Maximizing value with a light program and maximum interactivity
The events industry has seen a major shift since the onset of the pandemic. With everyone turning to virtual, event planners quickly realized that what worked for in-person events wasn’t necessarily cutting it for digital experiences.
October’s program of Cadence: Less is More touched on this very topic. It spoke about maximizing value with a light program and maximum interactivity. Cadence is a monthly series that is hosted by ACE Virtual Events and Beedance; the episodes focus on different topics around cadence in business. Professionals in the events, marketing, and communication industries join us to give their experiences and best advice on how to host successful virtual events. For the October program, our panelists were Dimitry Ortiz and Sourabh Kothari.
Dimitry Ortiz is the RPM Project Manager of Simply Automate, INC. As a computer scientist specializing in robotic process automation, he helps small and medium-sized businesses alike create a suitable online workforce identity and process improvements and automation opportunities, which help drive success and value with digital transformation. Dimitry's passion for helping others has led him to share free resources and to work with a nonprofit group to help as many people as he can start a new career in software engineering.
Sourabh Kothari is the Co-Founder and CEO of Mind Current, which uses data science and performance psychology to help the well-being and performance of different workplaces. For the last 20 years, he has been building high-performing and award-winning teams. During the pandemic, Sourabh had the opportunity to train over 3,000 professionals on digital engagement for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events as one of the sitting experts in content and audience engagement of PCMA via their Digital Event Strategist certification course.
Dimitry and Sourabh offered their expert advice on how event specialists can drive more value to their virtual events by incorporating a digital element, understanding their event’s objectives and simplifying their events by focusing less on structure and more on interactivity.
What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation refers to incorporating a digital component in every part of an organization. It’s how businesses can remain competitive and relevant in a virtual world.
Dimitry mentioned that it grants us more control because it allows us to easily perform tasks that couldn’t be done before. However, he has seen pushback from people who find it difficult to let go of the way they are used to doing things. The pandemic has taught us, though, that it’s become a necessity to adapt quickly. Once people start applying the new technology and learning how to leverage it, they start seeing the competitive edge that it brings about.
Sourabh argued that digital transformation was necessary even before the pandemic. In fact, his company, Mind Current, specializes in giving people the tools to do what they already do, but in a digital form. He pointed out that organizations that don’t evolve lose revenue and talent, yet a lot of organization leaders had trouble adopting this mindset, and the consequences were very costly. In hindsight, those that chose to forego digital transformation before the pandemic had to almost overnight make that change in the way they were designing their experience for events.
As a result, those that dove right into using complex technology that they didn’t understand were no longer focusing on their community, on how to deliver value, nor on creating compelling programs.
The value of digital events
To find that balance between using necessary complex technology and turning it into a manageable opportunity, Sourabh said that event planning companies had to reassess what was the value they were offering when previous advantages, such as geographic location or in-person networking, were no longer there.
He concluded that the value was in content and in relationships that go beyond networking. This is where the advantage came in, because now, instead of reaching your audience only once or twice a year, you could check in with them every two to four weeks. It was no longer a transactional relationship; instead, it meant building long-term value.
Conversely, this also posed a risk, since a lot of companies decided to throw everything they had into their events - content, live streaming, networking and gamification. They wanted to have something for everyone, and they didn’t want to miss an opportunity to leverage some functionality to create a great virtual experience. Consequently, this is what turned some audience members off.
Simplicity is king
Dimitry agreed with this concept and stated that bringing complexity into communication and into the content of presentations is where event planners lose people. He stated that simplicity is king with most things that we do, even with technology. Hence, you cannot explain your process to your customers as something that comes off as too technical.
Clients need to feel comfortable with the process, especially if it's something new. This can only be achieved by giving up what is too difficult. This is the reason why it’s essential to provide your clients with a simple idea to follow and be able to present it as a game changer.
Our program moderator, Steve Boyce, chimed in that this is difficult for event professionals to hear, because they’re so good at planning. They put every little detail together to create fantastic events and gorgeous venues, and they don’t leave a second without some kind of engagement.
This then becomes a lot for an audience to take in, because it may not allow space for the audience to co-create the program. That is what ultimately marks the difference between an attendee or a viewer - someone passively watching versus someone actually contributing and participating in the creation of that experience.
