Hot Topics: Q&A with our Best B2B Marketing Experts


In experimenting with new virtual networking forums, we have four speakers present – each representing a topic – and the audience upvoted which 3 topics they wanted to discuss. Four speakers started the webinar, only three presented!

Through the chat function, we answered as many of your questions on best practices, tips, tricks, best of’s, how-to’s possibles. 

Watch this interactive event, moderated by Tom Riddle, our Director of Market Research to get your marketing questions answered. All B2B marketers will benefit from this session.

The Four Topics. Which Three Were Chosen? Watch to Find Out
• Webinars
• Virtual Conferences
• Sales Engagement Platforms
• Email Marketing

Q&A with our Best B2B Marketing Experts – Webinar Transcript

Tom: Hi, everybody. This is Tom Riddle. I’m the director of research at Virtual Intelligence Briefing (VIB). Thank you for joining us today for a very interesting new format session for us, “Hot Topics: Q&A with our best B2B Marketing Experts.”

Interesting approach again, the session today is 45 minutes. You’ll have the opportunity to vote on your favorite topic of the following four below—webinars, virtual conferences, sales engagement platforms, and email marketing. And what we’re going to do is pick those top three of those four topics. The expert on that topic will say a few words about themselves, what their relationship to the topic is, and then we’re going to open it up to audience Q&A. So that will the format for today.

And today’s panelists are Amanda McGuckin Hager who is a marketing consultant and fractional CMO. Darius Eslami who is the manager of security marketing at VMware Carbon Black. EJ Martinez, solutions consultant at Outreach. And Lisa Dawson who is a director of events at Ping Identity. So with that, I’m going to show our poll and we’ll give just about a minute if people can vote on what their favorite topics are.

Virtual Conferences, Webinars, and Sales Engagement Platforms

Okay, so our top three topics today—virtual conferences, webinars, and sales engagement platforms. Let’s start off with Darius Eslami who is the manager of security marketing at VMware Carbon Black. Introduce yourself and then we’ll open the floor to Q&A.

Darius: Thank you, Tom. Thank you, everyone. I’ve been with Carbon Black for about five years, acquired by VMware about two years ago at this point. I mean, I’ve always had, sort of, you know, heart of the webinar strategy largely in a demand generation role as well as a content production role. So we’ve been no stranger to using it as a huge source of lead generation in a number of campaign efforts.

And largely today, being a part of VMware, a much larger organization, it’s really incorporating and aligning our personas into, sort of, this giant webcast machine. And it’s not just webinars themselves. As others will talk about, it’s webinars and webcasts in various formats or part of larger events and campaign situations.

So, again, my experience has ranged from doing, you know, a minimum of one webinar a week some quarters, and then the total other end of the spectrum where maybe it’s one webinar a quarter. So that’s sort of a little bit of an overview, very, very brief obviously, but I’m happy to field any questions or best practices around webinars.

Q & A with Darius Eslami, Manager of Security Marketing at VMware Carbon Black

Tom: Okay, so please use the chat function or the Q&A function to ask questions. We’ve got our first question here. Darius, what do you think is the most popular format for a webinar or style that you choose?

The most popular format for a webinar

Darius: Sure. In terms of timing when we’re considering the format, and as you certainly, Tom, practice an ebb and flow with VIB as well, we used to run, you know, these hour-long webinars but that we would often stretch content or, you know, be exhaustive and we would see some drop-offs. So in terms of format, we often aim for that 30-minute mark. Certainly try no more than 45 minutes, particularly if it’s more of a presentation and less of an engagement style.

But we often also have a fairly dedicated webinar. So we have one or two clear speakers that are presenting a topic with room for Q&A at the end. Some of our speakers are…and I encourage this in our webinar strategy to make it as conversational as possible, so incorporating things like polls, or questions, or raise hand reactions earlier and/or throughout the presentation. So we’re able to, sort of, leverage a lot of that feedback further down the line and other components and tactics of a webinar campaign.

