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Watch Now: The Future of Events 2021 & Beyond

As we enter the seventh month of the pandemic, event pros have mixed feelings on what 2021 will bring. On one hand, there's optimism around a viable vaccine solution. On the other, Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that it might not be until 2022 that most Americans are comfortable being in theaters without masks.

On September 29th, four industry experts joined The Vendry for a discussion on the future of the events industry: what will hybrid events look like, who are key tech players to know, and how will the jobs market evolve?

Hear from:

Transcript

Hannah (00:13):

Alistair, I'd love to start with you just because I know that you produced a live in person event recently, which is super exciting. I'm just curious if you can kind of share with us what that experience was like and what you would say is the biggest takeaway for, you know, what you think is going to continue to influence your events from 2021 on.

Alistair (00:35):

Sure. So a couple of things happened to me recently as you can see, and I'm going to show you a couple of pictures for this. I apologize if they're a little uncomfortable, I kind of broke my leg pretty badly back in March which gave me very little to do except sit around, trying to figure out what the future events would look like. So I spent about two months learning everything I could looking at about 215 different vendors. I was also the chair of a conference called strata, which was the world's biggest conference on data science and AI. And the same day I broke my leg O'Reilly media shut down its event business. So that was a really bad day. But you know, spent some time learning,and then we tried things out, cause there's no substitute for actually putting things into practice.

Alistair (01:16):

We ran a couple of things. We ran a hybrid event, I'll show you what that looks like. This is a hybrid event we did for a conference called Startup Fest. And if you can see in this picture on I'll show, you actually I'll show you an example of a panel which you can see in this photo here is that we have kind of a screen that we're doing into a hybrid audience. And so the way we did this, as we said, okay, we're just going to run a hybrid event with a live studio audience, and then people can call in. And so this is a panel where if you look closely, you can see that it's me on the stage. And then there's a screen next to me that, that people are talking to you.

Alistair (01:52):

So there's a, there's a city audience, but the audience is really, their only role is really to help make people feel like something's happening. There's people who are interested. So we're doing some virtual stuff, but I will give you three big takeaways and none of them are technical. Like the technology is a pain in the butt. And honestly, most of the time when technology takes years to mature the vendors that don't work kind of disappear we're in this period where there's thousands of possible tools, but we haven't gone through the culling yet to like kill off the vendors. And so you know, you have 15 different options for everything you can do. The first lesson I would say is that everything is one of three kinds of shows. You're either a game show, a talk show or the Rocky horror picture show.

Alistair (02:36):

And what I mean by that is a game show, there's an audience, but the local audience is there for the sake of the audience at home. The price is right isn't for the people in the room, the price is right for those people at home. And so if you can have a local audience and get them involved, it feels way more engaging. A talk show is like Seth Meyers. You know, you bring on guests, but it's still the Seth Meyers show. And that really puts a lot of emphasis on the moderator to bring things together and be that red thread unifying personality. So you feel like you're tuning into a show and then the Rocky horror picture show, like I'm sure most people have seen the Rocky horror picture show, but you don't really go, Oh wow, I'm going to turn on Netflix tonight and watch that you go because you want to see people throw toast at the screen and yell funny things and wear costumes.

Everything is one of three kinds of shows. You're either a game show, a talk show, or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

- Alistair Croll

Alistair (03:14):

So if you've got recorded content that you could watch anyway, there better be something new about that experience. Either the author is in the chat or there's some kind of collaborative note taking or something. So that's the first thing is the three kinds of shows. I think the second thing is really underscores to me the need to have a moderator who not only is comfortable with the technology and with the inevitable issues, but also knows how to ask the questions, the audience wishes it had thought of and like the role of the moderator is super important. And then the third thing is Mark Zuckerberg famously said, there's three ways we communicate. Typically we communicate by our phone, which is a communications tool. We create with our notebook, which is like a typing and creation tool. And then we we essentially, when we're, when we're consuming stuff, we want to look at a tablet of some kind. And so knowing that you have those three postures means that why aren't you asking people to like sit on the couch and use their phone to engage? And so I think if you think about everything has three kinds of shows, you got to have a moderate is really important and finally do something you're sharing something you're learning and something you're doing with the audience. And that those three things have really served me well, that's, I would say that the top of the way.

Hannah (04:32):

For sure. And I love each of those because you really, I mean, you've got to give someone a reason to hop on the zoom, right? People are done, zoomed out, so you've got to give them that reason to tune in. But jumping off of those takeaways, I'd love to turn to you Andrew, and just, I know you've produced several virtual events recently. I'm curious for your take on like, what have you found to be best practices from those events? And do you think you're going to continue to produce your virtual events in a similar format in years to come?

Andrew (05:02):

Yeah. Very good question. I think for virtual events, it honestly has been a roller coaster, hilarious, but it's been a roller coaster because there are so many unknowns and honestly, humans have really been the faulty side of virtual events because we're now seeing how technical technically unsavvy we are when it comes to being online and being able to navigate, honestly, the simplest things as zoom. And so what we've done for all of our virtual events honestly, has been training the trainer to be able to execute their job effectively. And why I say that is because one, our clients, our sponsors, our speakers are literally the weakest link when it comes to virtual events because everyone's like, Oh, I've done FaceTime, Oh, I've hopped on a quick zoom call, I know exactly what's going, but then you get on there and then they don't know how to use a microphone.

Andrew (06:00):

They don't know how to do HD or their camera. They don't know how to screen share, all these other things. So we honestly have created a speaker module system that literally trains everyone that's going to be visible, visible on camera to, to know what to do when it's time to go live. And it's been super helpful. And I think that we're going to continue that because of the fact that it is so horrible to have the perfect slide deck or the perfect videos in place and your speaker or your sponsor just bombs the actual virtual event. So we're going to continue that while I don't believe that we're probably going to continue to hold virtual event atmosphere you know, as we go on, I think that we really need to at least have some form of element to that, especially for a lot of our audience who may not necessarily be as comfortable going to a hybrid event, or even just, just eliminating virtual altogether.

