Early this month I was honored to be the keynote speaker as well as moderate and industry leader panel at the Center for Exhibition Industry Research yearly event CEIR Predict. As with most events this year, it was a hybrid experience with in-person attendees and speakers live at MGM Inner Harbour and online attendees watching the live stream.
Below is a write-up from the panel that I moderated which included Joey Graziano, SVP at National Basketball Association, Melissa Ashely Advisor at AirFair and Leana Salamah, Vice President, Marketing | International Housewares Association.
Panelists from the 2021 #CEIRPredict provide key findings on how marketing and digital transformation will impact the future of B2B exhibitions.
“We are not going back to the way we ran events before the Pandemic. It is essential to rethink/reimagine what the future is going to look like.”
When speaking with panelists from the recent CEIR Predict session on marketing and digital transformation, a clearer picture of our industry’s future came into focus.
In this forward-glance, we measure our Total Available Market as the world, and we’re are no longer limited by physical boundaries because we’ve mastered personalization-and-customization-at-scale.
Joey Graziano, SVP Business Development & Global Events, National Basketball Association, also believes this profit/experience utopia need not be just a dream. It comes down to leadership, clarity of intent, and monetizing live, viral moments. The key to Graziano is,
“We need our engagement and monetization strategies to stop being mutually exclusive. The best strategy reimagines the experience for our audience AND drives the P&L.”
Joey Graziano, NBA
Melissa Ashley, Advisor, Airfair, put it this way, “Everybody shifted to using technology to navigate the marketplace. The customer has the choice of when, where, and how.”
This dynamic will not be shifting back. When given multiple choices of how you want to consume your content, why would you ever wish to have your preferences withdrawn? You wouldn’t – and our audiences won’t either.
So what now? How should our organizational leaders prepare and empower their teams for a digital future? How can they leverage an economy of creators and serve audiences who have extensive choices of where they receive their content?
The key to unlocking the value of the medium may live within the very nature of Communities.
Brian Fanzo believes that a key to unlocking value could live with relatability, “If influencer marketing is the business of trust or an extension of trust, the Creator economy monetizes and builds community across platforms.” He goes further,
“This is the most connected generation ever. It isn’t that the younger generation has no attention span; they just have no tolerance for irrelevant content.”
The opportunity is there.
Graziano believes firmly in the responsibility of leadership in plotting this future, “As leaders, it is our job to take a problem, develop simple success metrics, push them forward, and enable people to decide the ‘how.’” Empowerment drives ownership. This shift in mindset could be the difference between holding onto traditional ideas and becoming poised to capitalize real-time on moments of live engagement.
He gave a few examples:
Think about a soap opera, right? The writers know what’s going to happen next. In many events, you know the viral moments because you scripted them with your speakers and entertainment. How can you monetize that?
You have an online event with 50,000 people, and they’re all paying $99. Perhaps 20,000 of those same attendees would pay $250 for a personalized experience. How do you find that out and offer that experience?
He added an important distinction. I call it out as a distinction because there is something our industry has been hesitant to mutter. Graziano’s perspective is, “We need to shift our mindset from ‘nothing is as good as live’ to ‘live is one valuable entry point’ and use our content to reach hundreds of thousands of people globally.”
Throughout the Pandemic, we’ve all spoken the phrase, ‘Nothing will replace the power of face to face.’ We believe it, and we’re not wrong, but it could be that we’re unintentionally limiting our sphere of influence – and at the same time, eroding our teams’ confidence in other mediums.
Specific to COVID-19 and our response to it, Graziano sees it as, of course, a tragedy but also an opportunity. “COVID-19 destroyed our sense of connection. It gave us new fears and futures. And yet, it created an opportunity for us to innovate, define new audiences, remove bureaucracy and emerge stronger.”
This perspective became even more powerful when we learned that Graziano’s father is a retired NYC firefighter and 9/11 survivor. He taught Joey and his siblings that it is the sum of our responses that define us. He would ask, “If your neighbor’s house was on fire, would you run into it?”
The sum of our responses.
If anyone reading this hasn’t yet leveraged the Pandemic to innovate with your teams and prepare for our collective future, now is the time.