But largely, in terms of format, we try to stick to that 30, 45-minute timeframe, and then it is mostly presentation style, save for more sporadic panel-type discussions, and largely that’s because they’re a little more rigorous to put together and assemble. And oftentimes, as maybe we’ll see today, a little more impromptu in terms of where the discussion may lead, so it’s a little harder to fit into a full campaign.

Pre-recordings vs live webinars

Tom: Can you give us some insights on pre-recordings versus live webinars?

Darius: Sure. We’ve certainly done this and tried this. We actually don’t find too much of a difference. Obviously pre-recording is much more accommodating for people’s schedules, and it’s easier to do in advance. You can have it play in different geos while marketing different to geos as a live webinar obviously. I think the biggest component if you’re going to go the pre-recorded route is to ensure you do have a live person on staff, whether a subject matter expert or somebody who’s just well versed enough to be able to field live questions still while that’s running.

Oftentimes, it helps at the top of the webinar as well to have that same person do, sort of, a live kickoff. And obviously, this really only applies to more campaign-focused things. If they’re topical, you know, if you record something a month later, it may not be totally relevant. So obviously use a little common sense and discretion. But we haven’t noticed any drop-off rates or any statistically significant metrics around pre-recorded versus live as long as there’s that pseudo live component towards the end.

Landing pages

Tom: How do you find that landing pages built in Zoom are better than using your own optimized landing pages? If they are?

Darius: Sure. We only recently started leveraging Zoom before we’ve used a host of different platforms, all of which have their own dedicated landing pages. And quite frankly there’s not as much flexibility as we would want. So we often lean towards crafting our own optimized landing pages for a few reasons. Yes, it’s a little more time-consuming, but you’re able to have related resources and derivative assets or related assets on that page as well as have… We started using this tactic recently. If we are pre-recording something or separately, we’ll ask a speaker to record a few teasers. So we may have video auto-replay or autoplay rather on the landing pages which gives a greater idea than just sort of reading the abstract, what’s in store for the viewer, what’s in store for me if I fill up this form.

So we’ve often landed that just from a… We haven’t done too much testing quite honestly but just from a resource and experience perspective, we often will lean towards the optimized landing page route. And, sort of, once you build that template the first time in WordPress or Marketo itself, it becomes fairly easy to swap things in and out.

Best practices for improving webinar attendance rates on subscription programs

Tom: Great. Ask one or two more questions here and then [inaudible 00:07:30]. Do you have best practices for improving attendance rates on webinar subscription programs e.g. monthly, quarterly webinars?

Darius: Sure, I think whatever the marketing budget and/or bandwidth allows for, I would take that as a cue. So, for example, I sort of mentioned at the top where we would ebb and flow where, you know, we had to pump out a minimum of webinar every week. In that scenario, we’re oversaturating our database, our vendor relationships to try to drive attendance, etc. So each webinar, you can expect maybe… Let’s just say 50 people come to the webinar. As opposed to if the cadence is once a month, the expectation will be, “All right, each webinar should have a goal of at least, you know, 200 people in attendance.” So I think that’s one factor is, sort of, where does the bandwidth lie in terms of the frequency and then in terms of the attendance rate.

Oftentimes, if we’re tying a webinar to another piece of content like a report just came out and people who’ve downloaded it before, “Here’s a follow-up webinar where you’re able to ask questions and dive a little bit deeper,” those often have the highest attendance rates. So webinars that aren’t necessarily just in the ether and they have some other component or piece of content within your campaigns that you’re trying to run often track better in terms of promotion and engagement. It’s often easier to get buy-in across the marketing org and team as well if there are those assets that say, “The sales team is leveraging as well as our customer success team that is out there, and they’re able to drive people to one live or pre-recorded source that is more engaging and talks to those components within that piece.”

Best strategies and tactics used to attract webinar attendees

Tom: So let’s see if we’ve got another question here. What are best strategies and tactics used to attract webinar attendees?

Darius: Oftentimes, what we’re trying to do is… You know, I do this personally. I sign up for webinars if it’s very clear what the webinar is about in the title of the webinar. So we often try to use either very action-oriented verbs or, you know, way back when, when listicles were a phrase that everyone used if we’re leveraging numbers of some kind because it’s very clear what the outcome will be from the webinar.

