What does a meeting, exhibition or conference planner have to do to get ahead these days? Whether you’re still employed, looking for a job or as so many career coaches say, “building your skill set,” you can’t ignore the phenomenon of virtual (online) events.
As a meeting planner myself, I can understand how some conventional planners would view online events (webinars, virtual trade shows, TelePresence experiences, MUVE environments, etc.) as competition. After all, who needs to know how to set a room theatre style or how many bran muffins to order for breakfast, when your attendees are spread throughout the country?
Planners are misguided, however, if they feel they can avoid the virtual movement or relegate all of the tasks to a technology provider. There is ample need for qualified planners on a strategic and logistical level when planning a virtual or hybrid event.
Meeting planners bring a unique perspective to online events including an understanding of the objectives and the experience that comes from planning live meetings and trade shows. They are the conduit between senior management or the client and the virtual technology provider.
There is a niche that can be uniquely filled by meeting planners because virtual events are designed to emulate the face-to-face experience and not the reverse.
The execution of a virtual event requires much of the same acumen that a professional meeting planner or exhibition manager possesses including:
- Content management (speaker selection, presentation topics, content capture)
- Event registration
- Pre-event audience promotion
- Post-event attendee evaluations
- Return on investment or objectives analysis
- Selection and supervision of sub-contractors
- Exhibit/sponsorship sales (trade shows)
- Translation services (international meetings)
Planners of the future will need to know about the features, benefits, technology and execution of online events in addition to the elements of conventional meetings in order to keep pace with the profession. Some specific areas of knowledge will include:
- Virtual meeting platforms (differences, features, functionality, suitability)
- Blended meetings
- Social networking integration (Twitter for Q & A, for example)
- RFP preparation for virtual platforms
- Internet/satellite connectivity requirements
- Streaming/live content vs. archived content
- Perceptions of virtual meetings
- Production/staging of virtual events
- Costs and potential revenue streams
- Mobile device integration
- Attendee guides
Where then does a meeting planner go to learn the ins and out of virtual meetings? MarketingProfs offers some great advice on virtual conference planning. Although the content is only available to premium members for a fee, they have a two-day free trial membership that is worth signing up for.
Another resource is Julius Solaris’s EventManager blog. He has a couple of good posts there including “Job Title: Webcasting Manager,” which touches on the role of event managers in executing virtual events.
Technology providers themselves are valuable resources. Vconferenceonline has recognized the value of educating meeting planners about online conferences. They will present a free webinar developed specifically for meeting planners on Thursday, October 29 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST.
Katherine Elliott of Vconferenceonline shared the content of the webinar, titled Virtual Event University, with me. Here’s the run down of topics that the speakers will cover (straight from her email):
1. Meeting Planners and Virtual Events – an excellent combination
- Why virtual events need a planner
2. Why is a virtual event safe? What’s in it for you? (financially and otherwise)
- You be the expert/”savior”/cutting edge
- Develop an “experience” for your client and their audience
- Small learning curve – don’t have to learn new technology
- Less risk and more control
- All but the handshake–increased attendance, flexibility
3. Obtaining and planning content
- Content is still king
- Securing speakers, high profile or otherwise
- Contracting, considerations
4. Marketing your event
- Alone or with a physical event
- How to present yourself and the event
- Involve speakers and sponsors early
5. Using the new media (digital media)
- Where’s your place?
- What about social media?
6. Misc/best practices
- How to work with other events
- What kinds of events can you offer?
- Can you charge?
- Involving the CEO in marketing and/or keynotes
Virtual Event University is free of charge. It will also be archived after the presentation on October 29th for a short time, for planners that want to view it in stages or refer back to it later on. I expect that Vconferenceonline’s main objective will be showcasing their technology in addition to providing great content, but I think it’s a fair trade.
The Takeaway: The economic turnaround may not be fully realized for at least another year. Many planners are struggling already with the loss of business from regular clients and the major cutbacks in the corporate and association arenas. At the same time, virtual events of all types are ramping up. Technology providers are moving into the space quickly. It is incumbent upon meeting planners–those with CMPs, CMMs, CEMs and those without–to learn all they can about virtual events and stake their own claim in the virtual world.