Andrew (06:56):

They still have to have some form of connection through events. So we're definitely going to keep that going. But I think just the technical aspects of it is really going to be key for us and going beyond just having a simple, virtually even I think all of us by now understand the dynamics of virtual. But I think that we really have to push the creativity envelope a bit more to say, you know what, it's more than just sitting here and watching people talk. I love how, you know, when, when Alistair came on and he had all these various photos just coming in and out like stuff like that is what we want to see, but we want to see even further and really captivate us so that we're not distracted by our phones. We're not distracted by the children or the dog barking or anything like that. We just want to go much further than that. So that's what I really plan to continue during this course.

Hannah (07:49):

For sure. And hopefully we'll reach that point where everyone knows how to turn their mic on. Everyone knows how to turn their video on. We can move past those roadblocks. And I want to turn to you now, Liz, because you were working on virtual events before they were like the industry buzzword along with pivots. So what are your thoughts here?

You put a group of thousands, millions of event planners into a situation where they have to be creative - that's no problem for us. We can come up with lots of ideas. Now we need the technology to catch up so that we can execute on all this great stuff.

- Liz Caruso

Liz (08:11):

Well, you know, I know I'm a tech geek because I think this time is incredibly exciting. I know for a lot of people in the industry, it's incredibly overwhelming and scary, but you know, yes, I've been doing this for a long time and what's great is that up until now really it's been, virtual has been kind of like an afterthought. It's like, Oh, we will live stream. Okay. That's far, that's the most basic level of adding a virtual component. Now we've been forced it's it's like everyone is forced to do something that they never really wanted to do.

Liz (08:41):

And now you, we are seeing the boundaries of technology being pushed so fast so far, so far, so fast. You know, as you mentioned already, I've heard this term all the time, people are zoomed out. Well, what does that really mean? It means we've been on these platforms and we've gotten to know the basics. We've seen the things that work and the things that don't work. And there are some really big downsides to virtual. You don't get those handshakes and hugs like you get at a typical networking event. You don't get to see the in person interaction. There's a, there's a big energy component that's missing. There's the technology. You got to figure out all that technology. And you know, and I've been there too, Andrew, like there's so much prep you can do and then you still have people who can't figure it out.

Liz (09:27):

So there's all these downsides, but there's so many pros. It widens our audience. I've seen clients who were going to have 250 people at their conference. They now have 3,000, 10,000 people, right. That does really good things for a brand. Really allows us to you know, not worry so much about like the venue, the location, the restraints that we have based on number of breakout rooms, or I use this example: We did a conference called the pivot virtual summit in June for event professionals, worst name ever, but, you know, that's what we're doing. And so we did it for 10 days, two hours of content per day. You can never do that in person like, Hey, everyone fly in New York for 10 days stay overnight in hotels. It's only going to be two hours of content.

Liz (10:11):

You know, you could never pull that off, but now we can be so much more creative with what we want to do from a format perspective, how we want to engage people. And the technology gives us a ton of tools to do that. I think what's really exciting is now the companies have to evolve quickly. There is not a lot of good stuff out there. I've sat on many, many demos prior to COVID many more since COVID with a lot of companies who are just launching their new virtual platform and they're incredibly underwhelming. And I see these platforms, I mean, the developers are working nonstop 24/7, trying to find something that will make them unique. You know, the quality is just really not there. I do think though, in the next year or so, we're going to see some really exciting evolutions and I think that's good for the whole industry. I mean, it's good for multiple industries, but that I believe we're not going back to in person only anytime soon, ever most likely. So the technology has got to catch up with all, I mean, you put a group of thousands, millions of event planners into a situation where they have to be creative. That's no problem for us. We can come up with lots of ideas. Now we need the technology to catch up so that we can execute on all this great stuff.

Hannah (11:23):

Right. For sure. And I loved, I just kind of like loved that idea, that sort of you and Andrew both hit on of like being intentional with how you're incorporating virtual aspects into your event. And just kind of being able to like maximize their use to really benefit the audiences experience, whether that's like in person or, you know, if they're at home and watching, you know, online. Because I mean, no matter what kind of event you're designing, a lot of thought and care really has to be given into the design and you what you're planning. And so Cara, I'd love to sort of throw this question at you because you've been doing a lot of work around hybrid event design. What can we expect to see at hybrid events? And do you think, are there any specific design elements or considerations that are going to be sort of like a common thread through many of them?

Cara (12:11):

Sure. I mean, what's exciting right now is like we went from having to only do virtual and now things have opened up a little bit where we can get at least talent and the crew in a space, but what I've been seeing and what we're working on right now, we're doing a lot of translating of events that we've always done, like a big award show. And now translating that to virtual, how would we do that? How do we capture the energy of a red carpet, of celebrities, of an award show, sponsor integrations? How do you do all that? Like Liz was saying like, there is an energy that only in person can really generate. And I think that's why our passion is where it is. And yes, I agree. Virtual will be an accompaniment to the live experience once we can go back. But what I see too, is that in order to tune in and get people to,

Hannah (13:06):

Oh, I think your audio cut out there, Cara. Okay. You're back.

Cara (13:19):

Okay. So to be considered an event, I think, you know, it has to be really dynamic. So we're seeing a lot of XR stages and that's something we're working on right now. And that is basically you have screens on three sides and the floor it's all LED, it's all programmable. So you can have multiple apps and multiple different kinds of sets all out of one set. We saw that with the VMAs. We saw that with Emmys and that's something we're working on an award show right now for December, that's going to have an XR stage. So that's something that it has to be compelling viewing cause at the end, end of the day, as interactive as we'd like to see this, it's kind of like a show as Alistair was saying at the beginning, like we're creating shows and we want participation and two way, but the technology isn't there in an amazing way.

Cara (14:11):

Like there's something we're seeing in Asia right now. And I think, you know, it's starting to come over here and I'll just share this really quickly. But like, you know, where you have the audience, I don't know if you can see this clearly. But you have your audience all in separate boxes, but you have your talent there on stage. So something like that is definitely like a hybrid that is worth, you know, worth tuning into.