For an industry that has always been about its people, we can make that happen. We can look after one another’s houses – even when they aren’t on fire.
To help your teams, we’ve summarized all the findings from the Thought Leaders – Focus on Focus on Marketing & Digital Transformation for you.
The future of marketing is relatability – people want to connect and understand what is important to them. Your brands can be relatable through authenticity.
The future of business is Community. You can build Community with customers, staff, clients, etc.
Individual creators create their own communities. The creator economy monetizes and builds Community across platforms. (Platforms changed the word “attendees” to communities)
Digital enables us to do more in-person. How one uses tech will ultimately enhance the in-person experience. Repackage content and release it over time.
Most obstacles are imaginary and are really opportunities.
Organizers need to create exclusivity, scarcity, personalization and customization.
Research indicates trade shows are coming back, but you can supplement them with other content year-round.
You can do nearly anything digitally. Organizers must drive additional value and raise the bar.
Tapping into emotions:
Organizers must address the emotional reasons people go to trade shows. Foster creativity; do not control it.
Prioritize engagement and Community – look at where you are not positioned and look to outsource to organizations that do this well.
Empower creators and embrace that they think differently.
Want people to feel ‘these are my people, people I can trust.’
Brands aren’t great. The people behind the brand make it great.
Join us again next week as we continue our conversations with CEIR Predict panelists. Next Up: Focus on Industry Disruptors.
Ps. If you’re thinking, ‘Wait, wasn’t this week’s content about disruptors?’ You’re not wrong. Everything covered above is about digital and marketing disruption specifically, but as we know, disruption isn’t limited to those topics. Next week we’ll explore ways you can support your teams as they build a culture of inclusivity, navigate the future of work, and protect their employees, attendees, and customers from physical and cyber security threats.
Virtual Event producers tend to get caught up in things like technology and speakers and getting attendees to sign-up…
So much so that they tend to forget about the piece that brings everything together and no it’s not the theme or the branding. Not only does this role keep a digital event on track, but it also encourages people to attend, interact, and stay engaged.
All of which are invaluable.
This video will not be a popular one amongst my keynote speaker peers but I believe the value of virtual events is dependent on the utilization of this role and re-inventing how this role is leveraged throughout the event planning process.
The NFL Virtual Draft leveraged this role to perfection which is the reason I still consider it the best virtual event I’ve attended in 2020.
Do you have an idea of which role/asset I’m referring to? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on YouTube!
If you are looking for more virtual event insights or want to transform your never virtual keynote presentation make sure to visit the Virtual Event Resources landing page which is updated weekly.
Here’s a YouTube comment that I felt summarized exactly how I felt and what inspired me to create this video!
“I don’t think I have ever been more on board with a video before this one. You are 100% spot on! Over the last few months (and even a little bit before) I have attended and spoken at online events that don’t have anything anchoring the experience, guiding us through our time together, except for that opening email and closing survey.
This past week I attended my FIRST virtual conference that had a host doing exactly what you say they should do. It changed EVERYTHING! While I still would prefer in-person events, this was the first experience where I closed my screen on the last day sad that it was over, excited about what I learned, and WHO I MET! I actually felt like I was in a community of people, gathering to learn together, to create something new, and to walk away richer in connection than when we started the event.
Thank you, Brian! Thank you! I hope many people watch this and put into motion what you are sharing with all of us.
I’ve never been one to look at media companies or the top 1% of innovators for examples on how to transform or change. Because let’s face it, most of us don’t have the budgets, brand recognition, or resources.
But with the first-ever virtual NFL draft, an exception should be made as not only can we learn from how the NFL, ESPN, and The Walt Disney Co embraced this pivot but we can replicate what they did on very reasonable budgets. This virtual event experience was world-class in ways most didn’t even notice.
Now before you throw your hands in the air, I will admit yes, the NFL virtual event included over 600 camera feeds managed by 250 employees live streaming in the homes of 85 draft prospects, 32 head coaches, and general managers and was broadcasted across multiple tv and social media channels. And yes, they leveraged professional on-camera personalities who provided a sports experience to a sports starved social distancing audience.
