Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… That goosebump-making line from Jaws could just as well apply to in-person meetings in the age of COVID-19. We’re all still dancing on the shoreline debating whether to hop in and glad-hand others in person, or else continue just staring at a screen full of talking heads. Meanwhile, the purveyors of virtual events tools are honing their craft, and overcoming the limitations of screen-based meetings. Yes, we’ll all get together again, but virtual meetups will continue to evolve as the go-to choice when it comes to personalized, engaging, and frequent meetings. Plus, they transcend time zones and geographies.
My company, the Virtual Events Group, has been on the hunt for pain-point solvers that fit into four neat categories designed to overcome the limitations of traditional virtual events. (On April 29th we’re hosting an immersive dive into how these products work. Techonomy readers can attend by clicking here.)
Serendipity is the new black
Survey after survey of event marketers suggests that their biggest pain point for meeting virtually is getting the audience engaged and interacting. Shindig’s platform is all about turning your event into a social activity where attendees can be part of small groups and intimate conversations, even while attending a large event. Think of it as “co-viewing” a show, but at the same time the host can also call you up on stage for face-to-face interactions with the entire audience, if appropriate.
Mixtroz puts psychology to work by offering attendees a chance to mingle with others based on the results of carefully-scripted background intelligence to work out what are likely to be the most effective human connections. Think of it as like a wedding planner who sets up the right blend of folks at each table. Used live or virtually, Mixtroz starts by having attendees fill out a virtual name tag and answer a few questions. It uses these questions and the geographic location of the attendee to to create small groups of people you’d probably want to get to know. At the same time, an event organizer is collecting sme valuable information about their attendees through those questions. Mixtroz works via a simple URL inserted into any event platform. No downloads required.
Twine’s founder, Lawrence Coburn, says he’s all about creating serendipitous engagements that aren’t agonizing. Twine is a simple system that delivers meaningful one-on-one networking opportunities during any virtual or hybrid event, simply by enabling people to click on a link dropped into an event’s chat window. It uses a combination of matchmaking algorithms and conversation starters to fuel the meetups. Coburn’s last company, DoubleDutch, is now part of Cvent, so he’s well versed in what makes meetings tick.
A slightly different take on the limitations of Zoom meetings comes from LIVE! created by the Dundee Hill Group. The platform lets you work within the Zoom world but move freely from room to room, or exhibit to exhibit, or watch presentations on the main stage. It provides the attendee with agency, giving them the sense that they can mimic their “free to roam” real-world behavior. And then there’s the good old-fashioned bag of tricks including team building, contests, and fun activities that liven up an event. Remember TriviaHQ where streaming video combined with clever trivia questions? The Q Live Game Network lets you grow your own contest show, adding streaming video plus gaming components like Trivia, prizes, and pop- quizzes.
We’re all video producers now
In the virtual events world, everyone is a video content producer, and as people tire of the Zoom window look, the need for slick production can no longer be a barrier to entry. Many of the new video tools emerging on the market seek to democratize video creation and dissemination. Like the desktop publishing of yore, the idea is to have your event look good and be able to dmove quickly to distribute compelling video without needing a professional crew to man the controls.
VideoMine calls itself a Media Project Management System, helping you to reuse your video by providing tools to clip, annotate, engage and share, while keeping track of who’s viewing and where. Most taped sessions from conferences are, frankly, never viewed because they’re unedited. Slicing and dicing videos and distributing them will become de rigueur for all content.
Megaphone TV’s StreamClick offers many of the tools that professional video teams use, minus the technical headaches. With no download required, you can stream any video source, send it to the cloud in a low-latency, high-definition format, and then mix your show using a video switcher, an interruptible audio feed (which allows the producer to talk to talent, known as IFB), and a built-in teleprompter. You call the scenes and cuts from your dashboard. The output can be shown anywhere from Facebook and YouTube to your own website, or embedded in any event platform, just by inserting a line of code. An interactive layer can add polls and even transactions.
But what can I take home?
Coffee mugs and t-shirt swag are hard to come by in the virtual world, but virtual meetings need a way to provide the “leave-behind,” especially since we all tend not to be giving virtual meetings our undivided attention.
Insight Media, founded by Peter Brand, has a product called Storyteller that is an automated publishing system that’s ideal for gathering up headlines and other media from a conference or event and generating a targeted news release. Peter Brand’s last company, Virtual Press Office or VPO , which is now part of Cision, made it simple to broadcast your PR news to the world. Storyteller, the new venture, is all about what he calls “programmatic public relations”. It combines relevant content, AI, audience behavior, and a delivery system so that your audience walks away with a summary of what transpired.
Quickitt is a SaaS content distribution system that’s completely contactless. Whether you’re at a real life event or a virtual one, you can have collateral distributed (while you’re collecting lead information) with a simple QR code. No downloads or apps and no wasted paper. An event attendee can request information in all flavors (video, PDFs, business cards, sales information) just by scanning the QR code.
Content is Still King
Events have become a bit like cooking shows. Chop, slice and dice your best materials, plate them nicely and serve. Content management platforms like Map Digital focus on content, which is more than ever likely to be flowing every which way — live, pre-recorded, and via socialized snips. Whether it’s consumed in a physical ballroom, a Zoom room, or in snackable social media, platforms like MAP Digital provide a secure, compliant, enterprise-grade, SaaS framework. The company’s founder and chief architect, Mary Ann Pierce, espouses a new world of events based on three principles:
- Attendees will demand touchless environments for registration, presentation management, webcasting and all onsite functions.
- Robust internet access and flexible network infrastructure is no longer an option, she says, “it is oxygen.”
- Integration of technology platforms will be the next innovation, she expects, with all stakeholders working on one platform.
Full Disclosure: These companies, while carefully curated, are all sponsors of the upcoming event VEG is hosting, along with other companies I’ve written about in the past, such as LOOPED Live, a fan engagement platform and Swell, an asynchronous audio community. Like I said, you’re welcome to come and see how they all work.