So trying to be as specific as possible within that title itself and then alternatively in the landing page abstract, the copy to really draw those people in is always, when possible, leverage bullet points. These are the three clear takeaways. Even if you’re not using the number three in the headline, something that’s obvious as well as highlighting who the speakers are in attendance. And oftentimes that lends credibility and helps push that attendance rate within their circles if they’re subject matter experts, evangelists, etc.

Q & A With Amanda McGuckin Hager, Marketing Consultant and Fractional CMO

Tom: And, you know, so it’s interesting. We had a surge of last-second voting, and actually email marketing came out to be the next highest topic. And so let’s go with that and please either chat or use the Q&A function to provide your questions on email marketing. So, Amanda, let’s ask a question. If somebody’s starting off anew in email marketing, what would be some high-level inputs that you would give those individuals?

Amanda: That is a really good question. I should share a little bit about my background. So I have a 25-year career in B2B marketing in the technology sector mostly. My career is based out of Austin, Texas so I’ve worked with companies like Dell, and SolarWinds, and Rackspace, and some other technology companies like that. I’ve also worked in a lot of startups where I may have been a director or whatever, but I was in the email platform building and writing my own emails.

So I would say having a long experience with email, the first thing I would suggest to a newbie is learning the anatomy of the email. You have your from name, your from email address, the subject line, the preview section, the email itself, and you have the footers as well. There are nuances to every one of those sections and my advice to a new person would be understand the value of each one of those sections.

For example, I saw an email from a company today where it was sent from my person. The person’s first name and last name was the sender name, and then the subject line was a topic. It didn’t include any branding, whatsoever from their company. So the receiver in this case, it was me, had no idea. Who is this guy and what company is he representing? I don’t know. That may have been intentional because I opened the email to find out more. And that is the point of a subject line, right? To get a higher open rate. So I hope that’s helpful.

Using Emojis in subject lines

Tom: That’s [inaudible 00:12:40]. How do you feel about using emojis in subject lines?

Amanda: I think it’s very brand-specific. If that is your brand, if your brand has that kind of cheeky humor in there, then I think you should definitely try it. I saw an emoji from a brand that was not a cheeky brand actually yesterday. It was a webinar invitation and they used the… It said “today at 1 p.m.” and then it used the clock emoji, and I thought that was a tasteful way to use an emoji. I think it really depends on your brand. As a receiver, receivers do recognize the communication of an emoji and so I think, as a receiver, it’s great. I would be more concerned about if it fits with the rest of the brand communication.

best practices for increasing CTR, click-through rate

Tom: That’s great, Amanda. Thanks for that. Here’s another question. What are some of the best practices for increasing CTR, click-through rate?

Amanda: That’s a great, great question. I learned this a long time ago and I myself, even after working with email for so long, have mixed feelings about it. But it is something that’s worth trying. It is a known fact that, when there are more than one option, human beings get analysis paralysis and just opt out. So one of the things that I’m conscious of when I’m writing an email is what is the primary click-through that I want to offer, what is the primary call to action in that email, and really limiting it to that one. I think that is a best practice to convert.

Now you may have to do some A/B testing on, you know, should it be a download now, or book a demo, or see the product. Like, there are the words that you can test in an A/B test to see what will perform the best. But just a basic best practice is one call to action per email.

How to choose a high-performing subject line

Tom: Okay, thanks for that. And here’s another great question. What is the thought process that goes into picking out a good high-performing subject line?

Amanda: The thought process… Okay, I’m really glad you brought up subject lines because I have a tool that I use in my back pocket that I’d love to share with all of you. I am in no way affiliated to this company.