Yet, if we abstract the broadcast and scale components from experience it’s very similar to every other pivot of an offline event to virtual.
It was hosted by Trey Wingo in a studio with 12 event producers connecting thought leaders and experts from their homes with limited tech, that couldn’t travel, and that was only as good as their wifi signal. That is the same scenario 1000’s of brands, events, and associations are facing today as they pivot their live conferences into virtual events.
Now, in all honesty, the NFL Draft is like a holiday for me as a Steelers fan. I was going to love the draft no matter what but when I sat down to watch it, I wrote down on my paper “3 things the NFL did good and 3 virtual experiences the NFL didn’t do good.”
To my surprise, I ended up with over 15 unique examples of what the NFL did great and 3 or maybe 4 experiences I would love to see integrated with future virtual sports events.
“The success of this year’s draft is a testament to the unprecedented collaboration across the NFL, ESPN, and The Walt Disney Co. in the midst of such a challenging time.”
Watch the video above for additional context around each example and the exclusive debut of the “shoe cam” from my home studio in Virginia.
1. Change is polarizing and difficult for most but you must own that.
The change required everyone involved in the event to adapt from the production teams to the commissioner Roger Goodell to the players getting drafted not from NYC but from their parent’s living rooms!
It’s also extremely important to integrate traditional and familiar elements of the offline event into your virtual event as the Roger Goodell did encourage the live fans on the tv to BOOOO louder as they would in years past.
2. Test and tweak pre-event and document it for marketing
No doubt everyone involved with the virtual NFL Draft had to be surprised that there wasn’t a massive technical issue as I believe there is only one guarantee when it comes to live-streaming and that is that something will go wrong.
About 5 days before the draft pictures started being shared on social media of the coaches and general managers “home war rooms” and players started teasing out how they planned on replicating the New York experience at home.
For events, the pre-event marketing can be very forced and all about sales but if you document the setup, the process and give the audience access to behind the scenes this becomes great content. This content not only can this serve as your marketing but it makes the audience feel as though they are part of the process and in many cases, they’ll do the marketing for you.
3. Go all-in with one host from start to finish
Trey Wingo took on the role of in-studio host and the job he did over the 3 full days was nothing short of remarkable. His great job as host was noticeable by most but if you broke down the little aspects the role he played in the virtual NFL draft success was first class.
Trey Wingo A++ Job hosting Virtual NFL Draft
Reminding the audience regularly about the fact this is all new and we are doing the best we can while not making that a center point of the virtual event.
Rolling with the 2–3-second delay when interviewing guests and adjusting the formats of questions so that guests could jump in without him having to interject each time, therefore, the delay was much less noticeable.
Having high energy and passion throughout the entire marathon while keeping it light and fun as the event went on.
The lesson here for everyone producing or planning a virtual event is INVEST time, money, and resources in a great host not multiple hosts or allowing an executive to host because they thought it would be fun.
Invest in one confident and dynamic host to be the face of the event before, during and after that understands how to roll with the punches, manage expectations and is focused on making others look good and be their best during the event while celebrating the production team that helped make it all happen.
4. Create virtual experiences where ever your audience is and it’s ok to multi-stream
Yes, the TV broadcast was the main product but let’s face it social and live video has been a vital role of all offline sporting events for the last 5+ years. But they could have easily broadcasted the same content across all channels instead not only did they change up the content across channels but they empowered the different teams to create unique experiences for their fans as well.
Leveraging speakers, hosts, sponsors, and employees of the brands and associations around the event to create content and unique experiences. Not only is this great for marketing the event but it also provides a “choose your own adventure” aspect for the audience allowing them to consume content how they want, where they want and in the format they want.
5. Create swimlanes & freedom allowing awesome to happen
Virtual is a drastic change for everyone and with drastic change, we naturally have a tendency to create rules and strict guidelines in an attempt to mitigate this risk. But in most cases that leads to very structured and boring copy cat content that no only is boring but limits the creativity of the talented people involved in the event.
