Virtual Shakespeare – fancy that!

My pre-teen loves Shakespeare.  It’s not something I can take any credit for since I didn’t really pay much attention in English Literature (I blame the teacher) and the sight of Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reaves striding around in riding breeches in the 1993 film version of Much ado about Nothing probably stopped me from appreciating the complexity and vivacity  of the language.

Despite having the RSC and Globe Theatre more or less on the doorstep we haven’t quite managed a trip to see the Bard’s  offerings live as yet, so there was little to reference when confronted by a project to design the stage setting for MacBeth.  However, we were saved from having to trawl through countless videos on YouTube by a brilliant event produced by Florida Virtual School on the 6Connex virtual experience platform.

The Florida Virtual School develops and provides virtual K-12education solutions to students in Florida, the U.S., and the world. Founded in 1997, it was the country’s first, state-wide Internet-based public high school. Today, FLVS serves students in grades K-12 and provides a variety of custom solutions for schools and districts to meet student needs. Its virtual Shakespeare festival was live on 26-27 April and once we had logged in we were able to see presentations from FLVS students as they acted favourite Shakespeare scenes or added their own interpretation.  With vignettes from other Shakespeare companies, including the very excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were able to absorb a lot of content and styles in a very short period indeed, presented in a way that felt extremely accessible.

Was something lost by the presentation of theatrical works in video that was a bit grainy and certainly wobbly in places? Possibly yes.  But many children and young people (and the rest of us!)  today live off a diet of YouTube video and homemade entertainment delivered via phone, iPad and PC so  my 12 year old wasn’t remotely phased by a lack of cinematic quality.  What she really enjoyed was being able to interact with the actors and presenters in real time. Networking was easy in this virtual environment  and the fact that most of the other participants were 4,500 miles away was of no concern.  Did she learn anything – definitely.  Did she enjoy  the experience – absolutely.

The debate about virtual vs live rumbles on, and on, but what this event shows is that these environments are  not just a business solution.  They offer a real opportunity to open up access to real live knowledge and expertise for all.

hellen @missioncontrol

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What exactly is a virtual event?

Just when you thought you had got to grips with all of the options available via cloud computing and social networking along comes something else to add to the mix. If you are one of the many trying to navigate your way in this emerging market there is a much opinion being shared by those on the leading edge.

Before you can even begin to think of technology suppliers or content you need to know exactly what is meant by virtual event because like lots of new innovations the term doesn’t mean the same to everyone.  The end result from using a webcasting solution would differ greatly from that produced from one of the purpose built platforms such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 or  InXpo.

By far the best definition of a virtual event we have found so far comes from the Association Virtual Conference report produced by Tagoras (well worth reading if you get the chance).

A virtual conference is a Web-based event that replicates many aspects of a traditional placebased conference. It features multiple sessions (not just a single Webinar or Webcast) and may include keynote presentations, training and education workshops, discussion areas, social networking opportunities, exhibit areas for vendors, and various other features. Activities in a virtual conference may take place in real time (synchronously), on demand (asynchronously), or in some combination of the two.

Which is a great starting point.  Next you need to specify your goals and then work out what you expect a technology solution to deliver.  If you are a novice reading the advice of an independent commentator like Cece Salomon-Lee from Virtual Buzz could prove invaluable.

Above all, go and have a look at some of the events currently being produced: you’ll find everything from Shakespeare Festivals to Sales Conferences; Training Days to Careers Fairs. In fact there isn’t much you can’t do in these environments.

Driving through the efficiency agenda

Clear road aheadWe’re going on an efficiency drive…

Just the phrase is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of any employee or organisation.  And with justification as this has become the thinly-veiled way of saying “we need to make budgetary savings and the easiest way to do this is by cutting our largest expense” – i.e. the labour-force.

While fiscal pressures may mean that production needs to be cut back to match a shrinking order book, and consequently less manpower is required, but shouldn’t this be a last resort rather than a first?  If an organisation sheds valuable intellectual capital and/or the means to re-engineer its operation too quickly, can it ever recover its place in the market or reputation for delivery of excellence.

The dictionary definition of efficiency is that it is the state or quality of being efficient,  and interestingly the definition of this word suggests that efficiency is achieved more by interrogating systems and working patterns than simply slicing numbers off the bottom line.

ef·fi·cient/iˈfiSHənt/Adjective

(esp. of a system or machine) Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
(of a person) Working in a well-organized and competent way.

Organisations that top the efficiency leagues come in all shapes and sizes, but a common denominator between them is that they also tend to top the best places to work lists as well.  Their employees feel involved and able to contribute to discussion and decision-making processes: the organisation benefits by being able to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience that can deliver custom-fit best practice… and efficiency.

By moving from a top-down decision-making to a collaborative process, board-rooms can exploit the experience of all areas of their operation, allowing innovation to spring up from every quarter and be properly dissected and discussed.  The difficulty for large organisations (small ones really don’t have any excuse unless they have multiple office sites) is how to action this process effectively.

