Inspiring Virtual Events That Boost Audience Engagement

Last time, on “Lessons From The Front Line”, we discussed Simulive Webinars and the different tools that will increase your leads and hit your Market Qualified Lead goals. In this episode, we dive into the challenges behind the creation of inspiring virtual events that both live and digital audiences can engage with. 

Find out how to boost your content and increase audience interest. Both in-house and remote. Regardless of the type of webinar your host, there needs to be a level of excitement and anticipation resonating with your audience. 

Tune in for the following topics:

  1. How to create webinars that inspire engagement from your audience? There are so many creative methods behind hosting an interactive and engaging virtual event. From SportsCentre style to game show strategy. But how do we improve our set-up from the original one-way broadcast to an enjoyable, interactive event?
  2. How do you pull off a successful hybrid live/virtual event? Most virtual audiences will feel secondary, but that’s entirely preventable. What can you offer your guests that gives them the opportunity to feel recognized as a primary audience during virtual events?
  3. Distance networking. A big challenge to broadcasting over multiple regions, is making participants feel like they are all together in the experience. We cover useful strategies and a unique success story to show you how to attain this.
  4. Location inspiration. This is essential when considering ways to improve your webinar strategies. We touch on ways to get creative with your virtual event’s location to increase the level of authenticity. Especially when using video.
  5. What will carry over during the next couple of years? Find out how segmented media, video and tech networking events will quickly become the method behind the ability for everybody to participate. 

Stay tuned for our next podcast covering not-for-profits and how these associations can use webinars and virtual events to their fullest potential.

The Complete Transcript On
Inspiring Virtual Events

Peter Vamos:  Welcome to LFTF, the podcast about turning your webinar into a lead generation machine and advancing your business objectives. With me as usual, Matthew Ley, the president of The Streaming Network. Welcome. 

Matthew Ley:  Thanks for having me, Pete. And is that yet another tagline that you’ve added to our–?

Peter Vamos:  –It’s–I think this is the one we’re going to stick with.

Matthew Ley:  Okay, this is the one. 

Peter Vamos:  This is the one. You–.

Matthew Ley:  –You’ve said that for, like, 30 podcasts–

Peter Vamos:  –I know–

Matthew Ley:  –In a row, but okay. All right. 

Peter Vamos:  You can hold me to that. 

Matthew Ley:  All right. 

Peter Vamos:  So, we talk a lot about technology. We talk a lot about interactive features to make webinars more engaging. But today we’re looking at ways to give your audience more inspiration and what they can do with their next virtual event. There are different types of virtual events–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –Different types of webinars. How do we want to tackle the subject today?

Matthew Ley:  Well, I think that what I’m going to try and do is I’m going to try and break it down into things they–we can do for an internal event versus an external. 

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  So, when you’re talking about an internal training event or an internal audience–or, sorry, employee engagement event like a town hall or a CEO road show, you can have more fun with it, I think. 

Our audience is used to seeing that in their physical events. You can play with music and themes that you would never do with an external-facing webinar because it’s only going to be seen by your employees. Also, there’s no commercial intent, so you could use music that you maybe couldn’t use in a–in an external event and different things like that. 

So, internal, you can have a lot more fun, and we do see a lot more fun being done in those. External, you got to keep it a little safer. You know, it can be seen by the media or anybody else, but it doesn’t mean it has to be boring. I think we’ve talked about that a lot on here. But I will separate the two when I give my examples and I talk about what I’ve seen work and not work.

Peter Vamos:  Right. Fair. And those two audiences come for different reasons as well, right?

Matthew Ley:  Yeah, and that’s important. I mean, on the webinar, you know, you are promoting this to an audience who doesn’t have to be there. Whatever you’ve done in your promotion, whether it’s you’ve picked a topic that they really like or you’ve done a great job in your past webinars, they’re coming to see it ’cause they want to. 

The internal audience, on the other hand, have to go. It’s mandatory training. It’s the CEO is talking and it’s an all hands meeting. It’s mandatory everyone be there. And so, when it comes to that, you have a very different mentality going in, is that everyone’s going in with a negative idea. I have to do this silly thing. I want to get my work done. I was going to leave early. It’s Friday before the long weekend. I want to get out there and enjoy the sunshine, but I got to listen to my CEO talk.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  And so, that’s why I think even–in many cases, more attention needs to be put on the fun factor of those events to turn people’s idea around. 