I will say I learned about this company when I was working at Dell. Let’s see. Over 15 years now, Dell hired this company to do list brokerage services and so this company is called Worldata. They’re out of Florida. And they created this tool and this URL. It’s subjectline.com. Super simple. You all can remember that, subjectline.com. And they have a scoring on your subject line. And even I after, you know, 20 years in this business go to subjectline.com and check the email subject lines that I’m writing to see how they score. They work both in the B2B and B2C space and so I believe that that tool, you know, works for both types of email communication. So hopefully that’s helpful.

The best time to send an email blast

Tom: Great. Here’s another great question. Based on your experience, what is the best time to send an email blast?

Amanda: That’s a great question. So, again, B2B, I really love a very early morning email send. I try and queue mine up to go out or my clients to go out at 6 a.m. in my timezone knowing that it will be different in every other timezone. And I do that because I don’t know what you do in the morning but I get up, and I grab my phone, and I grab my coffee, and I just start scrolling my inbox to see what has come in. That is really one of the only times that I have exploratory time to check email.

When the day has started and I’m working, I’m working, I’m working, much like your clients are probably working, working, working, or your prospects are working, working, working, they may not have the time to open your email and see what it’s about in the middle of the day, right? They’re usually in their own meetings and/or headed out to their own lunch hour or whatever. So I think you get the most attention and you have the best chance of being seen and read when you send it first thing in the morning.

Main things to avoid in email marketing

Tom: Okay, that sounds great. Thanks for that. Here’s another great question. What are the main things we should avoid in email marketing?

Amanda: Oh, good question. Typos. Always have somebody read your content. Even if you think you’ve read it all, if you can have someone just scan it and make sure that they don’t see anything, I think that’s a wise decision. You know, when you start paying attention to subject lines, there are some subject lines that will send you directly to a spam filter attachments. If you’re sending an email out on behalf of a sales team and you want to attach a datasheet, it’s a cue for a lot of spam filters.

A lot of people do not pay any attention when they’re building an email and whatever email platform you’re in, Hubspot, Marketo, you know, whatever you might be using, Mailchimp, you’re building an HTML email. A lot of people don’t bother to look at the text, what does the text look like, and I think that that is an oversight. We don’t actually know when the receiver receives the email if they have their client set to accept HTML emails or if they’re going to be getting the text email. So I would say avoid not looking… Is that a double negative? Avoid not looking at the text version.

How to balance email marketing between current customers and brand new prospects

Tom: Okay, great. So here’s another one. How do you balance email marketing between current customers and brand new prospects who may be completely unfamiliar with your brand?

Amanda: Oh, that is a very good question. A very sophisticated question, I might add. People tend to overcomplicate marketing and, in the end, I think it’s wise to just remember a couple key things.

One, no one can buy from you unless they know you exist. So when you’re reaching out to brand new prospects, reminding everyone who you are and what you do is critical. If your list also includes customers and so you’re emailing them both at the same time, your customers…it’s just a nice reminder, right? Who you are and what you do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying who you are and what you do kind of everywhere in all your marketing and just reminding people. A lot of, you know, taglines are great for that. But if you don’t have a tagline, you know, a small headline, a short headline is a good thing to do. So I hope that helps.

How to ensure your email gets into the inbox and not the spam filter

Tom: Okay. Yeah, thank you. That’s very informative. Now, here’s another question. How about deliverability? How do you make sure that that email actually gets to that person into their inbox rather than their spam filter?

Amanda: It’s funny that I’ve come this far in my career and yet I don’t have a lot of answers around deliverability. There are a lot of smart technical people that I have worked with in my career that are familiar with black balls, and white balls, and servers, and all the laws around deliverability and best practices around deliverability that I have relied on. I haven’t had to know that myself, so I don’t feel like I can answer that question with… You know, outside of avoiding sending attachments and avoiding sending…

Don’t ever buy a list. That’s something that we should talk about. Don’t ever buy a list from somebody that says, “Hey, I have a list of this event attendees,” or, “Hey, I have a list of people that use this product.” It’s all spam. It’s always spam. Those lists have spam traps in there. You’ll buy the list, and then you’ll end up getting a list of grandmas who play scrabble that have nothing to do with what you’re trying to do. So don’t do that. Don’t ever do that. That’ll help your deliverability. Keep your list quality high.

