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?

Bringing The Physical Event Experience To Virtual Events

March 30, 2010

Source: flickr (User: cafebiz08)

Virtual trade shows got their start by creating 2D graphical replicas of physical trade shows: exhibit halls, booths, auditoriums, lounges, etc.  Most users are “wowed” in their first experience attending a virtual trade show – they enjoy the quality of the user interface and often comment that they felt like “they were  there” at a physical event.

Exhibitors, too, find the virtual trade show experience to be quite enjoyable – at the same time, they often highlight important differences between exhibiting virtually vs. physically.  In a physical event, for instance, you have some amount of guaranteed foot traffic on the show floor – a portion of which will naturally wander into your booth.  The “efficiency” of a virtual event means that users only enter your booth by explicitly clicking into it.  In a physical event, exhibitors can greet prospects with a friendly handshake – in a virtual event, the exhibitor may never see the prospect’s face.

How can virtual event platforms incorporate aspects of the physical event experience?   Let’s consider a few ideas.

Source: flickr (User: ExhibitPeople)

How To: Gain Virtual Foot Traffic to Booths

On a crowded show floor at a physical event, an exhibitor knows that some percentage of attendees will visit their booth – additionally, exhibitors can increase their investment and receive strategic placement on the floor (e.g. near the entrance, near areas where food and drink are served, etc.).  In a physical event, as attendees walk towards (or past) your booth, there are tactics to catch their attention (e.g. making eye contact, telling them about a special sales offer, showing T-shirts that you’re giving away, complementing them on their laptop bag, etc.).  In a virtual event, you never see someone “passing by” your booth – they click directly to where they want to go.

The Guided Random Walk

Virtual event platforms could re-create the leisurely stroll down the show floor aisles.  Clicking on a “take me on a guided booth tour” button could allow the platform to become the auto-pilot and guide the attendee to the “store front” of randomly selected  booths.  At each  “stop”, the attendee is presented with an overview of the exhibitor, the products/services they provide and a list of staffers with whom they can engage.  The attendee can click to enter the booth – or, continue on with the “walk”.

Once they enter a booth, attendees would see a “resume walk” button to return to the guided tour.  Additionally, the virtual event platform could collect “interests” on the registration form (or on the attendee’s profile) to more efficiently recommend exhibitors (on the tour) to attendees.  Since most virtual attendees prefer to visit only those areas that interest them, this service would be completely optional.

Strategic Offer Placement

Virtual event platforms provide many avenues and areas for exhibitor branding and promotion (e.g. banner ads, jumbotron, etc.) – similar to a physical booth located near the food and drink, virtual event show hosts could map out the event hot spots (e.g. lobby, auditorium, etc.) and provide sponsorship opportunities for exhibitors.  For instance, the Auditorium could display banner ads that drive traffic to premium sponsors’ booths.  Since the virtual attendee is bound to navigate through key areas  (e.g. the Auditorium), promotions in those areas creates the equivalent of “passerby traffic” in a physical event.

Webcast Exit Actions

Imagine taking all attendees of a physical conference session and teleporting them to a specific sponsor’s booth at the conclusion of the session.  Well, a virtual event makes such teleporting possible.  If an exhibitor is presenting in one of the event’s Webcasts, have the virtual event platform provide an “exit action” to drive Webcast viewers to the exhibitor’s booth when it concludes.   Be sure to instruct the Webcast presenter(s) to inform viewers that additional questions can be addressed within the booth at the conclusion of the Webcast.  And, be sure those presenters also “exit” into their booth to provide the answers!

Source: flickr (User: SESConferenceSeries)

How To: Gauge Visitor Interest

When an attendee visits your physical booth, you can quickly judge their interest level based on facial expression and body language.  While these signals are not available from virtual booth visitors, you certainly can decipher interest based on the visitors’ mouse clicks.  Eloqua developed the concept of digital body language – and it applies directly to virtual booth visitors – “Digital body language can arm sales people with deep insights into the areas and levels of interest of every prospect.” (source: Eloqua)

The virtual event platform could provide real-time profiling of booth visitors, based on the actions they’re taking within the booths.  Inactive visitors can probably be left alone, whereas highly active users (lots of document views, document downloads, web site views, chat requests, etc.) may literally be raising their hand to engage in a conversation.

The virtual event platform could first characterize the nature of the prospect’s interest (e.g. map the requested documents to high level “interest categories” defined by the show host) and then place a subtle offer in front of the visitor (e.g. “An online representative is available to answer questions about telepresence – click here to engage in a 1:1 chat”).

