Getting to grips with hybrid events

Still a bit confused by what this Hybrid Event is that everyone is talking about?  Let us bring you up to speed…

Hybrid events are physical events—tradeshows, conferences, product demonstrations, executive showcases—augmented by virtual technology marketing. They unite the best of both technology and offline environments to create a more powerful and profitable experience. They bring together the most compelling aspects of onscreen, in person and online dynamics.

Participants who can’t get to your event can join in from afar, interacting with exhibitors and attendees, and accessing presentations and content. Visitors who do make it to the physical event can view, download, and forward content from booth kiosks and displays on laptops and mobile devices (at last a proper use for that Internet Cafe you’ve been building for years).

There are three types of hybrid events —Concurrent, Inclusive, and Successive.

A concurrent hybrid event is a physical show launched in tandem with an online virtual counterpart that can be accessed anywhere in the world.

An inclusive hybrid event integrates key virtual elements inside an established physical environment such as an Executive Briefing Centre, sales facility or event specific “command centre” headquarters.

A successive hybrid event is essentially a two-part marketing experience. At the conclusion of a physical event, a virtual version is launched and made available to previous attendees, as well as new customers and prospects.

Want to read more? Read the complete White Paper which is available online now.

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Overcoming human nature to deliver success

If the human brain performs best in situations of conflict and the human psyche thrives on competition, how do we reconcile this with the human race’s dependence on cooperation for survival?

Even organisations where we would expect individuals to work together for a singular common aim, such as healthcare, have been permeated by competitive tendencies, whether this be the personality of the major decision maker or in the tendering for the provision of services.  Will this human instinct to incentivise by prize ultimately lead to our demise?

Or could there be a better way?

If you were to take a look at The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies 2011  list, and spent some time drilling down into the narrative for some of the organisations, you will find some common themes:

  • Inspirational leadership
  • Employees who feel valued and that they have a voice
  • A common ownership of purpose
  • Excitement in the direction the organisation is taking
  • A sense that ‘doing it right’ is as important as the drive for profit

All of these boil down to just two key factors: listening and ownership.

But if you have 20,000 employees/associates/partners, how can you possibly deliver this?  How can you pick out the important bits from a multitude of conversations?  How can you ensure that people having the same conversation in different geographical locations are brought together?

Once upon a time it would have been nearly impossible.  Virtual technologies have changed the status quo.

Come out of the kitchen and join the party

Back in January the marketing team at 6Connex posted the following:

Here’s a list of live (as we write today) virtual environments to give you an idea of how the virtual technology platforms (6Connex and others) are being used:

  • Secure international sales and marketing conference (3 of these)
  • Continuing medical education center
  • Partner portal with both secure entitlement and public access options (4)
  • Association trade show (14)
  • Executive briefing center with public access (2)
  • Product line marketing and communication portal (6)
  • Consumer product information center (31)
  • Highly secure pre-patent (executive only) poster show on new technology
  • Medical equipment tradeshow (4)
  • Hybrid events – virtual component to a physical show (22)
  • Sales training conference (3)
  • Thought leadership knowledge center (2)

If ever there was evidence that virtual event solutions are becoming an integral part of the mainstream, surely this is it.  And every day there is yet another announcement from a technology provider about new clients and new uses for the platform.

With the possibilities only limited by your imagination, if you haven’t already investigated the opportunities, don’t you think it’s time you did? Come and visit us to see for yourself.

Are virtual events too predictable? Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability and the unexpected

Following on from yesterday’s post about taking a non-determinist approach, we are grateful to Ike Singh Kehal from Virtual Events Hub  for giving us permission to republish his very interesting blog post from 31st March.

Consistency is the best foundation for the unexpected

Over the last several years, virtual event companies have created reliable frameworks and systems to help their clients drive more leads and maximize event ROI. Unlike virtual worlds, such as Second Life, virtual event platform providers aimed to develop consistent and controllable experiences that their Enterprise customers could trust. This consistency of experience was critical to the development of the virtual events industry and without it online events might have been a non-starter.

At the same time, while consistency is a worthy goal, I sometimes think that it is holding us back from optimizing our online experiences for attendees.  Humans are not information consumption machines. They need to be entertained. They delight in the unexpected. And, they choose their friends emotionally, not rationally. For all of these reasons, virtual events will increasingly need to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected if they are to win the hearts of attendees and not just the minds of event organizers.

Three reasons to embrace randomness, unpredictability, and the unexpected

Random reinforcement in game dynamics – Over the last 18 months, virtual event providers have started to embrace game dynamics as a way to encourage attendees to engage with event content and connect with each other.  But, for the most part, the dynamics that providers have focused on have been fairly linear: do X –> get 10 points –> win prizes. The problem with this approach is that, as anyone who took Psychology 101 will remember, fixed-ratio schedules (where a reward is given after a set number of actions), are not particularly good at driving behavior. A better approach would be to introduce a level of randomness into the system to keep customers engaged.  For example, in addition to earning points for set activities, attendees might occasionally encounter unexpected prizes that are not announced up front. Small unexpected prizes would drive individual satisfaction and engagement, while larger prizes would drive buzz within the attendee community.