I really wished that we had platforms that were really more open to speaking to event professionals and saying, Hey, what is it that you really want? What can we do to change our platforms?

- Andrew Roby

Hannah (14:40):

For sure. And so I think we've covered a bit on content and speakers event design. But of course we have to address the big question around all of this which is the technology, figuring out what event pros can use to make their events a success. I think so many of event pros have really dug into learning how to produce virtual events. But I'm curious, and this question's for you Liz, when it comes to hybrid events, like, can you tell us what you see as being the most important technical aspect that event pros will need to consider as they're planning their events?

Liz (15:15):

So I think the biggest technical piece that people have to figure out is that interaction and engagement. I think that I talk a lot about webinar culture and how it killed virtual events before we even started doing them. People are so used to signing up for something never participating. They expect that they're going to get the recording and then they never watch it. I mean, how many recordings do you have sitting in your inbox that you archived because you are never going to watch them. And so we're competing with that in the virtual events, we're trying to throw these great virtual events and then we're wondering why no one wants to show up and engage and that engagement piece, that's what people miss from the in person events. And so if we're going to be successful, not just with virtual only, but also with hybrid, we have to figure out how to facilitate these connections. And so, you know, part of that is definitely the technology. There are not a lot of technology solutions out there that are making it very easy. I've seen some really cool things with speed networking, for example, where, you know, you go into the cocktail hour, everyone sees like faces flipping on their phone and they are matched with a person. You video chat for five minutes. Then it goes again, I've seen stuff like that. I've seen cool tools where everyone's at different tables and you can kind of select which table you want to go into.

Liz (16:27):

You hear the background noise of the other tables. That's like the closest we've gotten to being at an in person event, but you can kind of, I like it because as an introvert like me, I like to just leave the conversation when it gets boring and try something new, you don't have to excuse yourself like you do at an in person event. That's always super awkward. These are the kinds of things that we need to replicate in a virtual environment. But I also think it, it plays into, it's not just a technical thing. It's also what we do as event planners all the time. It's about how do we design the flow? What does the content look like? How are we using engaging techniques to keep people interested in what it is that we're doing? If it's a conference and you're doing hour long sessions back to back, I mean, who wants to watch that?

Liz (17:09):

I, one of the things I think is really exciting is that in my opinion, there was a lot of stuff that wasn't working very well in person. And now we don't have to do it. You know, there's a lot of like what's happening with trade shows. Like what will we do to replace them? Well, I think for you to get an audience back to something that wasn't working, you're going to have to work a lot harder and innovate a lot faster. So, but I think it's all really around this engagement, connections, like if we can in any way, make that experience better, again, it probably will never replace what we get in person. I think that's super critical.

Event producers are needed more than ever, because platforms are not producers and providers are not producers. They don’t know how to do...that sense of discovery and journey and sponsors and interaction.

- Cara Kleinhaut

Andrew (17:50):

I think Liz - spot on. But the problem that I have when it comes to the tech side is that I wish that the tech people would actually speak to the event people to say, Hmm, what would be a really good platform? And what type of tools on that platform would work for your benefit? Because what I often find is that I have to get a particular platform and I'm like, okay, this works just as much as possible to where I want to go, but let me see if they can actually add on these things. And most times, of course they can't, they have to go through coding and all that kind of stuff. But it's after the fact, you know, that they offer you a lot of the tools that you wish you had. And, you know, we deal with hundreds of, of virtual platforms out there.

Andrew (18:38):

And I feel like, Oh my God, here we go again with the whole venue process for in person events where we're trying to find a venue that doesn't have the ugly flooring that I don't have to replace the carpet on, or that has in house lighting and AV and all of these other amenities that I wish just one venue had so I didn't have to have a venue team of a hundred different companies. And I really wished that we had platforms that were really more open to speaking to event professionals and saying, Hey, what is it that you really want? What can we do to change our platforms? Because ultimately what's happening is that our clients are spending 20 plus thousand dollars on a virtual event platform that doesn't even suit all of their needs. And most of that cost is going towards live streaming and not necessarily the amenities that we wish actually accompanied those, those virtual platforms. So that's what I wish the tech side would actually help to fix in the coming months. Yeah,

Cara (19:38):

Andrew I think you're right, you were saying, you know, it's like the platform is the new venue. It's like, we need experts and we need to be experts in how to fit the right platform and become tech experts if we're not already and get them in house. We have a whole team in house, so it wasn't a big pivot for us. But as event professionals like, like Liz was saying, it's not going anywhere. Virtual is always going to be here from here forward. Those sponsors are not going to want to lose those expanded audiences. So I think we all got to get comfortable, whether it was in our wheel house before or not, doesn't matter and get those people on your team.

Liz (20:18):

And we only have a small window to make this work because if people hate virtual, it doesn't matter if their audience is 10 times the size it was before. If it's a horrible experience, people don't want to do it. So unlike the venue experience where there are thousands of options and some really get it and some are less, we don't have really good virtual options right now. In my opinion, there are a few, there are a few that look very promising. But if we, if these companies don't evolve fast enough, they're not gonna stay as options. I mean, clients, aren't going to pay multiple times for a platform that doesn't work.

And if we're not asking ourselves, why, why are we having an event? Are we having it just for the sake of having it? Cause I'm tired and I want to fill my time with other people's faces and my face? If that's the reason why then we're doing it wrong.

- Andrew Roby

Alistair (20:53):

I think one of the big things we've got to realize here is like, I'm a business analyst person. I work on lean startup stuff. And so I always look at the business model here. We used to have to, there was a clear line of scrimmage, like a dividing line between the folks who worked on a conference for a year. So it took a year to run a conference that happened in a week. So those people were working year round and they were using tools for speaker management, sponsor contracts and all that stuff. And then there's the, the tech crew that would show up, set up, tear down. You know, they worked with a scaffolding and lights and projectors, but the economics meant that those people worked on a different show every two weeks. So you call them up with your design and they'd implement it.