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  A great event producer that I was doing work with at one point in time named Tim Ferguson, he was–I’m not sure where he is now, but I think he’s in Europe, but he was running audience here in Toronto for a while–said that the goal of any internal event, especially like a sales kickoff, should be that the event is so good that the audience would actually pay money to come next time.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  And I would suggest that the goal of any virtual event for internal should be that the virtual experience is so good that people who were sitting in the room with the CEO feel left out that it wasn’t as good for them because they were–they had to be in an audience and they didn’t get to do this from their desk or their office or their pajamas at home. 

Peter Vamos:  Right. And it’s show business, really. I mean, you’re–even if it’s a corporate event, you’re still–it’s–you’re putting on a show, right? 

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.         

Peter Vamos:  You’ve got to put on a show. 

So, what are some–you know, we’re talking about tips and tricks. 

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  What are some things that work regardless of whether it’s internal or external audience?

Matthew Ley:  Well, you stole some of my thunder when you started talking about how it has to be a show–.

Peter Vamos:  –It has–.

Matthew Ley:  –Show business, because, I mean, we talk about that all the time on this–.

Peter Vamos:  –Right–.

Matthew Ley:  –Show, is that you want to try and create a show format–.

Peter Vamos:  –Um-hmm–.

Matthew Ley:  –Right? And that show format needs to be relatable to your audience and needs to be something that they understand what’s going to be happening so–when they come back the next time. And a show or show business, as you put it, is something that can get people moderately excited about some of the topics we discuss on a day-to-day basis. 

So, when you look back at an internal, right, you know, what gets your juices running is not, oh, we’ve got a national Webex session happening this week. It’s going to be awesome, this national webinar. 

Peter Vamos:  So excited for the–.

Matthew Ley:  –I–.

Peter Vamos:  –Webex–.

Matthew Ley:  –Know, and I’m–beyond the fact that often when I’m involved in this, it’s never on a Webex, right? It’s on our webcast webinar platform, but people still use it like Kleenex.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  And that’s not exciting. For that matter, neither is a CEO town hall or a all hands meeting or whatever it might be. 

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  And so, let’s just even start with the fact that let’s change the title of these events, as a beginning. And then often with anything, and the marketers understand this best, is that, you know, the title and the promise of the event needs to fulfill what you say it’s going to. 

So, an example of one that worked really, really well was a program that we ran for years until he retired at Hydro One, which was a show called Live with Len. So, Len McMillan ran the front–the staff that was out in the field for Hydro One. And they were the folks that, back before smart meters, they would go and they would read your meter and do the report for your bill. They were also the ones that would clean up debris around different sites. There’s a number of field operatives. There’s a forestry division and all of that. 

And as they were getting ready for smart metering to come in, his portfolio was growing in the number of people, but also there was a lot of anxiety about who was going to have a job and where people were going to transition. And he was getting so many questions, and he couldn’t be out in the field as much because he had to be in boardrooms discussing the future of the organization, so he simply could not answer these questions, and people were trying to get access to him. 

So, they created a program, we called it Live with Len, where he sat in a chair, he gave very few prepared remarks, and then he just answered questions. And me, you know, the virtual event expert, even though this was, like, 10 years ago and I was just getting started, I said “Bad idea.” People don’t like asking questions on virtual events. And, I mean, if we’re honest, you’re going to get questions that you’re probably not going to want to answer. 

And in the five minutes that I got to meet with Len, I realized that this was going to be different, because he walked in the room and he said I don’t care. You know, I’ll say any–I’ll answer any question. I’m not going to take any bullshit. And I need to get these guys these answers because they’re worried about their families. They’re worried about their jobs. 

And so, he sat in a chair, said three or four things, and the questions flew in. And he answered everything in a very authentic way like he said he would, even saying I’m not going to answer that question ’cause you know I can’t. You’re asking it. You keep asking it, and I will–I can’t let you know that until we know as a company. But as soon as I do, I’m going to let you know.

And it’s the only program I ever did that was exactly like that. It probably would not have worked with the CEO of Hydro One at the time. It worked with Len. It may not be something that would work even today with the way things can leak and get out, but it worked. And it’s the only show I ever did where I could walk around and someone would say, yeah, I worked for Hydro One, or it was a summer job with Hydro One. And I could say remember Live with Len? And they said yeah, I loved that show. I produced that show. So, it was a show that, you know, really, really worked.      