Large scale meetings don’t really fit the bill because: a) they are expensive; and b) only the people with the loudest voices get to contribute unless they are very carefully designed.  Enter the virtual business solution… companies like Cisco, HP, Kaiser Permanente and GE have been using this technology for some time now to enable effective communication that reduces time out of the office, carbon footprint and the timelag in disseminating a message to a large number of people while increasing knowledge, motivation and challenging the efficacy of existing working practices.

If ever there was an efficent way to drive the efficiency agenda – this is it.

It’s WHAT you know, not who you know, that is important

Data is probably the single most important asset available to the modern marketeer.  Online or offline, data helps you understand your audience, target appropriately, and evaluate what you have achieved.

Marc Michaels, Director of Direct Marketing and Evaluation, COI

For every organisation, there is an imperative to measure: be this HR statistics, i.e. attendance, satisfaction, billable hours; sales and marketing efforts vs returns; key customer behaviour; client satisfaction; website activity… you get the picture.  For publishing and events companies in particular data underpins almost everything they do, as well as being their most transferrable asset and how this data is managed and used is as important as the brands themselves.

Having established that data is incredibly valuable, and can really drive a business or organisation forward, how come most of it sits gathering dust at the bottom of a drawer or stored somewhere  on an individual’s hard-drive? Why do organisations make the same mistake over and over again, despite conducting annual satisfaction surveys or presenting monthly figures to the board?

Is part of the answer that once an organisation has collected some data they consider job done,  and haven’t established a clear mechanism for acting on the results?  Or is it because there is such a lag between collecting the data and delivering the results that by then the business has moved on and believes it is already addressing issues highlighted in the retrospective research (when in fact it isn’t)?

Of all these factors, time lag has to be the most important.  Receiving a visitor list a month after the event fails to capitalise on the momentum of a live experience; it leaves visitors wondering why you didn’t contact them earlier and your sales team have already moved onto something else.  Spotting a need to deliver another specialist session at a conference can only happen if you are either a) there in person and able to listen in to all of the chat; or b) able to view what everyone is talking about around a specific topic as it happens.

Even in the corporate sector, the ability to capture data about what is important to your staff or the customers they are talking to is nothing unless it is available in real time, in a format that can be interpreted easily and acted upon.

Virtual experience platforms go a long way towards achieving this.  Built correctly and with the right technology in place, they are able to tell you what your audience really wants to know, where they are going to find out about it, what they expect to receive, who they want to interact with them and how long they are willing to do it for.

Valuable information that is available instantly.

The Booth is dead. Long live the Booth*

GE RSNAHumans, if nothing else, are creatures of habit.  Which goes a long way to explaining why it can take a seemingly inordinate amount of time to introduce a new business practice or why the first reaction to change is often resistance.

The development of the Virtual Experience Platform has followed a path that has taken this need for security in acquaintance into account. The first iterations of the technology frequently been labelled Virtual Event Platforms: two-thirds of which are clearly understood by the majority of the business population and one-third which requires but a little explanation.

By creating an environment online which replicates much of what we would experience (except the transport delays, bad coffee and lack of seating) at a live event, early pioneers of virtual events have been able to cross that line from innovation to familiarity in a very short period of time.  With an inherent understanding, participants know that to view a presentation they must navigate to the auditorium, to participate in a moderated chat they must go to a meeting room and that in the exhibition halls they will find organisations and their representatives promoting their products and services on digital booths.

And therein lies the difficulty.  To many, the term Booth just doesn’t cut the mustard.  It says static and without innovation, like the Grandma at a teenager’s party.

The discussion Are trade show booths in a virtual event really relevant any more?  was started on LinkedIn by Richard Feldman in the Virtual Events and Meeting Technology group and has already managed to traverse into other virtual events related groups on the site.  Amongst the comments about the unsatisfactory nature of the Booth in the virtual environments are some that would be awfully familiar to a live event producer: lack of information and content from the booth owner; and the need to illustrate real ROI, particularly where the booth has been paid for as part of a sponsorship package.  A number of individuals comment that sponsoring companies should be scattered around the virtual environment for best exposure rather than having a single site presence (aka a Booth) – but why can’t they have both?

Which brings us to another conundrum… if you aren’t going to have Booths at your virtual event, what are you going to have to push your delegates to part of the site that the sponsor owns, you can’t have lists and links need to go somewhere… You need to create an area that the sponsor owns and can create as their own.  Ideally you should be using one of the high performing platforms such as 6Connex, Ubivent, On24 or InXpo that allow this creative and design flexibility so that Booths don’t necessarily have to look like… well Booths.

Perhaps this is one of those chicken and egg discussions, where we pretty sure that we aren’t happy with the status quo, but there doesn’t seem to be a suitable, more effective or as easily understood alternative. Rather than concentrating our energies on trying to find a ‘booth-alternative’ shouldn’t we be focusing on getting clients and participants enthused and engaged in the concept of creating great, relevant content for the virtual audiences?

*Booth = Stand

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.

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.