Sooner or later, you will be part of a conversation to discuss whether or not you should be live streaming your conference. You may even find yourself in a position where you are the one responsible for making it happen. Now what?
Very few people have any training or knowledge on how to execute a Hybrid Event (a Hybrid Event is when you add a virtual audience to your physical audience via a live stream). Fortunately, the Virtual Edge Institute (VEI) has developed a fantastic program called the Digital Event Strategist Course (DES).
The Digital Event Strategist certification is designed to help individuals and organizations develop a means to effectively plan, produce and measure the results of their digital engagement practices and to develop a management pool strategically equipped to engage audiences using digital technology. The certification program includes an application process, an online learning program and an exam administered by VEI.
Recently, Neil Kelly from Digitell conducted an interview with Gayle Withers on making the transition from the DES program to executing a Hybrid Event for her Association.
Neil: Joining us today is Gayle Withers. She is a certified meeting planner and a Digital Event Strategist, as well as the assistant Director of Meetings and Strategic Initiates for the Law School Admission Council otherwise known as LSAC. Hi Gayle, how are you doing today?
Gayle: Great Neil, great to be here thank you very much!
Neil: Thank you so much for joining us. Just really enjoy the fact that you are getting into this wonderful world of Virtual Events and Hybrid Events and live streaming.
Gayle: Absolutely, it’s been an exciting process…I’ve really enjoyed every step of the way.
Neil: I have a few questions about your experiences in the virtual realm that I would like to ask, and let’s start off with…Tell us what you do for LSAC.
Gayle: At LSAC I handle the logistics for all of our trade shows. Now our trade shows have been, historically, in person events…but with the addition of the virtual aspect of our trade show, I am now responsible for hybrid events as well.
Neil: Excellent. And hybrid events is something that we’re all involved with here including a special course offered by the Virtual Edge Institute, which you have taken. The DES course for your DES certification. Why did you sign up for the DES course offered by VEI?
Gayle: Well…I’m glad that you asked that. I signed up for the DES course offered by the Virtual Edge Institute because we really wanted to reach an international audience, and we didn’t know quite how to do it. One of our trade shows is geared toward people who have been trained overseas and while we see a lot of these people in New York…which is where we host the physical event…we knew that not everyone would be able to hop on a plane and come to our event, especially those from other countries. So that made me say I need to go back, and need to learn what we can do to reach these people…and it seemed like digital was the way to go.
Neil: What were the takeaways from the DES course?
Gayle: I had so many takeaways that I wouldn’t even be able to list them all here, but…the main thing that I learned is that digital events should be considered a marketing initiative. A way to broaden your audience. Most people worry that if they add the digital component to their live meeting that they will “cannibalize” their live event…that people won’t come if they can sit at home and watch online. What we learned in the course, and what I found to be true, is that the people who watch online are not the ones who would have come in person. They’re the people that you wouldn’t have reached otherwise. We actually increased our registration numbers by over 200% by adding the live stream of our educational breakouts…and these people would have never come to our event, we would have never reached them otherwise. We would have never connected to them…and now we have that many more qualified leads in our system.
Neil: So why is learning about hybrid events important to your association?
Gayle: Well…learning about hybrid events is important to us because we really believe in face to face meetings, but, we also just want to connect with people who can’t be there live…so…we needed to find some way again, to reach those people. So, it became an initiative of ours.
Neil: How did the DES Course help you prepare for implementing a hybrid event for your meeting?
Gayle: Well…I had no experience in planning any sort of digital events prior to taking the DES course, so I went in completely blind. Some people actually had a background…they knew some things. I came in with no information. I had attended a few hybrid meetings when I couldn’t travel to the face to face event, but that was pretty much it…so…as I worked through each of the modules for the course, I was able to put together an action plan. An action plan that I wouldn’t have been able to do had I not taken the class. I was able to understand the questions that were asked of me by my AV provider and by Digitell and I was able to feel confident every step of the way. Even though I had absolutely never done this before…so…the DES course helped me do this and be successful.
Neil: And why did you select Digitell to handle your hybrid event?