Peter Vamos:  Right. And the lesson there really is build it around what you’ve got, right?

Matthew Ley:  That’s right.

Peter Vamos:  Play to your strengths. 

Matthew Ley:  Exactly.

Peter Vamos:  You’ve got Len.

Matthew Ley:  Um-hmm.

Peter Vamos:  You–but most companies don’t have a Len, so you got to create other things. There was, I remember–and we’ve talked about this in the past. There’s the ping pong–HubSpot’s ping pong ball. 

Matthew Ley:  Right.

Peter Vamos:  Tell us a little bit about–.

Matthew Ley:  –And–so, that’s a good example when you start going external.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  And that was a group that was already having fun–.

Peter Vamos:  –Um-hmm–.

Matthew Ley:  –Kind of like we started by having fun when we were in your basement set.        

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.    

Matthew Ley:  And then since then, we’ve done the fireplace. We’ve done the one in the bar. Like, we’ve done this, and what we’re trying to do is just have fun with it because we–.

Peter Vamos:  –Change it up.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah, because we can, right?  

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  We got a studio. We got all these guys and we’re–so we’re–.

Peter Vamos:  –We have a large bongo drum here today.

Matthew Ley:  Yes.

Peter Vamos:  We’re going to play it later on for you.

Matthew Ley:  Yes, this is not our new set. This is a set that was used yesterday for somebody else, and we decided, heck, let’s just take it. It looks kind of sophisticated, more sophisticated than the two of us, so we thought we would take it.

Peter Vamos:  It’s going to outshine us.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah. 

But what was I saying? So, that HubSpot one is a great example of an external audience. And it works for them, and it might not work for all of you. 

So, it was an external-facing event, and they were already–HubSpot’s a fun, hip, cool group. And the speakers they have on are–a lot of them are external thought leaders. And they’re of a modern marketing–that whole scene. And so, they were already having fun on their webinars, and they wanted to amp it up.

So, they did a program–we’ve talked about it on the show–where they analyze people’s websites live and really tear apart websites that are–have bad inbound strategies at play.

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  And they would do 10 minutes per website, but they would not give the experts a clock. They were just going and trying to get to the end of the 10 minutes. And when the 10 minutes ended, boom, they got hit with a ping pong ball. 

They started with a football. Apparently people got scared so they moved to a ping pong ball. And there was a person selling–sending a ping pong ball throughout to give them the warning that the time was up. Very fun, people loved it, great successful program, and it worked for that brand. 

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  Right.

Peter Vamos:  And it keeps things tight, which is also important, right?      

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  You don’t want people going–if you–.

Matthew Ley:  –Oh–.

Peter Vamos:  –Go over, right? 

Matthew Ley:  Yeah, it had multiple strategies–.

Peter Vamos:  –Yeah–.

Matthew Ley:  –Employed in it–.

Peter Vamos:  –Yeah–.

Matthew Ley:  –That worked really well. 

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  There was no production value. It was just like a GoPro or a webcam maybe that was just down on a table, and it was just a bunch of guys rapping.

Now, compare that to a webinar that I think is still on our website, ’cause I was so proud of it for so long, called the Beat the Clock Challenge, where Demand Metric came in and they basically had a bunch of questions from their community. They had launched a community. I was the webinar expert in the community. And they had all these questions that had been put in about what to do–when to hold a webinar, what’s the best time, why do you do this, when to do that. 

And me and John, as much as John and I–the CMO there are–have worked together for a very long time, we haven’t been on a set as much as you and I have. And so, he was–he wasn’t comfortable with the–as comfortable with the environment as I was, and me and him didn’t have the rapport. Things were much more scripted.

But we wanted to do something fun, so we called it a beat the clock challenge. And literally, he gave me either two minutes or 45 seconds to give an answer. And if I went over, someone honked a horn–.

Peter Vamos:  –Right–.

Matthew Ley:  –Out in the other room, and that told me that my time was up. So, it allowed us to stay in a wheelhouse that we were comfortable in, made me–made us laugh and get out of our comfort zone to a certain extent ’cause this horn was awful. But it was a way of doing something similar in an environment where we weren’t quite as maybe free and open as they are at HubSpot.

Peter Vamos:  Right, right. But it still gave you–created a level of excitement in you, created a level of anticipation in the audience, and still–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s something that I always said that, you know, I should do again–.