Alistair (21:33):

When you look at the change that's happening right now, we are all tech firms all the time instead of being tech firms, 50 weeks of the year, and then physical firms, two weeks of the year and hiring a tech, a physical crew. And so there's no tech crew that works year round on a platform, right? They're software vendors. But if you look at the old model, we all understood that there was tech companies we'd go hire like an ETS. And then we ran the conference. And I think that we're going to see a fundamental change now where people are coming to a conference agency and saying, I want a bundled solution. You'll manage my sneakers, my sponsorship, my design. You'll also, I don't want to go find zoom and plug it in as an iframe into grip and get Vimeo to stream the art.

Alistair (22:12):

No, make me something useful. And by the way, I'd like a treasure hunt. Can you build a treasure hunt? Like the we've had this separation that's been incredibly unhealthy between year round work on a conference back office and two weeks stand up technology, front office, right? Those people know technology. They just don't work on a conference. I think what this is doing is it's breaking down this wall that none of us was aware existed because economically, it made sense for them to be two different companies. And the companies that succeed are going to be one stop shops that have the back office and front office. And nobody's really built a platform for that. So I'm constantly taking speakers from one thing and pasting them into another. I just want to do it once. And I think we're going to see a gigantic reckoning in the tech stocks that people use in the next year.

Hannah (22:57):

Yeah. I couldn't agree more and looking in the chat, a lot of people listening in agree as well, Alistair. So just to kind of throw out to you guys. Okay, so when we're thinking about, we have these platforms that we're using right now, we're trying to engage people in the moment with what we've got - what are your kind of like best practices? What have you seen work? I know Cara, you guys have been doing a lot of sort of hybrid drive in experiences. Can you like chat a bit about that and what's working there?

Cara (23:26):

Yeah, we're really excited because it was just announced yesterday - we're working with Hulu and they are doing a big drive through experience and it's called Hulu-ween. And so it's basically like Halloween is not dead thanks to Hulu. You know, they've got all this horror content and October's the most popular month for it. And so the idea was to create an experience, but not just to drive in, you see those all over the country, but really like we're doing it at this huge equestrian center park where you can have this whole journey that you're driving through. There's a drive and repeat, there's photo moments, there's discovery. And so there's a lot of things that we love. There's DJs, there's like kind of a park area. There's all the things that we love, but it's safe for COVID, you know, like this is a result of COVID - all these drive through experiences, but it's a really fun immersive way, especially for Huluween, you know it's going to be at night, spooky and haunted. So it really lends itself to that kind of content. And it'll only be running for four nights. So that's October 21st through the 25th.

Hannah (24:35):

That's awesome. Liz or Andrew, any sort of like engagement best practices that you can share, you know, as we're sitting in the present moment with the tech that we've got.

Andrew (24:47):

For me, I always encourage going back to the weakest link that I said in regards to our speakers. My, my biggest thing that I always encourage as far as engagement is to do what has not been done. And if you're going to settle for the ordinary stuff, the typical stuff, then make sure you do it effectively so that way your audience feels that you're engaged with them. Having a moderator and also a person to monitor the chats is like one of the things that people never seem to get, and it is such a valuable place because one in the chat and, you know, I'm reading the chats and I'm loving you guys's comments and things like that. But the chat section is really where your engagement is to be able to create content, future content, and to be able to test what needs to be done for future conferences, webinars, et cetera.

Andrew (25:44):

But even outside of just focusing on the chat feature, we have to be able to understand what is going to be the driving force for why I know that, you know, we talked about this first, why we're actually even having events to begin with. No one wants to come to these virtual events just to hear someone talk. They want to come because the value that's being offered is going to address the most specific and heartfelt questions that they have for their business. We're in COVID - no one wants to waste their time on a platform that is not giving them food to be able to fuel their business. And if we're not asking ourselves, why, why are we having an event? Are we having it just for the sake of having it? Cause I'm tired and I want to fill my time with other people's faces and my face. If that's the reason why then we're doing it wrong, but we also have to understand that when we're engaging, that we're engaging and we understand our audience so often we feel that the engagement is solely when the event actually happens.

Andrew (26:48):

No, and your engagement should start the moment you release and announce that you're having an event. And that's the part that people don't get. What happens before the event really caters to how the experience will occur during the event and even after. The reason why people don't, you know, Liz talk about this, the reason why people don't watch those videos is because there's no reason to watch it. I signed up, yes, please send me these zoom links so I can do the recap, but I don't watch them because I go to the video and I see it. And I'm like, okay, well I got what I needed. No big deal, no reason to really go back and watch anything that I may have missed. So we have to really drum up how we're engaging people a little bit better.

You have to embrace the idea that if you're not more interesting than Netflix, that's one tab away and that person can tell their boss they were at that live conference. You gotta be better than the Netflix show that they're planning to watch.

- Alistair Croll

Alistair (27:30):

Oh, and Andrew, to your point, I think we've been really lazy. Like as event professionals, we made most of our money by getting real estate for $12 a square foot and charging 600 for it. That was pretty lazy way to make money. Right? The emperor's clothes were getting pretty thin even before COVID. So I think that like, I'm looking at events and I run a lot of technical events, a lot of content, but now I'm saying, okay, every talk, I can do a transcript of the talk. I can make the transcript searchable. So now half a year later, you're doing some talk on, I don't know, Halloween, you type in Halloween, it goes, Oh, the word Halloween appeared four times in this conference, here are the five minute clips from those five things. Oh, that's cool. Right? So we have to say, what's now possible, not what did we lose? And I think it's incumbent on us as organizers to look at that and say, there's so much more we can do with this that we haven't already, where we can, we are essentially becoming media companies. Google IO went from a three day conference to a nine week conference. So if you're a media company, what are you providing year round? I'm not selling you tickets. I'm selling you subscriptions. I don't want to have to like go and sell you a ticket over and over again. Next year, I want to renew your subscription every month. And then you get to come to the event and there's a whole shift here. And for me, the thing that was most stunning was I went to YouTube and I'm like, Oh, I'm going to be all virtual, there's people on YouTube who've been doing this for 10 years and they're really good at it.