Event planners need to do things differently
Sourabh observed that a bigger issue than complex technical processes is the lack of control that event organizers have over the situation. He mentioned that from a planning perspective, event managers are at a disadvantage. They have built their careers on reducing risk and figuring out what works, so it’s very difficult to hear the word “No!”
Event planners struggle with this concept because they always want more, and they believe they can achieve results by implementing the same processes as they did before the pandemic. One example he posed was that the same rich networking experience created by using a single large space with 300 people was no longer possible with virtual platforms. He compared it to sending everyone to one giant zoom call - it simply wouldn’t work.
Sourabh pointed out that the ideal size for people to meet is six people at a time. The next ideal size is twelve to fifteen. These are design decisions that you can only get to when you first accept “No!” as an answer.
Although event specialists can’t bring people together the way they used to, they can still bring them together in a rich networking experience if they are willing to do things differently. Once they take the lead on those experiences, they can create something uniquely hybrid or uniquely virtual, an experience that is impossible to do in person.
This is the case with our Cadence series. There is a very engaging networking portion that forms segment two of the program. During that time, participants get to speak directly with the panelists at small networking tables and ask them questions about their insights and advice. Attendees are also encouraged to post questions in the chat during the event.
How to get your clients to trust you?
At the networking tables, some of the guests asked Sourabh some very intriguing questions. They wanted to know why it is so difficult for clients to trust event organizers at this time and accept their guidance and why so many event planners and decision makers are having a hard time outlining their event objectives. Many noted that the lack of trust between organizations and their clients makes planners feel ill-equipped.
When Steve asked why it’s so difficult for people to trust and take advice, Dimitry reiterated that people don’t like change. They have a hard time giving up control and venturing into something they don’t understand.
He used an example of what happens in his own business. Since he deals with robotic process automation, clients are afraid of the digital transformation he offers because they feel that robots will take over completely. He placates their fears by illustrating robotic processes with the implementation of the calculator; it wasn’t made to replace accountants, but rather, to make their work easier.
Simply put, to quell that uncertainty and get people to accept your advice and to adapt to new ideas, he recommends trusting in your own experience and transmitting to people that your process will benefit them.
Steve agreed that humans are skeptical by nature, and one of the audience members pointed out that lessons are learnt rather than taught.
Why does less equal more?
This was the last question asked by the moderator. Why is it better to do less and why does that actually result in delivering more?
Sourabh gave an example from an automation point of view, based on a comment from an audience member. People believe that implementing robotic processes is really expensive; however, it costs more in the long run to not implement these processes in your business. It negatively affects your customer experience, it takes away from your revenue and it results in having to cut costs in other areas.
So when you see a client or another team member not willing to take your earned advice, you have to ask them to consider a different perspective because you want to help them avoid making a mistake. When you see resistance to advice, it’s really a symptom of the underlying issue, which is that your goals are not aligned.
Simplify your goals
This is why it’s important to have goals that are stated, specific, and accountable. When everyone is aligned with the same goals, people become open to advice and to change and this helps build trust and respect. His advice for when someone is really pushing back and refusing to take advice is to take a moment to pause and revisit the goals.
He also reminded that while with in-person events you could have anywhere between eight to twelve goals, with virtual and hybrid, it’s better to have a maximum of three goals. That way, everyone can win. Getting your goals down to three is how you get everyone to align - simplifying is key.
Steve concluded that if you bring that focus, then you don't get as much downstream complexity in the design process and the delivery of the event or the experience. If you set out for one thing to serve a million different purposes, that's going to be a very complex tool that most people probably won't get much value out of.
However, if the functionality of events, in terms of a desired outcome, is very clear, that simplifies the entire system.
Cadence in business
The Cadence series was created as we saw the need to tackle the most important topics in marketing, events, and communication. In a dynamic work culture, it’s imperative to feel grounded, and this comes by listening to the advice of experts. Our attendees love the program and always feel as if they’re walking away with trade secrets.
If you’re interested in attending future Cadence programs as a speaker or a guest, follow us on LinkedIn for updates. If you’d like to host a similar event with ACE Virtual Events, please reach out to us and we’ll gladly set up a meeting.