The difference between a marketing email and a sales email

Tom: Another question is, what is the difference between a marketing email and a sales email? And which should be used when?

Amanda: That’s a good question. So marketing, I think, is always to inform and educate and to drive a lot of awareness. I think sales emails generally are to get a meeting. That’s all that sales wants. They want to talk to prospects. So it kind of depends on the funnel, where you are in the funnel, and who you’re emailing. It also depends on the relationship. Obviously, marketing is a one-to-many and sales is more of a one-to-one. So I hope that’s helpful.

Email frequency

Tom: Yeah, that helps. So let’s have one or two final questions here. How do you know if you are emailing somebody too often, too much?

Amanda: It’s a good question, and it’s one that I see my clients today, sort of, struggling with. I think it’s trial and error. I think if you’re looking at your database and wondering how often should we email, is it once a week, once every three weeks, three times a week? It’s a really good question. And every list and every audience is different. My suggestion would be a little bit of trial and error. Know that you are creating a relationship with your list and the people within your list. It depends if you are sending to the entire database, to segments of your database. In the end, I would say you are only emailing them too much if your list can’t tolerate it, and you’ll start to notice that your list can’t tolerate it when your opt-outs start to rise.

Now, that said, if you’ve never emailed a list, you’re just starting to email the list, you will see opt-outs rise early in that relationship because there’s some people that are just not going to… They’re not interested in an ongoing relationship with your emails. So that’s okay. Let them go. Worry about the people that are still in the list and developing that relationship over time.

Video Email

Tom: That sounds great. Thanks. And one final question. There seems to be a trend. Somebody’s asking towards video email, to include an embedded video in the email. Is that a gimmick or is that something real and it’s something that people should start to experiment with?

Amanda: That’s a good one, too. I know that I’ve received these emails from vendors, salespeople that are trying to sell me something and it says like, “Hi, Amanda,” and it’s a personal video and they want you to click on it. It’s usually Vidyard is the tool that they use to embed the video. I can’t say that those work en masse. I think that type of email is a good sales one to one email. And even then I’m not really sure how well it works or not. I just don’t know.

If you are sending a mass email out and you’re embedding a YouTube video, I think that’s great. I don’t think it should be the main point. A lot of people, we’re on our phones, and we’re sort of scrolling through. Sometimes we’re not in a place… Like, I might be in a meeting or a webinar, and I’m not in a place where I can actually play and listen to a video. So, you know, trial and error, see what works. It’s funny.

I’ll just tell you all the story really quickly. When I was at Dell 20 years ago, they were looking at this technology that would actually embed polls in the email itself and I don’t know… I have seen a little bit of that these days, but I think if they have that technology figured out, it’s something worth looking at because I think, you know, that will drive engagement, having the poll right there where your recipient can just click.

Q & A With Lisa Dawson, Director of events at Ping Identity

Tom: That sounds great. Thank you very much, Amanda. And so now let’s move onto virtual conferences. Lisa Dawson who’s a director of events at Ping Identity. If you want to take a moment and introduce yourself, your relation to this.

Lisa: Yeah. Well, hi, everyone. Yes, so virtual conferences, in general, is not new, but I think the use of it with COVID being a forcing function, it’s something we’re all now becoming very familiar with, but I’ve been doing conferences and meetings with corporations for my entire career. And I’ve worked in pharmaceutical, entertainment, technology, financial services, so kind of run the gamut. Doing events and doing conferences, the goals remain the same regardless of the industry, so it’s been an easy career to kind of pore through a bunch of different landscapes, which is nice.

So virtual conferences, like everyone else, we had to pivot our whole programs into virtual and we’ve had quite a bit of lessons learned. We’ve tried, you know, the big, giant formats, the little formats, four different platforms. So, you know, happy to talk with you about it today.

Virtual conferences vs physical conferences

Tom: Great. Thanks for that. Now, he’s a great question. Now that COVID, we could see maybe an endpoint here, it’s subsiding greatly. What do you think the balance in emphasis between virtual conferences and physical conferences would be? Will people keep on doing virtual conferences at the rate they do now? Or will we see a little bit less of that?