Peter Vamos:  –Yeah–.

Matthew Ley:  –If I had that many sort of questions.

Peter Vamos:  Maybe for our next podcast.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah, maybe. 

But, like, just going back to internal for one second, and that is, you know, there’s a lot of inspiration that you can take from programs that you’ve watched. So, when we go external, we look at–we always say look at podcasts for audio events. Look at news broadcasts for format. One plus two guests, you know, remote hits, whatever it might be, we’ve done that to the end.

But for internal, you can do a lot of fun. And when you start thinking, your mind is going to go to formats that you’ve seen before, like the fireside chat–. 

Peter Vamos:  –Um-hmm–.

Matthew Ley:  –Invented by FDR as a radio address to the nation; worked because it was the only time that a president had just sat there and spoke to the nation in the way that FDR did. 

Trust me, it’s been done, and it’s not going to work for your next internal event unless you really go for it and you put on, you know, a smoking jacket and you make it like it’s in a basement. Then that might be funny. But one guy sitting there just kind of talking like that isn’t going to play very well, virtual or otherwise. 

But some things that I’ve seen work really well are I’ve seen people go full on SportsCenter. So, they’re doing a quarterly update, and rather than doing it just people talking, they’re giving the numbers to the sales team and they’re doing it like they’re two people on a news desk. And they’ve got graphics. They’ve done whatever. 

I’ve seen it work well in training and learning activities where they’ve done like a game show, Family Feud, one region versus another, or a Jeopardy challenge or something like that. So, anything that is a show format that has a little bit of fun in it is something that can be related to an internal event. 

We did a–this is a great example of the use of the technology and something that people may not think about, is a lot of companies do some amazing things that we don’t know, right? Like, Wal-Mart had a challenge for university students where they had to come up with a green-friendly business idea that would help retail become more green. 

And they did it like a competition. And they would come up, and it was like Dragon’s Den. They would make a pitch, and they had the chief environment responsibility officer or chief I think–that’s not the name of it, but you get what I’m talking about–.

Peter Vamos:  –Um-hmm–.     

Matthew Ley:  –And a few other sort of experts in the field sit on it while these kids came up and they did their 15 minute pitches or 10 minute pitches and got questions asked of them. 

Well, you know, Wal-Mart doesn’t–I mean, Wal-Mart’s a big bad company, you know, killing small retail. Now they’re getting killed by Amazon. But at the time, you know, not a lot of people knew that they were doing these great things, right? And so, by doing it virtually as well, they even let the virtual audience–they could vote, but their votes didn’t count. It was the panel that counted.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  But they got to go out to all of the universities and all of that to realize that Wal-Mart was caring about creating a more sustainable future. It was–chief sustainability officer–.

Peter Vamos:  –Right–.     

Matthew Ley:  –Was her role. 

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  And so, basically that event got them a lot of eyes, a lot of publicity, followed that kind of Dragon’s Den–y approach. And, you know, when they gave away $100,000 as a business–so, a startup investment to these kids that came up with this idea, you know, that was a–really a pretty amazing a-ha moment for that event. 

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  So, that–those are ways that you can take a standard idea and move it to something that’s a little more fun and a little more like a show.

Peter Vamos:  And in the process potentially redefine yourself, if that’s the goal, right?

Matthew Ley:  That’s right.

Peter Vamos:  You really elevate the brand in a way that–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –You know, your commercials or other things potentially can’t. 

So, we talked at length about events that are virtual.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  And there are many examples of that. And especially with internal communications events, there are those elements that are both in person and there’s a virtual audience.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  So, maybe we can talk a little bit–like, how do you handle that? How do you do that thing where it’s both?

Matthew Ley:  Well, yeah, a lot of the bigger events, whether it’s your user conference, you’re doing a brand launch, you’re doing a CEO town hall, I mean, your speakers are in one location.

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  And if you’re not going to decide to go straight webinar, bring them into a studio like this or do it from an office and everyone else is somewhere else, you’re always going to have that hybrid audience. 

And I think that the biggest mistake, and again, we’ve talked at length about this on this show, is to–the virtual audience already feels like they’re secondary. And in many cases, they are. In many cases, they are an afterthought by the event organizers. 