Gayle: I selected Digitell because the platform was very easy to negotiate. It’s easy for people…for attendees to intuitively understand what to do with very little direction. And what I know, and what I saw, is that you have to make it very easy for your audience. They don’t want to have to have a training course to maneuver your hybrid event. If it’s complicated, they won’t come or they might not stay if they do come. So you need to make it easy. From my perspective, Digitell had a very clear outline of what we needed to tackle to get this event off the ground. They guided me every step of the way, and I never had any fears that we would have any mishaps during the event…which is a really a wonderful thing to feel when you’ve never done this before. It was actually funny because one of my sessions ended 20 minutes before we were supposed to and I had to go to my backup material to cover until I could come up with a new action plan. Thank goodness Digitell was there…they told me… make sure you’ve got stuff ready to go. Which I had a lot of stuff in my back pocket, so…I was making calls on the fly, and the Digitell team that was with me onsite, the Digitell team that was back at the home office guiding us…they were with me every step of the way, even when I was throwing all of these new things at them that we hadn’t planned for because who knew that the presenters would end 20 minutes early…but… I just felt like it was the biggest success of the event, because we were able to accomplish anything.
Neil: Did you have any resistance to the concept of a hybrid event from your board, or other staff members.
Gayle: They never had any resistance to the concept of a hybrid event…I was able to figure out a way to do it by using money that I had in my marketing department budget so we already had money put aside. Since we were using it to get more leads, I didn’t ever get resistance…but I don’t think any of them actually believed that it would be as successful as it was. I set out very clear goals, and when I did that, we exceeded every goal that we had by a lot. So yes…there was no resistance I would say, but they just never thought it would be a success. Since I could cover it through other money that we had, they were okay with it.
Neil: So now that the event has been executed…how do they feel now after the first event is over?
Gayle: Well I think everyone is really excited that we did this and that it was successful and again, we had increased our leads by over 200%. We’re already working on ways to make our other live events into hybrid events because we saw the success and because people are pretty excited.
Neil: So what would you say the reaction was from your members or virtual attendees to the hybrid event?
Gayle: Well…Our members again, were thrilled because they had access to so many more names than we had the previous year. Again, this is an event that we had run year after year, that we’ve only done as a physical event…so…for them to suddenly see that we had access to all these additional names. They were really happy, absolutely happy. The virtual attendees…again…it was so nice to reach these people who never would have come to the physical event, mostly due to location. Even though we’re trying to reach an overseas crowd, there were a lot of people in the states that attended virtually…not everyone can get to New York so, they were really happy to have this information that they couldn’t get elsewhere. In addition, they were able to get online, and watch the On-Demand recordings afterwards. It was really great for them.
Neil: So what business model you choose for your hybrid event and why?
Gayle: Well…for our event, we have a trade show side and we have a breakout side. The breakouts are educational and they’re really the draw to get the attendees to the trade show. So, when we were deciding on a model for the hybrid event, we discussed having a virtual trade show, but at that time…since this was the first time, the first thing that we were doing with digital events, we weren’t sure how engaged our virtual audience would be. It didn’t make sense for us for that to be our first step into digital events because virtual trade shows can be big if you don’t really know how or if your audience is engaged yet. So we started small and the format that we chose was that we live streamed two of our concurrent sessions…two of our breakouts, and then we had two “Ask an Expert” sessions. The Ask an Expert session was something that I learned at the DES class, but I really fleshed it out with the Digitell team and they were absolutely the most engaging. We took questions from the virtual audience. So they were typing them in, and we had a host on stage…one of our staff members. Somebody who didn’t have any experience doing this before, she just was very knowledgeable on the subject. So, she was on stage with a true expert in the field. So the questions were coming in…our host had the tablet, the questions would go to the tablet and she would read the questions to the expert. And it was this amazing conversation between the virtual audience, the host, and the expert and you could just tell by the numbers because the wonderful thing is…that after the fact we got all of the numbers from Digitell about how many people came. How many people stayed for the entire time, and we could see the success of our event just through that…so, we’ll definitely replicate that format at our coming events by doing some live streams and some ask an expert’s just to make it more off the cuff so people feel like they can ask these questions.
Neil: What advice would you offer to other associations who are on the fence about live streaming?
Gayle: My advice to anyone who is considering this is to…and this is what we did…really looked at our content, we looked at the information that we had to give to people…and if you consider that content to be valuable to a certain group of people, who are people that you’d like to connect with, and it’s a group of people that maybe, you’ve got some of them in your system, maybe you haven’t connected with all of them. My advice is that if you’ve got these two things. If you’ve got valuable content, and you’ve got an audience that you’ve haven’t reached yet. That is what you need to have to produce a successful live stream. You need to look at it as a marketing opportunity, as a chance to acquire qualified attendees that you haven’t had before. If that’s something that you’re looking to do, write up your goal. Get some pricing and see if it works for you, but you know, it worked really well for us and I definitely recommend that you try it.
Neil: Gayle, I appreciate you spending some time with me today, and to really get into how virtual events have worked for LSAC as well for you personally, and thank you once again. I’ve had a great time.
Gayle: Wonderful…thank you so much for having me.