Since this feature could be deemed too “Big Brother” by attendees, it would have to be tested (to gather feedback) and/or have an explicit opt-in setting that allows attendees to enable or disable the feature.

How To: Connect with Interested Attendees

During periods of high activity in a physical booth, visitors often walk up, see that all staffers are speaking with other attendees and decide to move on to the next booth.  Perhaps  later in the day, the same visitor returns to see if any staffers are available.  The observant exhibitor may recognize the visitor (from her prior visit) – and if so, provide special attention to her (since she made the effort to visit the booth and return a second time).

In a virtual event, all activity is tracked, which means that observant exhibitors need only turn to the services of the platform to let them know about repeat visitors.  Virtual event platforms ought to explicitly track repeat visitors and alert booth staff accordingly – perhaps the platform plays one audio alert for the first time visit  – and separate audio alert for the repeat visitor.

Additionally, the platform could allow exhibitors to build in rules and offers based on the amount of repeat visits.  For instance, on the fifth visit to the booth (within the same day), the visitor could be offered to download a free copy of the exhibitor’s software.  Exhibitors  could then leverage the resulting action to qualify the worthiness of the prospect (e.g. visited my booth 5 times + downloaded a copy of my software = have a sales rep follow up tomorrow).

Source: flickr (User: bilateral)

How To: Create Better Attendee Networking

One of the key attractions to an event is the ability for attendees to network with like-minded professionals – exchanging ideas, thoughts and business cards.  In a physical event, there are many “transitory phases”, where attendees migrate from one locale to another.  These phases create opportunities to meet or “bump into” random strangers.

That being said, meeting at a physical event is largely inefficient, based on the random nature of the meet-up.  Who knows if you’ll meet someone aligned with your interests or an uninteresting individual who’s there only for the free cocktails?  A virtual event can leverage the information available in user profiles to make meet-ups a bit less random – and far better “matched”.

In virtual, we can skip past the not-so-subtle glance at another attendee’s badge label – instead, we can auto-recommend like-minded individuals.  In my mind, the single most effective feature of LinkedIn is the “People You May Know” listing in the upper right of your LinkedIn home page.  Virtual events ought to create recommendations (of other attendees) with the same effectiveness.

The recommendation engine could be combined with an interface similar to ChatRoulette – whereby attendees enable their webcam and rotate through and chat with other attendees in roulette-type fashion.  It may not be quite the same as the physical experience, but the use of webcam can add a whole lot more than just text chat.


While it’s still true that virtual events can never replace the handshake – there are benefits of physical events that if modeled and implemented properly, can be a boon for virtual events.

Incorporate Gaming In Virtual Events

November 5, 2009


We’ve reached a point in the virtual events industry where users who have attended 1-5 events (or more) are starting to ask, “What’s next”?  If the industry doesn’t effectively answer that question, then users will eventually stop coming back and attendance will suffer.  One concept that makes a lot of sense is to introduce gaming into virtual events.  By doing so, you’ll achieve real results.  Why gaming?  It’s all about REEL:



Retention is a key objective of any virtual event – whether it’s a lead generation event (virtual tradeshow), partner education event or a virtual sales meeting, you want attendees to leave the event with a level of retention over the content you’ve provided (e.g. exhibitor product information, your own product and technology specifications or the the coming year’s sales priorities and initiatives).  Even in a virtual career fair, “retention” is about job candidates retaining information about your company and why they might want to work there.

With gaming, retention isn’t going to be achieved magically.  Rather, you’ll need to be very strategic in weaving your content message (and objectives) into the games themselves.  So you’re not providing games for 100% fun – but rather, crafting real business value out of participation in the games.  So first determine the messaging you want to convey to your attendees – and itemize the set of desired actions/outcomes you’d like to see them take in the virtual event.  Your tactics will then fall out from there, in terms of how to achieve your objectives within the games.  Sample tactics include:

  1. Place clues in the games that require participants to find and consume content in the show (e.g. view Webcasts, visit booths, etc.)
  2. Award game points based on participant actions
  3. Reward participants who successfully complete quizzes – whereby the questions are associated with content that can be found within the event

In summary, the structure of the game is all about driving business value – with attendees leaving your event with the desired level of retention.  The retention level translates into ROI on behalf of the event exhibitors, executive sponsors and show hosts.