They held an event that’s going to be somewhere. They realized we’re not going to reach this audience in North Bay or in Vancouver, a Toronto-centric sort of company. And so, we’re going to have to do a webcast of it so we can reach those guys that can’t be here. Well, they already are going into this feeling that way ’cause they know where the head office is. 

They know the CEO sits in Toronto. They know that Toronto has the conferences that they can’t go to. They get that because they’re not in this region. We forget that ’cause we live here and everything’s available–.

Peter Vamos:  –Um-hmm–.

Matthew Ley:  –And we can make those decisions ourselves. So, you really want to figure out a way of having this event feel like they’re–not only are they not an afterthought, that it’s better for them than it is for the people in the room. 

And so, a great example of this for marketers is the Advocamp event. And at Advocamp, they basically had an in-person audience that was here in Toronto, which was a small fraction of everyone who was going to–who could attend. And that–those people got access to a tradeshow floor, a bunch of the executives, shake hands and talk, and one track in a main room, whereas the virtual audience got access to that main track in the main room, three additional tracks that were done over virtual webinars, prerecorded, simulated live or on-demand or whatever it might be, and they even got little interviews with the people that were talking on the main stage afterwards on a–and they actually did a–not a fireside chat, I couldn’t call it that, like a campground chat where they sat down in some Adirondack chairs and talked about what just happened on stage and why it was important. 

The virtual audience had four times the amount of access and content as the in-person audience had. And the in-person audience got this later in the follow up, but really this event was–made the virtual audience feel like they were the primary–.

Peter Vamos:  –Right–.

Matthew Ley:  –And that the people in person were just filling seats.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  And so, because it’s virtual, you have an opportunity to give them more, do it. You are not going to isolate that in-person audience. They are there for a specific reason. They like your event. They like you, or they sit with the CEO in the main room and they’re kind of forced to do that.   

Peter Vamos:  Right. It gives people–I guess when they’re there, it gives them a closeness, but really it does gives you–give you the opportunity to turn that perception around, right–? 

Matthew Ley:  –That’s right–.

Peter Vamos:  –That you were secondary–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –People, and in fact really articulate the importance of–and that’s something that companies around the world struggle with, right, doing these sorts of things. 

When you’re doing a global event across multiple locations–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –Across multiple regions like–so what should you be focusing on? What are the areas that you need to be cognizant of? 

Matthew Ley:  Well, if you’ve got multiple locations where you’ve got multiple people that are physically in a room somewhere, like they’re watching on a screen in a boardroom or a conference facility, or sometimes we–in pharma, we see them in restaurants watching these things, and you’ve got a big audience in one location too, it’s basically–it’s hard to make everyone feel like they’re part of the same experience–.

Peter Vamos:  –Um-hmm–. 

Matthew Ley:  –Because everyone’s got a different one. Some guy’s at home watching on his laptop. Other guy’s in a restaurant. Someone’s at a conference facility. So, trying to pull your virtual and your in-person audience together, or make everyone feel like they’re part of the same event is a–is something that makes the events that much more impactful for anyone.

So, years ago, when it was slides on the internet and audio on a phone–I am that old–I was, air quotes, producing a divisional town hall at PwC. We did–each division did these. We booked these big conference calls and we did slides. And there was a room in Toronto where a bunch of people went and watched it happen, and then everyone else got into boardrooms that were part of the division elsewhere. 

And one guy was–I think he was getting like a 50 year pin or he was getting award or something, or he won an award. I don’t know what it was. But at one point in time, they’re in Toronto and they say now we’re going to go to Vancouver because we’ve got someone in Vancouver that accomplished something or whatever. And in Vancouver, they pressed un-mute on the phone. And at that same time, unbeknownst to them, the CEO was in Vancouver for other meetings. He walked in and presented this guy with an award. 

Peter Vamos:  Oh, great. 

Matthew Ley:  Yeah, it was great. And no one knew what was going on because it wasn’t like this guy was talking. The speakerphone was open, and there was, oh, my God, it’s the–and then there was applause and there was all of this stuff. And even though we couldn’t see it–which is a lot easier to do now.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  Back then, that was just mind blowing, right, video on the Internet. We couldn’t see it. There was that excitement and that whatever, and then they put his picture up on a slide. And it was–there was all kinds of–you know, a lot of–a lot came along with that. So, that’s years ago.

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  But that idea of mixing what’s going on in all these locations and letting people kind of feel like it’s one day only and they’re all in it together is very important for these virtual events. 