But I firmly believe LIMITATIONS INSPIRE CREATIVITY and to enable creativity you can’t limit or control the talent involved with the event. But having no rules or giving them a whiteboard of possibilities won’t work either.
If you create a list of “swimlanes” that includes what you can’t do and what to avoid while also giving ideas and the freedom to try different things the possibilities are endless and in the case of the virtual draft the creativity led to dogs making draft picks and the families of the coaches being a massive part of the experience.
6. The right mix video of live streaming with pre-recorded and production
On a majority of the virtual event strategy calls I’m on with clients the question is always asked “Should we do this event live-streamed or not?”
I believe that isn’t the right question to ask rather every virtual event should include a 3-way mix of video content depending on the goal of each segment.
Production Quality Video
Live Streaming Video
The virtual NFL draft did this amazingly and the best example was prior to the Cleveland Browns draft pick they announced that Fletcher on behalf of St.Junes would be making the pick. Now they could have easily sent Fletchers family an iPhone as they did players and done this with live streaming but why take on that risk?
Instead, they had a pre-recorded video of him sharing how excited he was and setting up the pick before kicking it back to the studio where the official “live draft pick” was announced.
Having a mix of video content is essential for maintaining attention but also adding dynamic elements to virtual events but most importantly is understanding when and which type of video content is best for each aspect of a virtual event. I share more on this in a video I created last week.
7. Include a variety of access and vantage points but only if they have a specific purpose.
As reported on ESPN, the players that were being drafted were given two iPhones one to provide a tight shot and one for one on one interviews after they were drafted.
You might not have also noticed but they had the “live look-in” of the coaches, GM’s and owners letting us see their reactions but no audio was included which I’m guessing was for privacy. But what this allowed was the ability to have others in the room without worrying about them disrupting the broadcast. The end result was a family affair of dogs, friends and kids coming in and out of the draft room.
You’ll also notice no interviews were given via that wide shot as the emotion you want to convey with interviews and thought leadership level content needs to be intimate and much tighter.
The combination of multiple shots was beautifully done but be warned this can be overdone as many speakers will buy multiple cameras, I have a 3 camera shot for my virtual events, which is great but only if each camera has a specific purpose and emotion associated with it.
8. A strategic change of content formats including broadcasting, interview types, music
The area of entertaining or fun content is an area that almost all virtual events overlook as they include networking breaks and in many cases happy hours but seldom include musicians, comedians or influencers.
The NFL took this up a level with multiple pre-recorded videos from multiple different brands. Although there was some backlash on twitter when one of the artist’s video was played rather while draft picks were happening. The lesson here includes entertainment and fun but make sure it’s not disrupting what the audience is there for rather it should be complimenting and amplifying it.
9. Manage expectations while rolling with the punches
Virtual events are not only new for brands and associations putting them but also new for the audience and it’s essential that expectations are managed and we educate the audience on what’s expected from them, the variety of content available, and the different engagement aspects that will be included.
Remember many attendees when they think virtual they picture a boring webinar that they usually move to another tab and ignore and it doesn’t matter how engaging and exciting your vide is if the audience has already put you on tab 1,310 in their browser.
Must educate the audience before and during the event while managing expectations around technology and any changes to what was scheduled.
With the freedom and swimlanes as discussed above, you also have to be prepared for some of the odd and risk that will be taken which was on display with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel although it was done all in good fun.
10. Provide access you can’t get anywhere else
In my personal opinion, the reason Live Streaming Video is a gamechanger is when it’s used as participatory content not just one-way broadcasting. This means including comments and shootouts from those watching live and even better bringing on audience members and special guests to be a part of the experience and participate in the direction of the content.
The NFL did this in a variety of ways, although I feel like the Facebook Live, Instagram and TikTok content could have done this more it was fun to see the #DraftAThon with Roger Goodell & Friends engaging the live audience.
11. Keep it fun and relaxed and lean into what works
As I mentioned before I believe Trey Wingo did a world-class job at hosting the NFL Draft but it was his report with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that stole the show in the fun and relaxed category. Early on the teasing and joking about Roger’s man cave was fun and witty sparking meme’s on social media. As the draft wore on into the 3rd day Trey doubled down on this making comments about Roger’s Sunday entire and Roger even going as far as making draft picks from his lazy boy recliner.