Lisa: It’s a bit of a complex question, right? So I think the appetite for sponsors is no more virtual conferences. Like, we, as a sponsor, just don’t want to be at virtual conferences. They’re not nearly as effective for an exhibitor to be in that realm. So they’re eager and anxious to get out and want to sponsor live events.

The attendees have a little bit of virtual fatigue. So we’re seeing some people that are not that keen and all of them are piling up. There’s so many choices now. So somewhat like a webinar, you can be a passive attendee at a virtual conference, so it’s not quite as engaging and not quite as actively participating in a virtual conference. From a marketing standpoint or a business standpoint, they’re all gung ho saying, “We’re going to be hybrid for the rest of our lives.”

Virtual conferences post COVID

I think my personal opinion is that, as COVID sort of becomes a little bit more of a distant memory, we’re going to see a move to markedly less virtual conferences. But I think will remain is we’re going to be seeing virtual aspects always an idea. We need to allow folks that are not close enough to travel to our conferences, or who have travel restrictions, or different time zones, or even financial restrictions, they’re going to expect and I think they should be able to consume some of your content and get it virtually.

So I think we’re always going to have—you’ll hear this over and over again now—hybrid events, hybrid events. And the one thing I would clarify is that a hybrid event does not mean simultaneous, right? It just means that you’re providing that same content that the live attendees saw and packaging it in a way that a virtual attendee can absorb. So, yes, we’re going to continue seeing virtual conferences. It won’t be nearly the pace we’re at now.

Tips for planning a virtual conference

Tom: Okay, great. Thanks for that. And what are a few pointers you’d give somebody first time who is looking to plan a virtual conference?

Lisa: So there’s a couple things, either you because you’re part of an events team or you’re working with your in-house events team or a third-party planner, we all have very deep-rooted capabilities in live conferences, and I think we were expected within three months to become experts at virtual and no one is including the platform providers.

So here we are a year later. We’re starting to see some actual efficiencies, and we’re starting to see some expertise bubble to the top. So I would say, number one, don’t expect your planners or even yourself to know everything the first time you turn to virtual. And, number two, and I think this is the biggest surprise for most people, it takes twice as much planning, if not three times the planning, to get a virtual conference to run in the same seamless way that you normally would have done for a live conference.

So I think the planning lead time is a big surprise and then I think just understanding where the expertise is. And then the other thing that’s going to kick you in the gut is it’s very expensive. To do it right is very expensive.

The cost of virtual conferences

Tom: So that’s interesting. So you’re saying for a virtual conference, to do it right is very expensive. Did I hear that correctly?

Lisa: Correct.

Tom: Why is it?

Lisa: Well, the platforms are expensive. It depends on the platform. Now, you could do a series of roundtables. You could do Zoom meetings like this. In fact, we’re in the middle of a year-long series that we’re doing at Ping that, you know, is, sort of, homegrown. We’re doing Zooms and that kind of thing. So those aren’t expensive obviously, you know, and we’re tapping into our already known conference audience and they’re coming to us because they already have familiarity with the brand or interest in the topic.

If you get to the larger scale where you’re trying to take what was your annual conference and flip it into a virtual conference, your keynotes will be slightly less expensive but your production is higher. The platform itself can be very expensive. We did a large-scale 4,000-person attendee, 6,000 registrants last summer. And to move that all into virtual and expand it over all of the content, I think the price they came in just under $100,000, and that was almost all platform.

Then we added, too, paid, you know, entertainment, and paid professions, and we still had a production side of it because we had to do a whole bunch of things pre-recorded in Zoom, and then we had to do some post-editing to make everyone look good. So there’s aspects of it where normally you would walk into a room, and you’d open the doors, and ask everyone to take their seats. And now you have to have a tech person in the background making sure everyone’s got their password and they’re having trouble logging in. It’s a different set of rules. And to that degree, it can require some expensive expertise.