And I’ll give you an example now of a external brand launch. It was for a pharmaceutical company where we really–they bought in, right? It was an RFP. And we won the RFP, I think, because we knew this part of it and they bought into it. And they ended up going with two strategies. 

One was they had viewing parties across the country. Viewing parties? They had viewing sessions–they weren’t supposed to be parties–across the country in different conference rooms and that sort of thing. And they had a facilitator in each room, so like a doctor advocate in the room. And they did a bunch of presentations in the main room in Mississauga. And at one point, they decided that they wanted to show that this was an actual event, so they wanted to bring everybody in over video.

And the execution there was expensive at the time. They were risk-averse, so they didn’t want to use Skype. This was years ago, so there was concerns about–you know, stuff we can do now is even easier than it was three years ago.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  So–.

Peter Vamos:  –But the stability of the–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –Feed and–.

Matthew Ley:  –Stability of feed, even just the fear of that type Skype. Like, you know, Microsoft owns it now. It was not owned by anyone then.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  Right?

Peter Vamos:  Right, right.

Matthew Ley:  There’s, like, fear of that. So, we had to install Internet–dedicated Internet in each of these venues, and then we had to install videoconferencing units for the day. And we didn’t get access to the venues until the morning of the event, so we were pulling our hair out testing and whatever, just trying to get this, and what turned into a–basically a wave of a guy at a podium and introducing his name and how great it is to be a part of the event, and that was it.

Peter Vamos:  Right. 

Matthew Ley:  So, the execution on the far end wasn’t great because having him on was nothing more than just to prove that we had events going on. 

But on the same event, we did a–we wanted to get the audience engaging, so we did a thing where we used a product called ScribbleLive, which is a Toronto-based technology company that we had worked with a bunch in the past. And we did a closed–almost like a social media feed, where we allowed everyone in the room to go to a link, login, they were approved, and then they were able to post photos, comments, and all of that. And the people that were online were able to do the same thing.

In a weird thing happened as people logged in for the 45 minute or so that they were there eating and getting ready to go, is that people started taking photos of food that was being served, the wine, the venue, and comparing who had a better experience, Vancouver or Toronto. And although it was not the intention to have anyone brag about that, it then started to have people see that they knew other people, other doctors, other people that they knew, and they started sending messages to one another.

And by the time the event started, everyone was sending messages in for questions, comments, making comments like, oh, I love your tie to the speaker and all of that stuff. So, we got that engagement going, no testing required.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  It was a pretty simple and easy thing. And that was a way that everyone felt like, on that day, they were part of the same event. 

Peter Vamos:  Right. And any event is really about creating that social connection.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  I mean, you do–that’s why you bring people together, right?

Matthew Ley:  That’s right.

Peter Vamos:  You bring them virtually together and have that kind of exchange and interaction with this. 

Matthew Ley:  And that’s always been the struggle–.

Peter Vamos:  –Yeah–.

Matthew Ley:  –Both for speakers to connect with their audience and with audience members to connect with one another, is you can’t do that virtually as well.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  And so, people always feel like that’s why we have to be in person sometimes.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah. And you can’t actually even think that. That just happens. And when it happens organically like that, how wonderful.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah. 

Peter Vamos:  It’s really about the audience, right?

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  I mean, at the end of the day, like any event, you need the audience to be engaged. Let’s talk a little bit about that.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah. So, I mean, we focus so much on the stage so often what we are going to say and how we are going to say it, how we look–.

Peter Vamos:  –Um-hmm–.

Matthew Ley:  –What it is that we’re going to do that we forget about–we can, at times, forget about the audience. Good–most good internal communications folks or marketers are trying to always think about what the audience is looking for. But from a show, a lot of times people sort of forget that, right?

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  So, from a simple idea of what’s in it for them when you’re doing a virtual is we did a program many years ago for DL Elliott (sp) that–they were forced to cut budget and do a national Webex session for a leadership day that used to be in person, used to be at a hotel, used to have a lot of fun, booze and all that, going along with it. 

And there was a fear that everyone sitting on a Webex for a day was going to be not a very good experience. And we were, you know, fairly early in our career, but I would even have to say, yeah, that’s going to be a terrible experience. And you can’t go from that to that. There’s nothing similar.

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  So, we did a three to four hour broadcast on national leadership day. There was a bunch that went along with it. It was video. We did I think a CNN–a Larry King set for fun, and we had some prerecorded sessions. But we basically tried to chop it up, and we followed the methodology that people don’t like seeing anything for longer than 20 minutes. We chopped it up into segments, had some games and stuff.

But one of the things that we did was we promoted it like you get to stay home in your pajamas, meaning that even the folks that were in Toronto that could have been at this event, they stayed home.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  They didn’t come in. And we asked people to send us pics, and that time it was just over email, of them in their pajamas because we were going to have a pajama contest of who had the best sort of set up and the best pajama thing. 

So, what worked there is the feedback was we didn’t have to leave our friends and family. We got as much value out of four hours as we get out of the day–or three to four hours as we get out of a day, because it was more jam-packed and we were able to do it. We were able to focus more and there was a lot more takeaways for us. 

So, we–that became how they did that event. It started out with a budget concern and now it became this value to them. 

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  And so, thinking about them that way is very important.

Another suggestion or idea about the audience is bringing your audience in in the content. And I’ve seen this done both internal and external. I had a company that was doing a brand launch for a product, and they really needed their sales reps on board. They were a retail activation–I think it was tobacco, actually. 

And what we did is, when they were going through this new product offering, they brought in sales reps from across the country, sat them in a room and talked them through the idea, why they were doing it, what they thought, and got their feedback. That was recorded. 

And when that was recorded, it was–the tidbits that came from the sales reps was used in the virtual event that was promoting that brand launch three months later to the sales reps.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  So, this idea that, oh, my contemporary, this guy I know as a sales leader, thinks this is a good idea, I think it’s a good idea, helping them get on board. 

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  And I then saw it happen through–a lot of people out here will do customer advocacy events or they’ll bring in customers and talk to them about the product roadmap and get their feedback, is recording that and getting, you know, snippets from customers who the prospects really find, you know, respected or whatever it might be, and using their words and then showing, in our product release, we have this product. It came from you, our customers, our prospects. And so, that’s putting the audience into the events.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  So, that might seem to a lot of you like, oh, my God, that’s three months in advance. That’s a lot of work.

Peter Vamos:  It’s risky and–.

Matthew Ley:  –A lot of stuff.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  Well, the good thing about it is you record–you don’t do it live.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  You record it and then you pull out the snippets.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah.

Matthew Ley:  And there is a lot that goes along with it. 

But, you know, it could be also as simple as another company that we know started to pull employees in to be the emcee of their event. They weren’t the host. They weren’t doing as much as you’re doing here. But they would get up and announce the next segment and do whatever. And they were like a front-line junior staff member that was asked to do this, just pulling this idea that there is more interaction or involvement.

I was talking to our events lead this morning, Bryan Squire, and I didn’t even know this, but apparently at Magna International at their AGM, they do an innovation segment. And they don’t have the VPs of the departments present what they’re doing from an innovation, they have an engineer or a front-line person do it too, bringing those people to the forefront and getting people internal, external more excited about what’s going on at the company. So, getting your audience involved beyond Q&A is a valuable idea.

Peter Vamos:  Right. Right, right, right. I mean, I think it’s great too because it really does create, you know, potentially rising stars within the company–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –Right? People are throwing ideas around, all of a sudden you just go, oh, and–or this person’s really comfortable in the camera. We should maybe feature that person a little bit more.

Matthew Ley:  Well, I know we always say it as the VP giving the thing or me or you or whoever it is. But in the end, you know, often–we know this from popular culture. Like, with Ronald Reagan, it wasn’t as much the message as it was the delivery.

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  And if you can get someone you’re shocked by, by this person’s great at delivering a message that has not landed when it was given by even the most senior leader of the company–.

Peter Vamos:  –Yeah–.

Matthew Ley:  –That–that’s a better delivery of that message, right?

Peter Vamos:  For sure. For sure. 

More and more, this stuff is being done on video.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  It’s hard to underestimate the–you want to do something on video. You just set up in your boardroom.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  You shoot the thing. Like, that’s not the way to do it, right? Location is the thing, right?

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  You got to really be thinking, if you’re going to be doing video, right–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –Where you’re setting up. 

Matthew Ley:  And this is way too big of a subject to copy–to just handle here. We’ve talked about it. And you’re right. Do not turn your boardroom into a studio. It will not look good, just like we will not turn this into a meeting room.

