to walk to the other side of the room, communicate what’s needed and receive instant confirmation that the request is being addressed.
  4. Builds camraderie – whether it’s the large cheer in the room when the two thousandth attendee enters or the laughing and joking at a team member’s expense, being in the same physical location builds a sense of team closeness and camraderie that’s hard to achieve over a conference bridge.

I fully expect that technologies will emerge to make a virtual command center an intriguing possibility – for now, however, I’m a firm believer in gathering the support team face-to-face.  Here are some best practices in configuring and running the command center:

  1. Carefully select the command center staff – you don’t want too many people in the room – however, you do want a lead from each functional area (e.g. Operations, Engineering, Marketing, Strategy, Communications, Support, etc.).  Make sure the right staffers are present – and communicate to the rest of the extended team via IM, email and virtual meetings.
  2. Arrange the command center seating strategically – similar to how a business might arrange employees’ cubicle assignments, determine the common collaboration paths – and seat applicable combinations of people close to one another.  This way, Operations doesn’t need to walk across the room to huddle with Engineering – instead, they can tap one another on the shoulder.
  3. Configure large-screen displays with dashboards – use the displays to show the virtual event in action – also create dashboards of key metrics that allow the team to spot trends or issues.  For instance, a real-time graph of simultaneous users can flag a system issue if the upward trend line suddenly drops.  Additionally, use displays to monitor attendee feedback, such as chat room activity and Twitter comments.
  4. Schedule regular checkpoint meetings – make sure the team has a chance to stop what they’re doing and take a step back to collectively review where things stand.  You want to provide a summary of recent happenings (or metrics), highlight issues that need addressing and identify any key trends for the team to be aware of.  Take a moment to review your key metrics and ask all functional leads to provide an update.  With everyone moving at a fast pace, it’s important to pause and get a handle on the bigger picture.

And finally, what’s one last benefit of the command center?  At the successful conclusion of your big event, you all get to go out together for the celebratory dinner.


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