Unpredictability in content and experiences – Every event manager knows that people love surprises. As a result, it is somewhat surprising that virtual events rarely embrace unpredictability in terms of content and other experiences. Why not organize a surprise session on a previously unannounced hot topic? Why not invite the most active attendees to a VIP chat session with an industry expert of company executive? What impact would random acts of kindness (small unexpected gifts) have on driving attendee satisfaction.  For more on the topic of why we need to make virtual events more fun, check out my previous article Bring On the Virtual Bar.

Unexpected relationship building – many companies are investing heavily in Social CRM as a way to connect attendees at virtual events. These systems identify other attendees that you might want to talk to, based on your profile. Over the next year, the trick will be to develop systems that merge the science of social CRM with the art of relationship building. In other words, we need to match people based on their interests, but, we need to make the process of meeting feel as organic and “real” as possible. For example, rather than just giving attendees a list of people with similar interests, we should use games and game dynamics to get people to work together to solve problems and interact with event content. Studies show that people tend to feel closer to people that they work with to solve problems and we should definitely leverage this to the benefit of attendees and event organizers alike.

Do you expect the unexpected?

 Over the last several years, the virtual events industry has been built on a platform of consistency. However, in order for virtual events to reach their full potential, we need to build experiences that give event organizers the control that they need and attendees with the surprises that they crave. Doing so will require event organizers to embrace randomness in game dynamics, unpredictability in content, and unexpected relationship building.

“There’s no such thing as a black swan…”

File:Cygnus atratus Running.jpgOnce upon a time, when hand to hand combat was the norm and eating vegetables a sign of poverty, people believed that there was no such thing as a black swan.  That was until Cygnus atratus was discovered by the English naturalist John Latham in 1790.

In 2007 Nassim Nicholas Taleb published Black Swan The Impact of the Highly Improbable  in which he expounded his Black Swan Theory on how random events are much more common than we think, have huge impact, are impossible to predict and yet we spend huge amounts of time (which could be better spent) trying to rationalise them.

It is this process of attempted rationalisation that is most damaging.  Drowning in an overflowing and ever increasing sea of information and data, individuals and organisations spend so much time trying to second-guess what might happen and what the affects might be that they become glued to the past and present rather than being able to adapt and deal with the future.

Taleb advocates “stochastic tinkering” as a method of scientific discovery rather than research which is dictated by top down thinking.   This non-determinist approach fits well with the virtual business solution.  Starting with a question, which might not be the correct one, the participants in a virtual event or virtual communication space can use provided content and information to begin their own collaborative process, where randomisation can be embraced and included in the process without the fear that this will result in a poor (or the predicted ‘wrong’) outcome.

Revolutions need revolutionary thinking

A mill town in the North of England

At the height of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the UK in the 18th Century, the greatest need was not for more raw materials, investment or manpower, but for the effective and speedy transfer of knowledge.

The key to success was collaboration and cooperation.

Back in the time of the Victorians some of this important knowledge transfer happened in exactly the way it does today: by the fluidity of employment where an individual takes their skills and contacts to a new organisation, which hopefully is open to their ideas.  Study tours were also a big part of the process, one which today we have replaced with specialist business media and exhibitions, though it is unlikely these activities are approached with the metholodical zeal shown by our ancestors.

Where we have diverged from the Revolutionaries of 200 years ago is in the formation of open collaboration, often with direct business rivals. The network of informal philosophical societies, like the Lunar Society of Birmingham, in which members met to discuss ‘natural philosophy’ (i.e. science) and often its application to manufacturing flourished from 1765 to 1809, and it has been said of them, “They were, if you like, the revolutionary committee of that most far reaching of all the eighteenth century revolutions, the Industrial Revolution”.

It was this collaboration that enabled the leading industrialists of the day to continually make progress, adapting ideas created, tested and developed by others to make their own processes better rather than trying to create solutions by spinning solely in their own orbits.  By knowing what others had trialled and tested, it meant that much going over new ground was avoided, mistakes remained unrepeated and progess rapidly made.

Collaboration and effective networks have never been more important in our changing economies, but how to build and sustain them in a culture of information overload?  By creating virtual spaces that facilitate networking across boundaries, where information can be shared, action plans created and outcomes measured, again and again…

Who are the best virtual event organisers

At the Conference for Conference Professionals last Friday (1st April 2011), one of the speakers in a session dedicated to virtual events made the comment that the best virtual event organisers are ones that have experience in physical events.

While he had a point in some respects, i.e. that it is easier to visualise and plan the layout, flow and dynamics of a virtual event if you know how it would work in a live environment; it is all too easy to create a situation where the potential of the virtual solution to deliver a dynamic online experience is hamstrung by an inibility to think outside the event box.

What is far more important is a very clear understanding of your target audience: what you are trying to achieve in via your virtual event; what success looks like from their perspective; what they are trying to achieve by attending; and then you can design and build a solution around these goals.  Like the very best live events, the very best virtual ones are not just content for content’s sake, or a random selection of suppliers and seminars brought together in a beautiful environment.