But location can bring value, because it can bring hype and excitement, right? So, if you’ve got like a user conference or you’ve got an event–there’s a reason why the political commentators from NBC and CNN go to the Democratic national convention to be on the floor while it’s happening, even though there is all that noise in the background, is that it adds excitement to the day and it adds something to it. So, the–so, live from a conference or something is cool, and it works. 

Another manufacturer that we know, and actually Hydro did it, a bunch of people have done it since, is they would take the show on the road.

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  So, they wouldn’t always do it from the head office in Toronto or wherever it is. They would go to, like, a facility actually, a manufacturing facility in another region, and they would show up. And when they showed up and broadcast from there, it had its own unique feel. The floor manager was super excited to have them and he got to say the introduction and really became part of it, but it was cool for everyone else to see these facilities they’d never seen.

One time we were doing one for a CIO, or chief investment officer, of a financial services firm. I think it was Maurer (sp). And he happened to be in China or Dubai or somewhere like that, and he was there because one of their big funds was a foreign investment fund or whatever it was. 

So, he did it from there. He did it over videoconference and he showed photos of places he visited because he brought his family with him. I’m here talking to these companies and doing this. Brought my family too and saw these great things, and this is why we’re investing in X, Y and Z.

Peter Vamos:  Um-hmm.

Matthew Ley:  So, I don’t know that he necessarily needed to do it from the location at that moment in time, but there was something about that that gave it an authenticity and really worked.

Peter Vamos:  Right.

Matthew Ley:  So, I would say where possible use location as a way of enhancing what you’re doing, especially on video. And again, we have a whole–I think we did a podcast on this, about making sure that those two things match.

Peter Vamos:  Yeah. Well, it’s the medium is the message, right?

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  I mean, that’s ultimately–that’s the thing. 

So, we’re seeing a lot of trends.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  We’re seeing a lot of things happening. We’re, as you know, in the last half of 2019. 

Matthew Ley:  Yeah.

Peter Vamos:  What are some of the things you think are going to carry over? What are the things you’re seeing now that you think people can sort of bank on over the next couple years?

Matthew Ley:  Well, more. That’s it. I mean, there’s just going to be more. There’s an appetite in all aspects, whether it be external and marketing communications to have more segmented media that speaks to–specifically to–or personalization speaking specifically to a buyer or a user.

There’s going to be more video. We have an entire generation that are moving into management positions who are so comfortable with video through phone and social media, there’s going to be more and more of that. And a lot of organizations have been under invested in video for a very long time, so there’s going to be more video everywhere we go.

I think there’s going to be more fun. I think we’ve left the world behind where big brands need to do everything very stuffy and very regimented, and that they’re going to be willing to in some ways have a little bit more fun and make some mistakes and play with concepts to reach people.

And the–specifically for virtual event and things like we talked about today, the multi-location/multi-presenter. It’s gotten so much more easy to bring in somebody from a phone walking down the street to an office. Even five years ago, we were still–I’m not going to say struggling, but there was still, you know, a lot of hiccups. 

And so, I think that what we’re going to see is the technology has finally, I guess, caught up and networks. It’s going to allow us to really have these large events from multiple locations that really include people from everywhere participating, not simply sitting on the other end and watching and listening.

Peter Vamos:  Right. So, ultimately, the humanization and the democratization of this sort of content–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –Like we’re seeing with every other–across all these–.

Matthew Ley:  –Yeah–.

Peter Vamos:  –Other platforms.

Matthew Ley:  Yeah, exactly.

Peter Vamos:  The ability for everybody to participate. That’s great. 

Matthew Ley:  All right.

Peter Vamos:  I think we’re done. I think we’ve covered this subject very, very well. We are coming back with a podcast, and our subject will be digging into not-for-profits and how associations can use webinars and virtual events. Until then, my name is Peter Vamos. Matthew Ley–.

Matthew Ley:  –Thanks, Peter–.

Peter Vamos:  –Thank you very much. And we’ll see you again.

Matthew Ley

Matthew Ley

Matt Ley is the current President and co-founder of The Streaming Network. Starting his career in virtual events in 2007, Matt is an industry veteran that is passionate about helping customers stand out in their industry with compelling virtual events that people want to attend. The driving ambition for Matt is that virtual events are not a utility for information distribution but an opportunity for firms to create a competitive advantage. Matt is an accomplished speaker, moderator and a sought-after thought leader.

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