Alistair (28:49):

Like you go watch Complexly or Sideshow and watching the late night talk show hosts make their transition to doing this virtually with Seth Meyers hair got bigger and he started cracking more jokes and doing some weird stuff, talking to his toy fish and a picture of a captain and people kind of loved it. Right. I think my favorite line throughout this whole thing is that necessity is the mother of acceptance that we are all very accepting when a kid appears on screen or the bandwidth is slow or whatever. Everyone knows that, but we are intolerant of people wasting our time. So what really has to happen? The successful conference organizers for me are the ones who we will trust to spend our time wisely. That's what all of this is about.

Hannah (29:31):

I love that Alistair. And I want to make sure, cause I want to transition to sort of the last point that I want us to cover which is all around rehiring. Cause we haven't really hit on this yet. So obviously it goes without saying, but so many people in our industry have been impacted by layoffs and furloughs and hour reductions, and you name it. Cara and Andrew specifically just sort of as like owners of an experiential agency and a production company, respectively, what would you say is like the single most important piece of advice you could give to event pros who are looking to get back on their feet and Cara or Andrew, whichever one of you wants to go first, go ahead.

Cara (30:12):

I would say that it's, whether you've been in the industry for one year or 20 years, that you get comfortable with the technical side of things. And I think that's what we're hearing universally that whether it was in your wheelhouse or not, it's something that's not going away. It's something we need. And I think if all we have as professionals is just the live experience, I think COVID has made that like you're becoming obsolete, you know, like you only have part of the picture. And I think that's super important. I was just giving a talk at my old alma mater Ithaca College to all these event majors. How awesome is that? But that, that's what they really need to lean into right now. So that they're marketable when they get out there and they might get the job over someone who's been in the industry for a really long time and produced huge live and in person because there's a lot of us out there. But as a business owner, my goal is to rehire everyone that was on our team that we had to furlough. We've been able to keep it, you know, a sizeable team, but we're not where we were pre COVID. I don't think anybody is. And so when we have these events that we could do now, like the drive through or the hybrid, we're so grateful for that because that means we get to hire people. So whatever brands are activating right now, thank you. Help us keep our people employed. You know, that is a big goal right now.

Andrew (31:33):

Yeah. I have two things for that. Cara hit it on, hit on one of them. And I think that what a lot of people, a lot of business owners are seeing now is how important personal branding is to a business. And I'm not talking about you going out and showing your logo and all these other things that you would traditionally do for your company. I'm talking about you as a person and a brand you have established for the public to understand one, what your values are, your personality is, and then also what you do as a professional. If you are not on your branding game now is the time to do that because what is going to, we all know we can't go out and show tons of photos because we're not doing work. We can't use those as leverage right now.

Andrew (32:25):

And so what works the best is for you as a business owner, to be vulnerable. For you as a business owner, to talk about what's going on, to talk about projections, to talk about trends, to talk about insights, but also build up your personal brand so that way people can understand what voice you actually do have because without a voice, people are going to leave you by the wayside and they're going to flock to those who actually are speaking up, who are staying in the game, who are staying top of mind. The second part is, is that we have to be fearless when it comes to collaborating. And we have to make sure that we don't see people as competitors. I like I, one of my government contracting mentors brought on competi-mates and that is where I can go to another brand and we do the exact same thing but because of the fact that we're not both working collectively, you know, on different projects, I can, we can work together and we can be able to build a concept. I love the Huluween idea and I love the drive in movie ideas and all the other things that you guys see coming up. And I think right now is a perfect opportunity for us to collaborate with other business partners and say, you know what, let's create something that we can generate cashflow because cashflow is really what is sustaining us. And, and we can't wait for clients to hire us in order to get that cashflow. We have to be creative. Liz talked about it already. We are in the industry where tech and creatives have to come together. So we have to be creative in coming up with ways to generate money if our clients are not doing all of the bill paying as of now. So those are my two things when it comes to how to get through this current time.

Hannah (34:11):

For sure. And Liz, Alastair, any kind of quick thoughts to add there.

Alistair (34:16):

I, I think I like to liken this to what I've called the Napster moment and there've been some good articles on this. I think it's really important to sit back and say, look, the world has changed in a very significant way. When Napster came along record labels went out of business. Record stores didn't work anymore, but today we have Spotify and we know what Spotify's, new business model is like, it just took 20 years to figure that out. Right? Same thing with Netflix. When Netflix came along you know, blockbuster went away, but it took a while to figure out Netflix. We have to say to our look, the old world is not coming back and we've got to stop looking for the past to return and start thinking about how to get clever and do unexpected things.

Alistair (34:58):

I've been trying to do weird stuff from like, whether I have like a snap camera running on my, on my set or, you know, like I can get a weird zombie to crawl out of my screen. You do stuff like this in the middle of the class, in the middle of the session and people remember that. I had someone deliver something, here I made the zombie grab my head, right. I had someone deliver something like that in I turned off now in deliver something in the middle of a webinar I was running. And everyone was like, that was really cool. You had that delivery come. I remember that. Like, it's a stupid thing that would have been a train wreck in a real live event. But it's what made it memorable. The one rule you gotta ask yourself is like, first of all, your business is going to change forever. Stop hoping it'll come back. People will do live, but they'll always expect some kind of virtual component. They'll realize how much in live events we're lazy and we're cheating them. But most importantly, you have to embrace the idea that if you're not more interesting than Netflix, that's one tab away and that person can tell their boss, they were at that live conference. You gotta be better than the Netflix show that they're planning to watch. If you can't be more interesting than they will not attend. We are in the entertainment business. We always have been, we're not in the webinar business. And I think events have to be remarkable for them to succeed. And if you're not thinking about what's your new business model and how do you make the things you do remarkable, you won't be around and you'll be looking for a job in here.

Liz (36:17):

And just to add quickly, I mean, I completely agree with all of this. I think for those who are completely overwhelmed by virtual, there's, there's no doubt you need to get some technical skills on your belt. But I think that, you know, the virtual becomes a scary piece for people, but the truth is you still, you know, if you've been in the events industry, you'd know how to plan an event. So don't forget the value. And to Andrew's point about personal branding, we don't all have to become, I've seen it all over LinkedIn, you know, virtual event experts. That's okay. You might not like that. That's okay. You just need a little bit of experience and then you need to hone in what was it that you were so good at onsite at an in person event - does that have things that can translate to virtual? Most likely it does. We still have to coordinate speakers and make sponsors relationships happy and bring in attendees. So all of those components still exist. So it's that tech piece that makes people feel like, Oh, I can't do this at all. That's way out of my wheel house. But I would say 80% of what we're doing is still the same as what we were doing in person. Now we get to learn some new experiences and try things and then work with teams where they have the technical experience. I can't tell you how many times I've seen on LinkedIn that someone's a virtual event expert. And I know they've never done a virtual event before, so don't try to be something you're not. And then when you go to do your personal brand, it comes across as authentic. You actually have something to talk about. Um and just don't be overwhelmed. Like you have some value that you bring to the table from your experience. This does not erase that. Now you just need to figure out what that new application is.

Cara (37:46):

I just want to say that's where event producers are needed more than ever, because platforms are not producers and providers are not producers. They don't know how to do all the things and that sense of discovery and journey and sponsors and interaction. That's not what a platform provider can do. So I think it's really important that we, as event companies, our clients still need to come to us so that we can translate the platform, the venue for them, and they don't go straight to a provider because they don't do events.

Hannah (38:22):

I think all of this has been so helpful. You know, just in thinking about the rehiring process and I think you guys hit on amazing points each of you really. So before we jump into a couple audience questions, cause I've been seeing them come in, I want to do just like a really quick lightning round. Answers should be like a word or two. So like don't, you know, feel like you have to go into a whole explanation. But just kind of something fun to end off on. So Andrew, I want to start with you and then I'm just going to call you guys out as I see you around my screen. So just in order to, if you could tell us what have you enjoyed most about virtual events that you hope will carry on into the future?

Andrew (39:15):

Entertainment actually, the entertainment. Yeah.

Hannah (39:21):

Great Alistair?

Alistair (39:24):

Bringing on surprise guests without any warning that freak out the audience. Cause I can't believe that person came.

Hannah (39:30):

Cara?

Cara (39:31):

I think meeting all of you. I've met more people in our industry over the past seven to eight months because of COVID and we have all come together on panels and discussions. It's easier to participate on the fly anywhere. So I've met more contemporaries in our business than I have in many years and I think that's for me and how much we have in common to discover that. So that's my favorite part.

Hannah (39:55):

Great. And Liz?

Liz (39:57):

Very similar, it's the community building, whether it's in the industry or for our attendees this has brought us together in new ways. And I think it's very exciting.

Hannah (40:06):

Love it. And Andrew, I think this one actually kind of hits a bit on what you were chatting about earlier, but if you were an investor with millions of dollars to put into event tech, where would you place your bets? And that can either be on, you know, a platform, a specific company that you love, or just like a broader category.

Andrew (40:30):

Skip me. Let me come back to that.

Hannah (40:32):

Cara, go ahead.

Cara (40:34):

If I had unlimited resources, I'd do exactly what you guys said to do. I would invent our own platform that really caters to events and that really speaks to our needs. And I would create, hire the developers, and create our own. If I had the sponsors, that's what I'd really love to do.

Andrew (40:50):

There we go. What she said.

Hannah (40:54):

Alistair?

Cara (40:55):

If someone's out there with some money.

Alistair (40:58):

Yeah, I mean, I think this, this stuff customizing the stage is going to be the most important thing. What I've seen right now is everything looks like a bunch of rectangles and somebody's going to build, and I've actually talked to a few tech people who are building some of this WordPress for events. What I mean by that is you can take WordPress. And even if you're not a coder, you can customize a theme and you can have things like if you're doing a debate, you want two people on the left, two people on the right, moderator in the middle of it, the poll of how the audience, like we can do things like this. We, I, and I think you said it best earlier that, that this idea the platform is the venue - well let us customize the venue. And that's the thing that's missing from this whole industry is please let us customize the venue without writing a bunch of code. Cause today we're held hostage by, Oh, it's a software development company that wants, you know, a million dollars a year to build it. Or it's a bunch of vendors who are trying to sell the lowest common denominator. Someone's going to build WordPress for events and it's going to be awesome.

Andrew (41:57):

I'm going to buy stock in that.

Alistair (41:59):

I have a bunch of friends who are literally building that and I almost went and started it myself. I got it. After I did all this research, I got a bunch of calls from VCs, but yes, WordPress for events is what we need.

Hannah (42:09):

Coming down the road. And Liz?

Liz (42:13):

That sounds great. I, if I had a ton of money, I would invest in, I think that we are going to see a, a pullback from traditional social media, like Facebook and other tools like that. And I think so some kind of community building tool that lends itself very well to events. I, as Alistair was talking about, I think events are going to become year round community builders. I think people want more private paid social communities as compared to free where your data is being sold and they're watching every little thing that you do. I think this is a huge opportunity for the events industry and yeah, I just need a lot more money. So if anyone wants to jump in, take over Facebook,

Hannah (42:54):

Love it. We're just going to do a pitch next time everyone pitch their ideas and we'll crowdsource it. Um okay. So final question. And I'll start with you this time Liz can you give us one prediction and it can be on any aspect of the events industry that you think some other panelists might not agree with?

Liz (43:16):

Oh yeah, sure. So I was on a podcast last week or something and I made a prediction and the guy totally disagreed with me. So I'm sure this will be, I think I kinda mentioned this a little earlier. I would be really surprised to see the huge trade shows that were just selling booths year after year, because that's what we do every year. I would be surprised to see them come back. I think they're going to have to seriously innovate or they will die.

Hannah (43:41):

Right. Cara,

Cara (43:43):

I have to think about that one.

Hannah (43:45):

All right, Andrew.

Andrew (43:47):

So I think that we need to not rush into doing in person events. I think that now is the perfect time for us to really understand the, the beauty of where we're at right now and how to push that so that way it carries on. What I don't want to see is us go back to in person events and just alienating the virtual side of it. I think that we've, we should have honestly had to have had this happen to us now. This is something that should've happened, not COVID, but the whole virtual aspect should have happened 10, 20 years ago. You know what I mean? As soon as we were able to use phones and the phones had cameras and video capabilities, it should have been a virtual hybrid aspect of it. So I think that, I know a lot of people want to go back to in person events, but I don't necessarily want to rush into doing that anytime soon.

Hannah (44:43):

Right. Alistair?

Alistair (44:46):

Controversial. I think most of the middlemen will die in the same way that when you went to the, when, when Spotify came along, you don't really have record stores and labels and distributors and all that stuff. I think we're going to see a death of a lot of the middlemen and they're either, like I said, the event production teams are going to become part of the agencies. And I think you're going to see a whole bunch of brands realize that they can do this themselves. You already have in the tech world, Amazon and Google and Facebook and Apple running their own events. And this just took away one of the big reasons why they can't do that. So I think we are going to have a very different market and a lot of the big clients that we run events for are going to start to do things virtually themselves, at least for the next couple of years, it's going to be a real drought for people who put on events for a particular big brand.

Hannah:

Sure. And Cara?

Cara:

Well, I do think that the playing field has been a bit leveled and just because you've been working with someone and this goes for us too, just because we've been working with someone for many, many years, doesn't mean that, that business, you know, I think it's like right now, people are looking for great ideas and we have to all hustle hard to come up with those great ideas, no matter how long you've been around or how many awards you have on your desk or how big your office is. It doesn't matter who you were in a way before pre COVID. It's how did you use this time to evolve your business and be marketable, I'd say on an individual level and then at the agency level too. And that's not like fun to hear, but I do think it's the truth.

Hannah:

Right. Well, thank you guys for sharing those. I know it can be a little scary to share unpopular opinions, but super appreciate it. And I'm sure a lot of people agree with you guys as well. So with that, we've got about 10 minutes left. I want to jump into a couple of questions we've had come in from the audience. So if you guys are interested in answering these, just go ahead, put your hand up or jump right in. And we'll just take a few of them. So the first one is what are some resources that you guys would recommend for getting up to date on virtual platforms? How do you stay in the know?

Andrew:

For me, what I do is, is I love looking into organizations like BizBash or even Event Manager Blog with Skift, because they are always putting out white papers or reports that showcase the different types of virtual event platforms. And I think that Event Manager Blog actually put out there's probably over a hundred different platforms that they've gone in and looked in and researched. So I'm always looking at things like that just to keep me updated, because again, we have so many that are out there that it's hard for me to sit and try to do research myself. So might as well let somebody else do it on my behalf. And I just reap the benefits of, of downloading their documents to see, you know, what's the latest and greatest.

Alistair:

I think that from a, from a perspective of, of learning, there's this, there's a saying in the tech world: strategy is delivery. So do stuff. I started out very quickly after COVID happened. I started doing things on Crowdcast where I would invite people in. And I just asked them questions about someone who got married on zoom or did a birthday party on zoom or a neuroscientist who specializes in like how people meet. And I just ran them on Crowdcast. I brought people in, I had 827 people show up for one of them. And I learned so much stuff. Look, if I'm running it for someone else and it goes wrong, I owe them a refund. If I'm running it for myself and it's free, I don't owe anyone anything. You showed up, it's your nickel. Right? And so it's so easy. It's like 99 bucks a month to set up a tool and try something out. So I've been playing with Yotribe and Rally Video and Kumospace and Crowdcast and just running stuff. If it goes wrong, you're out 99 bucks. If it goes right, you're the master of a new platform. Strategy is delivery.

Hannah:

Liz, where are you going to add something there?

Liz:

I was just going to say, also look outside of our industry because as it's been pointed out, we have not always been the most innovative group of people and there are media companies and stuff that have been doing really cool things with virtual for years and years. This is not new. I've heard so many event planners say, this is all new, you know, no one knows what they're doing. No, there are a lot of people who know what they're doing. That just means you're watching the wrong people. So, you know, some of them are definitely in our industry and there are a lot of people outside of our industry, you know, like Alistair said about people on YouTube, go find the people with the biggest followings and see what they're doing to engage people and how they get people to come back and just, you know, I get it

Alistair:

Hire a Twitch streamer. Right?

Liz:

Exactly.

Hannah:

And kind of bouncing off of that, another question is what are your top two or three platforms that you like to use? And I'm going to add on to it. Are there even any people that you would recommend specifically following who you think are doing a great job? Alistair, I'll come to you first because I know, you know, a ton about platforms.

Alistair:

Yeah. Sorry. I don't want to monopolize things. I just pasted these into chat. So I think that you have to ask yourself, there's networking workshops, breakouts, and keynotes. If you're doing the kind of conference I run. Cause I tend to be running like industry conferences for technology and stuff. For networking, there are several platforms. There's one called Kumospace. One called Yotribe. One called Rally Video. And these are like Kumospace, literally is an overhead view of a bar or an office. And you, your little character, which you move with your arrow keys, just like an old eight bit video game is actually your video. So like I'm moving around and you see my face talking. And then when I walk up next to other people and zoom in now we're in a webinar and then we zoom back out and you go to one corner and like grab a glass of wine.