This kind of banter and fun might sound easy and natural but it’s only made possible when the host and guests are provided the freedom to be themselves and then a good production team and host see’s it’s working and leans into it.
Ps. The fact that the NFL social media accounts also got into the fun posting their own competitions made this even more of a success.
12. Up-cycle virtual content to amplify event & drive conversations
For offline events, the promotion and sales of tickets and attendance are 99% frontloaded to a pre-event activity as you need time for travel and manage attendance driven aspects of an event like seats, food and fire code.
With multi-day virtual events, the ability to amplify the event in real-time and up-cycle content across different channels can not only drive additional sales for the event but it can also create social conversations putting the event in the feed of those that maybe knew about the event and forgot or didn’t know about it at all.
With virtual there are also lots of questions about integrating sponsors and one of the ways that this can be done is by including virtual badges, hashtags and swag within the virtual experience. The NFL did this by simply providing virtual backgrounds for all 32 teams which can be used on Zoom, your social media cover photo or the background of your desktop.
13. Include sponsored content that connects with an event in real-time
When it comes to virtual events I believe the possibilities and value for sponsors can be massively greater than traditional offline conference but it requires a collaboration mindset that goes beyond just the day of the event to include speakers, hosts and even other sponsors. This can be done in a variety of ways from videos to swag to contests and more.
The NFL has always done a great job of this and that was included in the social media content and #OneTeam charity focus throughout the broadcast.
14. Be social & connect your content across virtual experiences
Leveraging social media in collaboration with a virtual event is a no-brainer but to do it well it requires a unique strategy for each social network as well as multiple creators creating a variety of content. You can leverage everything from event hashtags to user-generated content to exclusive giveaways.
The NFL did a great job of this by sharing out unique content aspects from the main broadcast for teams to leverage on their feeds. They also went out of their way to create custom content directly on the platform including TikTok and Instagram stories.
The key to making this all happen is having a production plan beyond the live content and easy ways to share this amongst the different teams involved with the event which can be a shared drive or tools like slack. It’s also about empowering the right people that have the right level of access. I really enjoyed the different fans and players taking over the brand accounts or doing live videos throughout the draft.
During the draft, I was amazed at how quickly the broadcast level content was turned into 2 minute twitter videos and dynamic virtual videos being shared on Instagram. This doesn’t require a big budget rather a very strategic approach to sharing content across social media channels in real-time.
15. Keep an open mind to the new possibilities
Virtual events WILL NEVER replace offline events but if you create them from a virtual experience mindset the ability to create new experiences and amplify offline events is almost a guarantee. Yes, it takes a team to put on a virtual event and I the fact the NFL draft went virtual in less than a month with only 250 people supporting it made the success of this event that more impressive to me.
This video after the Virtual NFL Draft with Roger Goodell should be shared with every executive and leader that questions the value of virtual experiences both in the short term and what they can empower in the long term!
The question is what virtual experiences will you learn from as you create a virtual event and maybe even more exciting is what will ESPN, NFL and The Walt Disney company do for the next virtual sporting event that is no question coming as they’ve set the bar pretty high to start!
Why haven’t virtual events or online conferences replaced offline conferences? Because they can’t!
But… If we redesign the experience from a digital-first mindset, it’s possible to provide a complimentary digital experience that bridges offline conference experiences 365 days a year and can supplement the value we aren’t able to deliver during times like now with the Coronavirus.
What won’t work and hasn’t worked:
❌ Back to back webinars called digital events
These are impersonal and often time unengaging.
❌ Live video platform streaming offline keynotes
While these may be more personal, they’re still not super engaging if the speakers don’t engage with the audience comments like they would if it were any other live stream. The problem with that, is that this makes it less “conference like,” how do we find the happy medium?
❌ Speakers using the same slides, story, and presentation structure for digital talks
Virtual events are far more accessible for most, so how will we ensure that our audiences aren’t seeing the same thing over and over again? How can we create a unique experience without feeling the mood of the room?