Choosing the best virtual conference platform

Tom: Great. Thanks for that. A question on platforms. Did you take an extensive look at platforms before you chose one? And what are sort of the criteria that would go into making that decision?

Lisa: Yes. So for our first very large conferences I referred to last summer, we were looking at all these platforms in April. So there weren’t as many players in April. And the big dogs that you would have expected to be in the running were in the running, and they weren’t ready for how much demand for their product they would need, so they were a little less ready for, I guess, the requirements that we would come to. And we’ve probably gone through two other platforms.

So I think you’re going to get a tradeoff. You’re either going to lose something, maybe a little bit of something in reporting, but you’re going to get something that looks slicker from an attendee standpoint. You’re going to get something that can allow for personal or sidebar meetings, but you might lose something in the way your presenters can join or record their material ahead of time.

So you have to really look carefully at what you’re trying to accomplish and what your end goal is going to be because there’s not one platform that I found yet that can do everything the way you want it to.

ROI on physical conferences vs virtual conferences

Tom: Great. Thanks for that. And let’s talk about physical conferences versus virtual for a second here. What do you see the difference in ROI between the two for what you put in versus what you get out?

Lisa: So education-wise, I think there’s probably a slight lead for virtual conferences. You have an opportunity to, you know, digest the information in a manner and a pace and at a time that’s convenient to you. You can rewatch it, you can download slides. [There is] time to actually dig into the information that you want to get into without any distractions, without somebody sitting next to you and you could do that.

Now, from a Q&A standpoint, interactivity, you know, being able to engage with the speaker afterwards… You’ve been to live conferences where we all walk up to the stage and [inaudible 00:34:02] one question. You know, that kind of thing doesn’t really exist. You could get it in chat but it’s not always as dynamic as you’d want it to be.

Networking hands down has to be the live events. And the difficulty, when you look at adult learning, is so much of what you learn is both auditory and visual but a lot of it is just emotion. And the emotion is the piece that is sort of missing in virtual and no one’s really, you know, found that magic bullet yet to make that emotion come across the screen. So I think you’re going to lose that in virtual.

Obviously, accessibility and budget, hands down virtual, right? They’re going to be able to attend it from anywhere. They can attend in a watch party with their workmates. It’s typically cheaper or very often free, and it doesn’t require any travel. So kind of a little bit of a tradeoff there.

Combining physical and virtual conferences

Tom: Now, could you talk for a moment about the half and half approach? Where you have that physical conference but also have a virtual portion of that conference? How does that work out?

Lisa: So you’re on a pain point because we’re hands down in the middle of planning one of these and it’s a hybrid event. We have a live conference that we’re executing on but it’s also got a virtual element to it. So we’re in the middle of trying to solve that very problem.

I think part of this is, you know, making the virtual audience not feel like they got the second place position. It’s personal reasons why you can’t make it to the show, but that shouldn’t make you feel less of an attendee. So trying to get that shared experience, trying to figure out ways to blend the experience.

Now, for us, on our hybrid event, we are doing the two events at the same time. They are simultaneous. But as I mentioned, that’s not always necessary. So the keynotes will be streamed live to the virtual platforms so they’re both going to be able to see that. We can see, you know, interactivity in chat so that they can have that conversation.

Exclusive content for live audiences

But we are planning some things that the virtual audience will only have access to and some things the live audience only has access to because there should be some benefits for having made the choice that you did make. The virtual audience, in our case, is going to get a behind-the-scenes look that the live attendees are not going to have.

But we are also bringing in what we can as far as fun. We have a long-standing tradition of a boot camp, so we went up and filmed the virtual version of the boot camp. We’re going to have a party. We are doing, you know, a DJ for the virtual audience as well as what’s in the room. We’re doing some live streaming between our interactivity.

So there is that. We are working the normal passport type of a program or an incentive for folks to go see all of our virtual booths, and that gets you in the running for winning something. But I will say it’s very difficult to satisfy sponsors in a virtual environment. So that’s something to be very mindful of.

