Virtual meetings across a variety of vendors have become a regular event, and I’ve had a chance to see a variety of tools and approaches at this point. One of the big problems early on was that people seemed to think they could do the same things virtually that they do in person, and I haven’t seen any of that work well. I recall some of the early TV shows, which were radio shows with cameras, that industry eventually realized that with the increased breadth of the video, you could do more exciting things. Still, we haven’t yet reached that eureka moment here.
For instance, with a physical event, you are stuck at the venue, but with a virtual event, you can go on location. Say, if you wanted to showcase product, rather than showing on a stage that you don’t need, you could showcase it working and have voice-overs from the customers praising what it does. In a way, these events are long ads, and yet instead of being produced by the firm’s partners that are experts on ads, they still seem to be going through the events groups that lack the relevant skillset for video.
Let’s talk about what is working and not working this week and how we could make these virtual events much better.
Remote Meeting Tools
It is interesting that for briefing groups, say 15 to 60 people, the tool that is the worst and the device that is the best comes from the same company. Skype doesn’t scale, it is relatively hard to use, doesn’t have a lot of the needed features, and it seems to break a lot mostly due to what appears to be congestion problems. In contrast, Microsoft Teams has been impressive, good split between materials and talking heads, the ability to either use voice or text to communicate seems to work well, and I seem to get more out of the events that use Teams. It is one of the most secure tools, but that security often seems to make it a little harder to use than Zoom, a typical tradeoff.
Zoom is a little easier to use, less secure, and right now on par with Teams in terms of engagement. Like teams, Zoom has improved a lot since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and it is the most common tool I’m running into at the moment, though this tends to be fluid. Zoom Rooms appear to be more common than any other dedicated hardware at the moment as well, at least in what I’m personally seeing.
WebEx is OK, and it too has improved, but not many firms are using it, and it still feels a bit older than the other tools. It has worked reliably; it may scale better than the other devices, but because Cisco postponed their significant event, I can’t yet confirm that, and it too is very secure.
When it comes to significant events, On24 is the most common tool used. But while it performs well at scale as a broadcast medium, engagement with this tool sucks, and, as I noted in the opening, the content feels more like those early days of transition from radio to TV than a polished result. I think the mindset on using this tool should be closer to what Netflix or NBC might look for in content since it is a streaming TV studio platform, and that means rethinking the content.
As you approach your event to have a clear idea of what the goal of the game is and come up with a way to measure if you are achieving it. The typical purpose of a briefing or event it so sells something, it could be a concept, hardware or software product, or service, but that makes it a long-form ad. You likely have access to people that are experts on advertising. Bring them in as consultants, and listen to what they say in terms of delivering your message. Just like a TV ad, you want people in their seats avidly listening to what you have to say, not doing email, or grabbing a snack. The common mistake I’m seeing is that the goal appears to be to do what was an on-premise event remotely. You don’t fund activities to do events, you support events to accomplish some other purpose, generally to increase sales, and if you don’t factor that in, you won’t increase sales.
Engagement is your most important metric. If people aren’t engaged, you are wasting your time and money. If people are involved, and the event runs long, and you lose people that is better than if they aren’t engaged, and you finish on time. I’ve had several events where questions were sacrificed in the name of expediency, and that is ass-backward. Yes, it is essential to end on time, but that goal is subordinate to the reason you are doing the event.
Now think about keynotes. What TV programs are closest to a theme? News, comedy programs, and talk shows. All have variety, often use remote feeds to keep things interesting, and (when not under COVID) a sometimes even live audience that contributes energy.
TV has learned over decades how to keep people in their seats for 30 minutes to an hour or more. Use that experience to craft your event. They have trained people on camera, not their executives, the trained hosts tell stories, have guests, and have humor.
Since it looks like this will now be the new normal, it is worthwhile to either learn the skills to do broadcast media or hire people that already have them.
The tools to do virtual events are improving a lot, but the skills needed to do them have been lagging. Match the tool to the event, have a clear idea of what the goal of the event is (and it isn’t to do an event), and find a way to measure whether you are achieving that goal.
You are doing TV, you are just streaming it rather than broadcasting it—and there are a ton of people that know how to do good TV. I trained as an anchor and have done two TV shows. Granted, I also had four years of acting, but these skills are learnable, and there are tons of folks that have them. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel here, just recognize you’ve moved from captive audience stage to TV performances.
I do think these skills, even if we go back to in-person events, will help improve sales yields from activities because even when in their seats at a physical venue, there are a ton of distractions you still need to overcome. If you get better at engagement and holding attention at scale virtually, and apply those same skills to physical events, you should improve engagement and sales with them as well.
Best of luck, stay safe out there! (By the way, the big mistake, is not to use the trained talent that would be ideal for a broadcast venue).