All virtual event hosts want to maximize engagement at their event – long session times, high attendee participation, etc.  The way this is achieved via gaming is not just in the sheer interaction with the game elements.  There’s also the factor of competition.  It’s natural for users to exhibit a competitive spirit – competition brings us validation (to know that we’re “better” than the “opponents”), recognition (to achieve a certain status or to see our name atop the leaderboard) and acclaim (to know that we’ve been crowned the champion).

So be sure to make competition a key element of your gaming, as it provides the constant “pulse” (heartbeat) behind the event.  With a leaderboard that’s updated in near-realtime, there will be constant buzz and activity as players jockey with one another for the top billing.

At the platform level, use the familiar video game tactic of “unlocking” certain features or capabilities based on levels you achieve in the game.  Perhaps it’s a special avatar or profile image (to designate your status) or a capability that puts me at an advantage against other gamers.  Lastly, provide compelling prize(s) to participants – otherwise, their incentive to compete may wane.


When’s the last time you heard someone say they “had fun” at a virtual event?  Not too often, I’d imagine.  Well that’s a goal of gaming – while driving business value, you can simultaneously allow attendees to have some pure, old-fashioned fun.

Perhaps you create a game or two that has no (or very subtle) tie-in to your business objectives.  Or, you create a fun game that has business association, but is very fun to participate in (e.g. Jeopardy, Deal Or No Deal, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, etc.).  If you’ve generated retention on the part of attendees – and they enjoyed the experience, then you’ve just created a win-win scenario.


An obvious point, but enjoyment lends itself to loyalty.  The more I enjoy an experience, the more I want to do it again.  With gaming, you have a real (or “REEL”) opportunity to create attendee loyalty, so that they come back for your next event.

Furthermore, in hosting an extended event (consider the case of an ongoing event that runs around the clock for a few weeks), the competitive aspect of the event keeps users coming back in to interact with the games, accumulate points and keep (or improve) their standing on the leaderboard.  As a virtual event host, loyalty is your pot of gold – loyal attendees means loyal exhibitors, sponsors, etc.

In summary, incorporating gaming into virtual events is a REEL opportunity that you should consider – if done right, all of your constituents will thank you for it.

Related links

  1. Gaming and Virtual Reality at Cisco’s Annual Sales Meeting (blogs.cisco.com)
  2. Cisco GSX — A Countdown to a Landmark Virtual Event (virtualedge.org)
  3. Marketing Lessons from Foursquare (rocketwatcher.com – observations on the mobile gaming service created by Foursquare)

Use Treasure Hunts to Increase Engagement in Virtual Events

December 23, 2008


Flickr ("Crazy Cake Lady")

Source: Flickr ("Crazy Cake Lady")

You’ve planned a great virtual event.  You sold a number of high profile sponsorships.  You promoted the event to your members and generated strong registrant counts.  You’re looking forward to the big day, when the exhibitors (and your boss) pat you on the back.  But wait!  You’re work is not done.  Even if you have a large audience – and, the right audience, exhibitors will deem the event underwhelming if that audience doesn’t adequately engage with them.

In a prior blog post, I wrote about the effectiveness of prize giveaways at virtual events.  In that post, I wrote about the notion of smaller prizes to generate interest.  Here, I endorse a slightly different approach: use a grand prize (e.g. flat screen HDTV, if budget allows) and up the ante for prize qualification.  Instead of “presence” in some event location, require that attendees complete all steps of a treasure hunt in order to qualify for the prize.

With a multi-sponsor virtual event, you’re going to want to keep all of your exhibitors happy (without favoring any particular exhibitor).  So set up the treasure hunt so that each exhibitor benefits.  Here is a sample treasure hunt template.  I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what actions each step encourages.

Sample Treasure Hunt

  1. Find the White Paper titled Best Practices for Data Deduplication.  Name the author of the White Paper
  2. Find the White Paper titled Data Backup and Recovery.  Name the sponsor booth in which it’s located
  3. There is a booth representative in this event named Joe Kennedy.  Name the sponsor booth in which he’s stationed
  4. In the second Webcast presentation today, the speaker is from what company?

If you go with a treasure hunt, be sure to promote it heavily, both within the event and in email promotions and web site listings prior to the event.  To select the grand prize winner, ask your virtual event platform provider if the platform’s survey function can do the trick.  You may be able to “host” the treasure hunt quiz via the survey – using either multiple choice selections or, using a free-form text field to solicit answers from treasure hunt participants.

Happy Hunting!

%d bloggers like this: