Author: Kevin Cobb

How Event Expectations Have Changed Since Last Year

How Event Expectations Have Changed Since Last Year | Wellington

So much has changed over the past year – including what people expect from events. What’s “normal” is a continually evolving concept, so what once seemed like a novelty can quickly become something people depend on having. In this post, we outline what audiences expect from events now – and how to deliver.

On-Demand Content Is No Longer Optional

On-demand content is now a vital component of an event – and it’s not limited to virtual events. Pre-2020, there was a “one-shot” attitude toward events: audience members had one chance to attend however many sessions they could physically be present for, choosing between multiple tracks. If a work emergency pulled them out of the room for 15 minutes, or if they were late getting to the event venue, there was no way to see or hear what they missed.

The explosion of virtual events in 2020 drove the use of on-demand content, because the events were relatively easy to record. As more people discovered the convenience of on-demand and the added value it brought to their experience, hybrid and even live events frequently now have on-demand content available for attendees after the event.

On-demand allows people to access content that was unavailable to them during the actual event as well as revisit content they may have seen previously. On-demand content can be provided in a number of ways: a permanent library, videos that are only available for a certain amount of time, or through a subscription platform.

How highly produced on-demand content needs to be depends on your event goals, how your audience likes to receive content, and the shelf life of the content.

Event Attendees Want More Flexibility

Experience planners know that the number of confirmed attendees impacts every aspect of the event. In a well-executed event, though, audiences aren’t thinking about any of the logistics. Everything seems like it just magically appeared. This is the goal, but it can also mean that attendees don’t make plans in advance or change their registration status at the last minute.

This became more pervasive over the past year for two reasons. The first is that people enjoyed the convenience of signing up for things at the last minute or canceling if their plans changed. The second is that because so many things did change over the past year, people were more hesitant about committing to something even a month into the future.

Finding a way to meet the needs of both attendees and event hosts requires some creativity. Incentives can be offered for early commitment or firm commitment. Packages can also be created that give attendees a different kind of experience if they register late or as an alternative to an outright cancellation.

Events Carry More Social Importance

People have been apart for a long time, and for some people that isolation may be even more deeply felt. What may have previously been a routine event is now thought of with the kind of anticipation and excitement as a 20-year reunion.

When planning an event, it’s important to maximize the number of personal interactions to meet these heightened emotional expectations. Activities can be optional so more introverted people also feel comfortable, but even things like a morning yoga session or an afternoon coffee break with mingling can help deliver on the need for social connection. For larger events, circulating a list of attendees prior to the event can give people something extra to look forward to.

Virtual Needs to Pack a Bigger Punch…

“Zoom” has become a noun and a verb. Especially if people are working remotely, they are spending a lot of time on video calls. This no longer has the same element of fun that it once did, and “Zoom fatigue” is real.

To be successful, virtual events need to be more impactful, better produced, and have a clearly defined reason for existing. Virtual events are delivered through a computer screen, but they don’t have to be defined by the screen. Outside-the-box thinking and knowledge of cutting-edge technologies are crucial to creating an experience that wows even the most jaded zoomer.

… And So Do Live Events

Live events can be exciting and joyful, filled with opportunities for genuine human connection and knowledge acquisition. Attending one also requires more effort and planning than staying home. This means event planners need to wage war on inertia by developing innovative and engaging experiences. Attendees are weighing the cost, time, effort, and in some cases child or family member care necessary for them to attend, so the experience needs to have enough “can’t miss” components that the decision to say yes is easy.

Sanitation and Hygiene Will Remain Front and Center

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to get everything thinking about germs. People have been conditioned to follow certain safety protocols and to confirm that the places they visit, sleep, and eat are also following them. Seemingly little things can make guests feel cared for: making sure restroom soap dispensers are stocked, providing hand sanitizer stations, educating attendees about venue cleaning protocols and frequencies. More importantly, these touches will allow guests to relax into the event experience.

How to Measure the Success of a Virtual Event

How to Measure the Success of a Virtual Event | Wellington

Virtual events can be powerful tools for brand building and engagement – but how do you know they’re successful? We’ll walk through the ways to measure the success of your virtual event using data.

What Does Virtual Event Success Look Like?

The first step in determining whether a virtual event was successful happens far in advance of the event. As part of your event planning, you should clearly identify what “success” looks like. This is different for every client and depends on the reason you’re having an event. Once you’ve identified your ideal outcome, you can identify the specific metrics that will tell you if you’ve reached your goal.

Understanding the Data from Your Virtual Event

Virtual events offer a wealth of ways to track attendance and engagement. The best source of data is usually the event platform itself. Pathable, Intrado, PheedLoop, and other commercial virtual platforms have robust analytics dashboards that report detailed data about who registered, who attended, and how they engaged with the platform, with other attendees, and with sponsors.

Each platform measures and reports data differently, so it’s important to understand what the data you’re looking at represents. If you make assumptions about the data you’re seeing without knowing what it measures, you can end up with faulty conclusions. Worse, you can make decisions about future events based on those faulty conclusions. Take the time to understand how each platform reports data, or work with a trusted partner who does.

Key Metrics for Virtual Events

When almost any aspect of a virtual event can be measured, it can be difficult to know what’s useful in analyzing the success of your event. Here’s what we recommend tracking based on our experience developing and producing hundreds of virtual events:

  • Percentage of registrants who attend. The number of event registrations is important because it gives you a maximum number of people who will attend. The more important number, though, is the number of people who actually attend. We measure this as a percentage of the total number of registrants, and the closer it is to 85% the more successful your event will be. Whatever the purpose of your event, you’ve designed it with a certain number of attendees in mind. Everything from content to breakout sessions is based on an assumption that a large percentage of people will attend. If that percentage is closer to 20%, you’re not getting the impact your event was created to achieve.

  • Attendance size as compared to previous years. This is an easy-to-determine metric that can reflect growth of brand awareness, interest, reputation, and audience connection. It’s important to factor in external conditions and any differences from the previous year (including weather events, change from the previous time of year, or event format) that might have impacted current attendance when you’re comparing audience size to previous years.

  • Check-in and check-out times. One of the features of most virtual platforms is the ability to check into and check out of event sessions. You can measure not only the overall time that attendees are at the event, but you can also measure times for specific sessions, speakers, and exhibit booth visits. This allows you to see what content and speakers resonated the most with people and identify where there might be room for improvement next time. Being able to interpret this data will give you important insights for future planning.

  • Number of private messages sent. Private messages are the communications attendees have with each other, with speakers, and with sponsors. Successful virtual and hybrid events involve attendee participation and interactions between people. The number of private messages that are sent reflects the level of audience engagement and investment. We like to see the number of private messages equal at least 25% of the number of attendees (not registrants); a higher percentage represents even more engagement.

  • Scores on certification tests or quizzes. If your event involves certification exams, you can assess audience engagement by the number of passing and high scores. Even if these types of tests aren’t required, you can add in short, fun quizzes throughout the content to gauge how the content is resonating with audiences. By interspersing quizzes into the main content, you can have immediate feedback that can help you make the remaining sessions even better.

  • The number of qualified leads for sponsors. This metric is useful both for demonstrating event success and for pricing sponsorships for future events. We’ve found that attendees tend to spend more time at virtual sponsor booths than they do at live event booths, and they make return trips that physical space and limited time make difficult in person. At one recent hybrid event, attendees spent an average of over nine minutes per attendee at each booth! This means both sponsors and attendees are receiving value.

  • Event feedback. Asking attendees and sponsors to rate their experience provides a complement to the hard data. We review all feedback with our clients and use it to shape the next event. There’s no wrong format for reviews: number of stars, scores from 1-10, multiple-choice and open-ended questions are all valid. As important as the feedback itself, though, is the percentage of attendees who provide feedback. We typically use a response rate of 25-30% of attendees as a goal.

    How do you increase the number of surveys returned?

  • Tell people what you want. Be straightforward and literal: “Please click here to take this survey” may sound a little boring, but it helps people know exactly what you want them to do. Make sure your survey directions are also clear.

  • Make it easy. Only ask questions that will give you needed information. Try to limit the questions to five questions maximum with a text box for additional comments if someone wants to address an issue the questions didn’t cover. If you have too many questions, people won’t respond.

  • Put the survey in the chatbox. Surveys in a chat are more likely to be completed than those that are emailed after the event.

  • Incentivize completion. At a recent event, the final day’s session speaker slots were reserved for speakers who received the highest scores on surveys for the first two days of the event. Attendees knew their survey responses would shape their own experience, so the response rates were higher than average.

  • Market the survey completion. If the survey is announced as people are leaving the event, they don’t tend to view it as worth their time. By hyping the survey at different stages of the event, you seed the idea that it’s important.

No matter what your event goals are, there’s a way to measure its success – and learn valuable information to make the next one even better.

Why Your Business Needs a Connection Strategy

Most business leaders recognize the need for a marketing strategy, a content strategy, and a digital strategy, but only the most cutting-edge companies have developed a connection strategy. Once a nice-to-have, a connection strategy is now a need-to-have that all businesses will want to include in their yearly planning. Here’s what a connection strategy can do for your business and why you should have one.

What Is a Connection Strategy?

A connection strategy is a plan for how your business is going to stay connected throughout the year with one or more people or groups. The specifics of the strategy are tailored to your goals and who you need to stay connected with: customers, prospective customers, donors, members, employees, partners, or investors. A good connection strategy includes different kinds of touchpoints throughout the year based on what is both possible and likely given known conditions. The strategy also incorporates flexibility so that if conditions change, you don’t become disconnected. Lastly, a connection strategy is designed to keep a pace that works well for your audiences.

A Connection Strategy Helps Keep You Top-of-Mind with Clients and Prospects

When clients or prospects have a pressing need, they’re most likely going to contact the most top-of-mind solution first. If a friend were to ask you for a dentist recommendation, are you more likely to (a) think of five dentists you’ve seen in your life and review the merits of each before sending a recommendation, or (b) provide the name of the last good dentist you saw? Most people would choose (b). This is why it’s important for you to be top-of-mind: because it creates an opportunity for you to be the solution.

A Connection Strategy Means You Can Miss an Event without Missing an Opportunity

Two years ago, your schedule was probably full of in-person events that allowed you to have a lot of cursory interactions with a lot of people. Imagine a corporate luncheon you went to in 2019. Try to count the number of people you engaged with on any level, from briefly introducing yourself to a more in-depth discussion. You may have given out business cards, scheduled future coffees or lunches, or made an inroad on a lead. Through small talk with different people, you probably also gained information about what your colleagues and competitors were doing and where your business might face opportunities or challenges.

Now imagine trying to accomplish that with the same number of people but without the event. If you can’t figure out a way to do it, you’ll lose the potential business and the market intelligence. That’s where a connection strategy comes in. Multiple means of interaction are designed over a period of time, so if you don’t attend this month’s Golf Classic (or your client Bill doesn’t), you don’t miss the single interaction with Bill you would have had all year.

A Connection Strategy Reinforces Employee Engagement, Especially for Remote Employees

In organizations with remote employees (whether temporarily or permanently), it’s important to help everyone feel connected with each other and invested in the company. A connection strategy is not the same thing as a virtual time tracker or a project management tool, and companies who try to use these kinds of office management tools to energize employees usually experience high turnover. Instead, a connection strategy focuses on the events, interactions, and touchpoints that will create meaning for your specific employees. If you’re thinking, “But I don’t know what my employees want,” you most definitely need a connection strategy.

A Connection Strategy Can Help Keep You and Your Team Healthy

It seems logical that more human connection would make us happier, but the link between human interaction and a better quality of life is also a conclusion rooted in science. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has shown that “our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.” A connection strategy provides a powerful way for your and your team to improve their mental and physical health while also creating business opportunities – talk about a win-win!

Developing a Connection Strategy

Just like any other kind of strategy, a good connection strategy requires deep insight into the needs, goals, and capacities of an organization. After all, creating a connection strategy that no one on your team can maintain won’t yield great results. Engaging an external partner can often bring valuable insights and approaches without adding to your current workload.

Wellington in Conversation: Andy Stoll, The Kauffman Foundation

At the heart of our business is a desire to help our clients grow. One of the most important factors in growth is having a growth mindset. We sat down with our client Andy Stoll, Senior Program Officer, Entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to learn more about the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s approach to growth through community in challenging times.

Joan Wells, Wellington CEO: You’ve spoken before about the importance of generosity, especially in making connections with other people. When you do something without thinking about what you’re going to get out of it, you’re being generous, and people appreciate that. How do you see this playing out in future trends for physical events?

Andy Stoll, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Senior Program Officer, Entrepreneurship: The central equation to building community is: P+C=E: PEOPLE plus CULTURE equals EVERYTHING. Culture is the activating force for groups of people who wish to work together.

Thriving communities, networks, and ecosystems are built on relationships and thus, require a type of culture where generous collaborations happen. It’s a type of culture that supports people regardless of who they are or where they come from with their ideas. That is really important. It’s a very different culture than, I am going to say, traditional business, which is historically, very transactional and often pedigree-based.

You recently sent me a note to thank me for a referral, no one ever does that, and I thought, “Oh, that’s really thoughtful to let me know that my referral became a thing — now I feel good.” But I am not expecting you to do anything in return for that, I’m not keeping score. If everyone in a community operates that way, then I know when I need something someone, somewhere, who has paid some karma into the system, is going to take care of me. Generosity is a key driver of collaboration and really, all relationships.

I know to build that culture, as a leader, one thing I can do is  “model the future” I wish to see. It’s a very different way of thinking than traditional business, but what is interesting is that we have a really cozy word for this, which we have used a long time, which is “neighborly.”

Why? What do you do for your neighbors? You support each other, you help each other out. The secret to community is to be more neighborly. The secret to ecosystem is that everyone should be friends, because what do you do with your friends? You help them out, you support them, you cheer them on. All that is driven by culture and that culture is the culmination of many things that happen in a community on so many levels. What you can’t do is just say, “Well, our culture is now collaborative.” You cannot declare it. It does not work that way. But as a leader, you can model it and encourage people who do it.

“That gets back to that question which I said is at the center of ecosystem building and community: how do you lead when no one is in charge?”

It’s not to say there are not leaders, but when you look across at who is actually in charge of a community, people think in terms of roles like “the mayor.” The answer is, that person is not actually in charge, they’re in charge of the functions of the city government, but that’s only a portion. The mayor is not in charge of what private business does, the mayor is not in charge of what the non-profit sector does. So, leadership skills cannot be top-down. Some people try, but it does not work that way.

The role of leaders in this new era is to recognize the need for and build a culture where individuals thrive and people get to contribute and we all come together to solve problems and create opportunities for ourselves.

“You have to think of physical events as an opportunity to build that culture in a network around people who care about the same thing.”

Back to your question around physical events, you have to think of physical events as an opportunity to build that culture in a network around people who care about the same thing.

It doesn’t even matter what the thing is, as long as you all care about it. The speakers, the way you design it, the interactions, what the leaders say, all of that creates a culture in a place. All of us have been to conferences where you have just the worst culture. It’s transactional, dry, nobody is having fun but they have to be there.

The alternative is conferences where people are just on fire and they are helping each other, they are connecting, you cannot shut them up.

Joan: You can see that in event attendees, when they’ve arrived already committed to participating and engaging because they’re so excited about it.

Andy: Yes. But the value of the conferences is as much what people put into it, not get out of it, and it’s that question we used at the center of the first ESHIP summit, which was, “If everyone says the best part of the conference is the hallway conversations, how do we make the hallway conversations the conference?”

Joan: Yes, you want that, you want to make those connections, that then have just sparked enough that they are going to live on.

Andy: Exactly. I remember the first time I pitched the idea to whoever, it was like, “We’re not gonna do keynote addresses. The longest speaker is going to be 15 minutes,” and half the people were like, “Oh, that’s cool,” and the other people were like, “Well, how will people learn anything?”

But it’s actually that peer-to-peer interaction, especially within ecosystem building because it’s such a new practice. There are no clear best practices, they have no experts, myself included. So, peer-to-peer learning is where it’s at, and it’s probably the same with all conferences, frankly. I think the conferences give people a chance to create that network and that culture and that sort of nutrient exchange that happens, but because we are still in these mental models of hierarchies and top-down and experts, and all things from the industrial revolution, it’s really difficult.

One of the limited great things that is happening as a result of COVID is it has accelerated virtual events and virtual meetings. I have not left my house, really, for six months, but I am actually having more conversations with people in other cities because everyone is used to Zoom now and we can do this face to face, I can see you. All that stuff, it helps.

I think the future of virtual events is thinking exactly along the lines of what you’re saying, which is how do you use events to cultivate networks and cultures where innovation and creativity can thrive.

Joan: I firmly believe that in the future every company is going to have a virtual strategy and a physical strategy as part of their digital marketing. It’s going to be one of the lines in your marketing mix and it’s going to broaden what is possible. It’s going to be good.

“You have to stop thinking about your event as an event. You have to think about your event as a community.”

Andy:  I once had the opportunity to speak with Seth Godin about community and he said, “You have to stop thinking about your event as an event. You have to think about your event as a community. The power of an event is you build a network that you cultivate through events.”

Joan: Because the work is already happening.

Andy: It’s happening, you know each other. You think of it less as an isolated conference and the meeting point in a longer journey of a community.

What I realized after Seth said that was like, ‘Oh, we already have a community, we just need to use the event to say, ‘Hey we’re meeting, and if you’re not in the community come join us,'” because that is the thing people are hungry for. In an interconnected world where we are all isolated, what we all want is to relate to people.

“You know, when physical events do come back, I actually think it’s going to be an exponential explosion. People want to hug people, have a beer with their buddy, go with their peers and sit in a conference and just be with humans.”

I think that also is a lot of the trend, generally, of just life in America. Social media, frankly, has exacerbated that divide in lots of different ways. I am wondering if the backlash to this moment is actually going to be sort of a pendulum swing back the other way and we all start huddling more.

Joan: You know, I think that is absolutely right. I think people are going to feel like you were saying, so isolated and so let down and so disgusted that they are just going to reach out to each other more and those connections are going to be stronger and people are never going to take things for granted. It’s so interesting. Because of that, to your point, their community is going to be center stage. People are going to reconnect.

It’s also connecting more on a one-to-one basis, which is kind of a backlash to social media as well. Because of some of the divisiveness of social media, people are getting their emotional bucket filled with more simple heartfelt connections to somebody that they feel connected to but have never met because of something that has brought them together. That is really interesting.

Andy: The thing that underlines all of it is trust. If you can create a culture of trust within your network, people don’t have to know each other to be willing to help each other out.

Back to the ESHP summit, back to any conference, if you can create a culture of trust, then you create opportunities for people to connect and see each other. But again, it’s about the culture in the network, it’s the culture in the community and events. I still think events are the single best way to create culture from scratch because before the event, there is no culture. It does not exist.

“The way you set the event up, the way you invite people, the way you design the website, the way you write the copy, what happens when they walk in the front door, how the seats are arranged, what the emcee says, how the agenda is designed, all of these things are building blocks of culture.”

If you and I meet at an event and then we say, “Hey, let’s chat, let’s get coffee later,” and when we get a coffee in two weeks, we are going to behave in the culture of that event because we literally do not know a different way to behave.

Joan: That’s an excellent point.

Andy: If we meet at a transactional event and we have coffee, we are not going to think about it, but our conversation is going to be based around transaction. If we meet at an event where the culture is telling you to help each other, the first thing I am going to say to you is, “Okay, John, that’s awesome, I really enjoyed that ESHIP summit, that was great for me. Okay, what can I help you with?”

It will take on that tone, so when I coach people around emceeing (that is another way of saying being a leader) at an event, I tell them that your job is to model the culture, and people do whatever you tell them because literally, that is your job is to tell them what to do.

It propagates to the coffees, in the local communities, in the companies. Events are how you set the culture in a network because you cannot control every single little individual action, but you can control the large gatherings.

Your team does a really great job of building events that are welcoming, inclusive, thoughtful, different, interesting, fun, and all of that adds up to the culture of the event. But it’s also not one decision, it’s thousands of decisions that your team makes. Those events create that culture, and the choices that are made around how the event is designed, the agenda, and particularly how the leaders at that event speak is incredibly important.

I think in the networked society, there is no one that has all the answers. You cannot just say, “Well, we’re going to put the expert on, he’s going to give a 50-minute speech and then we’ll have the answers, and then we’ll go to cocktails.” It does not work that way in a complex world.

Thank you to Andy Stoll and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for their time and their work. You can learn more about the ways in which the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is building and supporting programs to improve education and boost entrepreneurship by visiting their website.

What Is a Hybrid Event, and Why Does It Matter to Your Organization?

“Hybrid experience” may not be a term you’ve heard before, but everyone will come to understand hybrid in 2021. After a year of seemingly all interactions becoming virtual, people have grown accustomed to the unique benefits virtual experiences offer and want to continue aspects of that in future marketing plans. How can future live events also deliver a meaningful simultaneous virtual experience for those who want or need it? With a well-crafted hybrid event.

What Is a Hybrid Event?

A hybrid event is an intentionally designed experience that consists of two well-timed experiences (in-person and virtual) that have to intersect seamlessly. The virtual and in-person audiences feel like they are one audience sharing an experience equally, and the specific needs of each audience are served.

If you take only one thing away from this blog post, let it be this: a hybrid event is not a live stream of an in-person event. The concept of a hybrid event is so new that people don’t yet have a mental image of it, and they assume that it means putting a camera in the back of an auditorium so everyone at home can watch. Not only is this not what a hybrid event is, it’s a flawed model because it creates a second-class experience for one group of attendees (the people participating virtually).

What’s Involved in a Hybrid Event?

Hybrid events are more complex to design and produce because they serve multiple audiences. Because of this complexity and the level of planning required, not every agency can produce one successfully.

The good news is that a hybrid event can be designed to incorporate almost any virtual technology platform — because they aren’t about the platform. They are about the production. Think of a hybrid event like a major motion picture: it requires directors, audio engineers, graphics designers and animators, lighting engineers, and even special equipment (like specific cameras that shoot for the visual space). The selection of this team is crucial to the event’s success.

A hybrid event also requires two of almost everything: two emcees, two sets, two production teams, two sets of visual assets, two scripts. This is important to ensure that each audience has a first-class experience. Virtual attendees shouldn’t feel that they’re removed from the live experience, and in-person attendees shouldn’t have their experience hampered by being squeezed into a virtual mold.

Every aspect needs to be thoughtfully planned. For example, if slides will be part of a presentation, how can those slides best be presented to each audience so they can engage with the material? If attendees will be in different time zones, what adjustments to language might need to be made (“We’ll return at ten after the hour” instead of “We’ll return at 10:10”).

All of these details matter, because the stakes are high. Virtual attendees can simply drop out and never return, and live audiences can feel alienated because mistakes are made. The pandemic has turned almost everyone into a virtual connoisseur, and people have higher expectations for virtual (and therefore hybrid) events now than they may have before. A hybrid event gone wrong can damage relationships and brand reputation, so it’s vital to invest the time and resources into detailed planning.

Why Should My Organization Care About Hybrid Events?

Hybrid events present a highly unique opportunity for building and strengthening relationships between groups of people that may not have otherwise interacted with each other. They are a tool for achieving specific strategic outcomes — not a fallback to something else. If creating and growing connections is important to your organization, you should care about hybrid events. (If, on the other hand, you really do just want your audience to watch a prerecorded video, you’d be better off with a more basic solution.)

Hybrid events give you a way to increase your potential audience to include people who might not otherwise be able to attend in person because they can’t travel, have personal or professional obligations that prevent them from attending in person, or who would simply prefer to participate virtually. This allows you to intentionally expand your reach globally and attract more diverse audiences — even if your in-person space has a maximum capacity.

We know people have different ways of learning and interacting with content, and hybrid events give you more opportunities to design for a range of learning styles. They also allow you to create targeted messaging and tracts that best serve each audience. Both the approach and the benefits should be strategically architected for each audience.

Put another way, the question for hybrid events is not, “Do you need one?” but “Why wouldn’t you want one?”

Every successful brand strategy in 2021 must include a hybrid event, which can serve as the model for each year going forward or can be alternated each year with a virtual experience depending on the organization’s goals. Hybrid events are a new concept today, but they will shortly become as indispensable as a company website.

We can help you determine the right kind of hybrid experience design for your goals. Contact us today for a consultation about your hybrid event opportunities.