I had the honor of facilitating a Buzz Session at IAEE’s Expo Expo 2020 entitled “Going Virtual” — an apropos name given that this was the first fully virtual Expo! Expo! Along with serious questions I posed to the group, I also had a bit of fun by beginning the poll with the following question:
“If your experience of going virtual was an animal, which would it be?”
As you can see from the responses (at left), the transition to virtual was a real beast in many ways.
It’s safe to assume that the Snake, Sloth, Warthog and Shark selections were not necessarily indicating positive experiences for the organizers. To be fair, 21% did choose Eagle, which in my book would indicate a more positive reaction, if not an aggressive one. There were those that chose Horse, but it’d be a stretch to say what that means.
Although this was intended for fun, it does reflect the reality in which event organizers are continuing to grapple – producing virtual events can be difficult and organizers are challenged to deliver increasing exhibitor, sponsor, and attendee value. This is a serious situation that will need to improve if virtual event platforms are to realize the future they envision once face-to-face returns. Given that virtual event platforms are in the early development stage, there is a lot of headroom for improved functionality and hopefully many of these innovations will address the challenges that exist for the participants and organizers.
At the top of the list is engagement both between attendees as well as exhibitors and attendees. A close second is the issue of exhibitor/sponsor return on investment, which is closely related to the engagement concern.
Current capabilities such as search functions and appointment setting functions help drive this engagement. When adopted by the participants, these functions can facilitate the desired connections, but in my experience, they fall short of being fully effective in a few aspects.
First, many providers still contain these appointment schedules solely within the platforms itself with little integration into the tools that run our business lives outside the event. If you’re like me, if somethings not on my work calendar it’s not going to happen. Additionally, am I being notified via email or text message when someone reaches out to me on the platform to schedule a meeting or the meeting is about to happen?
As appointment setting has quickly become table stakes for platforms, matchmaking is another feature many event organizers are hungry to implement. There are fewer platforms providing capabilities in this area and as a person with experience in the data behind events, I can understand the trepidation that exists.
On this topic, I’d like to make a supportive statement on behalf of the platform providers and provide some well-intended, yet pointed advice to organizers. Technology is not magic. Just because participants log into a platform and begin utilizing features, it is unreasonable to expect an accurate and effective mechanism to discover accurate connections between attendees and exhibitors.
Even with the standard registration processes that existed prior to COVID-19, solid matchmaking products struggled to realize their promise. The matchmaking challenge lies in that event organizers are rarely designing their data acquisition strategies from a perspective of maximizing participant value first.
That statement means no disrespect to event organizers, as they have a thousand concerns on their plate. But from my experience, most organizers ask for information of their participants from the perspective of keeping it short and easy so as to not annoy them, or to ensure the organizer receives the information needed to inform internal directives or drive future marketing efforts.
Technology has forever been true to one axiom: garbage in, garbage out. This is fact even with new technologies such as artificial intelligence. But there is good news. It is quite possible, even without the application of advanced AI technology, for companies to provide effective matchmaking between constituents if the required data is available. That is the catch. With solid data, incredible value can be provided to the participants.
This leaves us with the challenge of how to gather the data that can drive effective matchmaking. This should become the primary purpose and approach of information gathering from event participants – to drive the connections. In order to do so effectively, more information will likely need to be gathered. If there is both a solid and sound explanation for why the data is needed, and that promise of highly valuable connections is realized and delivered, the participants will dance in the virtual aisles for joy.
In my next article, I will make some suggestions that leverage technology to help provide better user experiences while improving the type, amount, and quality of data capture to effectively generate meaningful matches.
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