❌ Events built with tech-first their your mindset still have to focus on format and audience experience
We can create all of the tech-first events we want, but the tech itself won’t be enough to create a great customer experience.
✅ Great creators such as YouTube stars don’t make great speakers.
Being able to speak at a live event and creating well-produced, audience-specific content require very different skillsets. Virtual summits, specifically ones that happen live, will require keynote level speakers.
✅ Just as many speakers won’t make great digital keynote speakers
Just like YouTubers don’t always make great in-person speakers, we can’t expect that many “traditional” keynote speakers will be great in a digital format.
? Sadly, just like offline, the host/emcee of digital events are key, yet seldom valued or included in strategy!
Cutting corners is not acceptable. Not even in the digital space. The host/emcee of your event is the only constant in the attendees’ experience and you’d be surprised how important that constant is. So don’t leave them out!
? Virtual Reality isn’t the answer either
However, understanding VR content, storytelling with creating 360 degrees of access, and how those interactions work is a mindset digital events must factor in.
The questions we must be asking for digital events are:
1. What experience and interaction will maintain attention with an audience that is easily distracted and has unlimited other options for content?
2. How do we connect the theme and hypothesis of the event throughout every aspect of the digital event without it being obvious?
3. What does success look like for our digital event and how does that differ from our traditional events? How do we manage those expectations for audience, sponsors and executives?
4. What is the emotional link to the content we want to create.. FOMO no recordings or JOMO exclusive access?
5. What are the measurable touchpoints that we can track for success & driveability to adapt and pivot?
6. With no venue but no doors to keep the audience in, how do we use that money from butts in seats to butts not clicking off?
We Must ReInvent
When designing a virtual event we must go beyond the platforms and even beyond the conference experience to build a truly digital-first experience! I’m working with multiple companies and associations on doing just that with what I’m calling a “Choose your own digital event experience” framework. Stay tuned for more insights and information on how we are doing this and if you want to learn more or believe your software platform would be a great fit send me an email at Brian@isocialfanz.com.
That’s right. The key to being the best moderator you can be is to earn the trust of both the panelists and the audience. Without trust there is no relationship and without a relationship, it’s hard to keep people’s attention and drive home a point.
Show The Panelists You Care
You all know how much this saying means to me, I have a whole campaign around it! But this slogan is perfect when it comes to moderating.
One of the biggest things that set me apart from other moderators is that I ask each panelist for two points that they want to drive home during the panel. By asking each of the panelists what they are looking to get out of their stage time, I am showing them that I am concerned about their goals.
Then I follow up by telling the panelists that my goal for the session is to make them look good, get their point across and ensure the audience gets what they want/need. Lastly, the day of, I ask if there are any subjects that are off of the table.
Get In Touch With The Audience
Let’s be honest, the panel is for the audience, so it is your job as the moderator to make sure the audience gets what they need. There are a few places you can look for this information:
The Title and Description of the panel (if you didn’t write it)
The “about” section of the conference
The chats happening around the event
TALK TO THE AUDIENCE
As a moderator, you are the liaison between the audience and the panel!
The last one is my favorite, I generally try to connect with the audience one way or another before my session. This allows me to ensure I get the information out of the panelists that the audience is looking to get.
Anytime I got to interact with other conference-goers at Social Shake Up 2019, I was sure to ask them what they thought about influencers, what they would ask an influencer if they got the chance and what they wanted to get out of the conference. I kept all of this information in mind when I moderated a panel with 6 influencers later in the conference.
Use Your Trust For Good
The goal I have as a moderator is to make the organizer feel like they hit a home run with their panel choices. I also want panelists to tell me that conversation came easily and they got to say what they wanted to.
As a moderator, you are the liaison between the audience and the panel. Once you have the trust of both parties, you can make amazing things happen for both sides.
Knowing the wants and needs of both parties allows you the power to know when a panelist has insight that will blow the audience’s mind or when the audience isn’t getting what they need out of a session.
The trust you’ve gained will allow you to direct and redirect conversations that are beneficial to all parties and at the end of the day, that should be what you are working towards.