Pricing virtual conferences

Tom: Right. Great. Thanks for that. And now let me ask you. Let’s say in a hybrid environment that those people just can’t make it there and attend. How do you charge for that? Can you charge for that? You know, say a big conference where you have one price, that’s an established value for physical attendance. But for other people on the other side of the hybrid side, can you charge for that?

Lisa: So it’s a good question and it’s one that we’ve grappled with, right? Right now, for transparency, we’re charging probably about 10% of our live price is what our virtual price is. But we did put a price on it because we feel that the education has value, and we want you to make an investment to attend our events as well as, you know, engage and be there in, sort of, an active participant way.

I think what we saw coming right out of COVID, right, was everybody started doing virtual events and nobody understood that answer. And so everyone’s conference was free. And then we all got the price tag for doing a virtual event. We were like, “Well, we can’t do that forever, right? We’re going to have to put some kind of price around it.” Now, I’ve seen some conferences that are routinely $1,500 on-site and they’re holding that price on virtual. They’re just holding the same price.

So it’s really going to come down to the loyalty of your audience, the value of your education, but I personally think, unless you’re just doing it for brand awareness or you’re trying to do this as a prospecting sort of a vehicle, I think you need to put a price on it just to show that you feel your content is valuable and to get, you know, the attendee to have some skin in the game. And you can discount it or you can get comp tickets and that kind of thing, but you still need to put a price on it.

Virtual events for continuing education

Tom: Right. Okay, that sounds great. So another question is, are there certain types of events at work that are in virtual than other types? For instance, somebody’s asking about continuing education credits, you know, where they’re learning something. Does that work close to as well as physical or is there still a big difference?

Lisa: Well, I think having sent all of our school children home for a year, we’ve figured out that you can do education remote. And, yes, there is some value to it. Most of the governing bodies that do allow submitters for continuing education are counting virtual events.

Now, there are some honor systems that I think, if this continues, at some point they may start to shore up some of the honor systems. Because right now it’s essentially you’d get a credit if you’re in a webinar or a conference for an hour where you get half a credit for a half hour. They’re not really requiring us as conference producers to verify that based on duration. And not all platforms can actually show that for you. So if that’s something that you’re going to be required to show, check that your platform has that reporting capability. That’s one of the things we found missing in ours, so thank God they weren’t holding us to it.

So I do think that continuing education is a perfect use for virtual conferences, right, because, again, it allows you to attend at a pace and at a location that’s convenient for you. And I think you might find people doing more and more education remotely but just basic sort of getting up to speed, or user conferences, or, you know, doing big announcements. It’s a little less in a virtual environment. It doesn’t have the same impact.

When to hold a virtual conference vs physical conference

Tom: That’s a really good input. Where would you say there may be a clearcut reason to use a virtual conference versus a physical conference? Is there such a thing?

Lisa: I think a virtual conference is a good way to extend your brand. It’s a good way for you to introduce it in what can be a very accessible way to people who don’t know you aren’t ready to make the investment to travel and be with you in person. I think it’s a way for you to double down on the content that you already had at a conference. So you package it up and essentially make a roadshow out of it without having to go on the road. So that gives you sort of a secondary value to anything that you’re putting together, which we never used to have with live conferences. It was always kind of one and done. And, God, that was great, but, you know, it’s over now.

So I think those are perfect times for that. I think the roadshow series that we’re currently sending, we can be very topic-focused. In that kind of a setting in this smaller, sort of, roundtable format, similar to kind of what we’re doing here, right, is that it can be… It allows for an intimacy. It allows for, you know, all of these questions specific from an attendee instead of being one of 2,000 in a ballroom. So those are meeting your business objectives. It’s a perfect use for virtual.

Tom: Great. Thank you for that, Lisa. And so I’d like to thank all the presenters here today. I know, personally, I learned a lot from this session. I’d like to thank our audience as well for attending. And I thought that was some absolutely great questions today. And I hope everybody felt this was informative. So thank you, again, for joining Virtual Intelligence Briefing, and our panelists for the session today. And we look forward to seeing you again on the next one. Take care now.

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