Alistair:

So I will tell you this, if you go to Kumospace, you can grab a room right now. Like I own kumospace.com/acroll. I personally, this may be a land grab the way people wanted a name on Twitter. So go to kumospace dot com. I don't have anything to do with the company. I just think is really cool. And you can register and grab your own room. And then we've had things where like, we'll do a webinar and say, Hey, the after party's in Kumospace and people show up there. There's a piano in the corner, when you go near it, you hear the piano playing. It's really cool and it's novel. But I really like those unstructured tools. Yotribe is another one. I think I've been using Muro a lot as a workshop thing, but you have to train your presenters on how did you have a shared whiteboard.

Alistair:

People love the idea of coming away with a work product of some kind. And I think I've been using other one called minty meter, which is really good for group pulling where you can ask questions and do surveys and stuff. And so, I mean, I'll show you, this is like, Yotribe. It's a very boring overhead view of it. This is Kumospace and you can see there's a little picture of me on my video walking around, up, down left, right. And then this isn't a very exciting one, but rally video has tables and you can create your own tables and people can sit at them and you can actually make your table private so people can use drop, or you can invite others to join. So there's great tools out there for sort of simulated interactions, but just having the tools, no fun, you've gotta give people a reason to be there. What's the task you're trying to accomplish it.

Hannah:

Anyone else, anything to add on there? Or we can help the next one?

Liz:

I'll just add a few quick ones. I love StreamYard. It's like my favorite tool ever easy to just, you know, especially if you're not super tech savvy or even if you just don't want to deal with like way over complicating things. I like to keep things simple if I can. I can stream to multiple platforms, there's really good engagement. You can put people's comments up on screen. You can swap the view. You can you know, have backgrounds and overlays and lower thirds without a ton of production time. It's super simple. And I've also really been liking Swapcard. They have very simple technology. Again, this should be on every platform, but for example, if you're watching this session and you're like, Oh, you know, Andrew looks really cool and I want to go look at his profile and I click on that profile. The video goes to the corner and continues playing instead of removing you from the entire experience. Little things like that I think make a really big difference. Hub, I think is really cool if you're trying to kind of replicate that visual experience of when you walk into a space and there's exhibit rooms and, you know so there's a lot of really cool platforms, but those were a couple I would add.

Hannah:

Awesome. We've got another question in that I think is kind of interesting. Do you have any advice on handling budgets for hybrid events? So between like the added AV and live streaming components and then longer list of safety requirements, whether that's for like load in and load out or staffing, some people are kind of worried about pricing and how to handle that. So I don't know, Cara or Andrew, if you've got any advice you can add there.

Cara:

Well, it's interesting, we're seeing a bit of a learning curve with knowing what virtual events costs. Cause I think the budgets are immediately cut down and thinking like, Oh, it's like a zoom call, right, with some visuals and you guys don't need a lot of money to do that and not understanding it's like we're technically directing the show and maybe we're, pre-recording, you know, 10 different people bringing that in or sending kits to people. Is the audience participating? Are we sending them some kind of kit to them interact? Like all those kinds of pricing. So we just find there's a lot of education going on right now and for anything that's happening in person or in a hybrid way, like I know for Hulaween coming up just how, you know, the COVID costs of daily testing, of distancing, of spacing out your crews and making sure that everybody is safe is of course adding cost. And one kind of silver lining is that is a temporary cost. It will not be there forever. You know? So I think we might be wearing masks for a long time, but all those COVID precautions are for right now. And that needs to be a part of any kind of live or hybrid that we're doing. So that definitely adds some costs.

Andrew:

Yeah. And I would recommend that every person, every producer, every planner that is trying to create whether it's a virtual event, hybrid event, in person event during this time that you go back to the drawing board for your pricing and understand what now needs to be included into that. But I will also say that you need to create a cheat sheet for these virtual platforms because as Cara said, a lot of people think that, Oh, I'm just going to jump on Zoom with 5,000 people and don't have to pay. No live streaming is the most expensive aspect for a lot of these big events because of the fact that you're asking a company to ensure that they have enough power for you to have your friends and everybody else come on and have a good time. So you have to understand how much that costs.

Andrew:

Zoom is not free, just FYI for a lot of people that are on there. If you go past 45 minutes with two, two or more people, Zoom's gonna cut you off and say, you need to get one of my pricing plans for the month. So we have to really make sure that we're going out there and doing the research to figure out how much things cost. Yes, there are platforms out there like town script that you actually give the, the price of entering an event on to the person that's attending. And so the, the company themselves aren't, you know, paying that price up front. But again, you have to understand the limitations of the platforms that are presented to you based off of what you're willing or unwilling to pay for those platforms. But then another thing that you have to consider is that for in person events, I have found that I don't need as many people as I do for virtual events. For virtual events I now have to bring on more people to monitor my speakers, to monitor my tech side, to monitor that makes sure my background's are great. And to make sure that everything else is moderating the chat and all that kind of stuff, which, you know, for setting up an event, I may have not needed that many people, but now I need more than just me to go in and do that. So you have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how many people were involved, what tools or systems are involved as well.

Alistair:

I think having the, the sort of flow for attendees is huge. But also the flow for speakers. We send out speaker prospectus. It includes all the technical requirements they've got. Simply saying like, you're going to go into a virtual green room or we'll check your camera and slides, then we'll take you into the system. And I think you can do this on a, on a penny if you use like stream yard and YouTube, it's pretty cheap. The problem is as soon as you want low latency. So you see it as you want audience interaction. Like we have here on the webinar where we're all seeing one of the real time instead of the 20 second delay, you pay a lot of money for that.

Hannah:

Yeah. I mean, honestly, it's like, you're hiring a TV crew now.

Cara:

That is live show production. Like the award shows, we all, we had our control room, we had our videos village. It's just that now that's what you need for your virtual event. And not all event companies had been doing that. So it's like, okay, I got it now become savvy in, in show production and figure this out because essentially that split that's what virtual events are.

Hannah:

Right. Well guys, we're just coming up on the hour. So I think that's all we've got time for, but I just want to say a special thank you to Alistair, Andrew, Liz, and Cara for joining us today. It's been so great to get your guys' perspective and I think it's been really helpful to all of us here.

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