A Virtual Events Pro with a Decade of Experience Reveals Tips on Building Your Virtual Events Team

Kelly Graham Cisco’s Manager, Virtual Events Team has about as much experience in producing events as anyone we could find. In 1999 she was working in corporate events at Cisco and they had just decided they were going to look at how to launch some of their seminar tours using online webcasting.

“Trying to take people who had regular jobs at Cisco and put them on the road 27 weeks out of the year traveling all over the world and the expense of putting those road shows together and all the collateral, it was not working. So, in order to scale we gave birth to this online program,” said Graham.

Cisco started off with a large catalogue of events and technical speakers covering everything from routers and switches to broadband and optical technologies. “We saw these technical engineers just swarm to Cisco online events to get access to the technical expertise and the content.”

At the same time, a technical community was born at Cisco called Networking Professionals where engineers could send emails into Cisco technical professionals and start discussion forums. Cisco built a technical webcast area off of that community in 2000 and that became known as the NetPro Tech Talk Series, which might have been the first branded program that Cisco ran online. The program ran every three weeks and covered a variety of subjects from wireless to security to routers and such, whatever it was the community was talking about. Then, as is still the case today, content was what drove attendance and participation.

Cisco found that people were logging in early for these sessions with nothing to do until the meeting started. “When virtual event technology started to come about, we realized that would be the perfect forum. We could start networking via chat with attendee’s early, start engaging them early, no reason to just use webcast only.” Virtual event platforms allowed Cisco to give the attendees more information, and more access.

“Where we have events like Cisco Live!, where we have big conferences and lots of content, we can now get that content out to an even broader base than just those that attend in person. We’ve started to incorporate the virtual environments around all of our events and meetings.”

Cisco’s dedicated virtual events team of 15 people produces every type of virtual event there is. The team consists of event strategists, who help work with the clients to determine what they’re trying to accomplish and build out a program for them; technical event producers who know the ins and outs of everything to do with webcasts, registration, virtual environments, platforms and how to integrate multiple components, like webcast streaming, or streaming into a virtual environment.

When you look at the scope of virtual events Cisco is producing it covers the entire range. “We’re doing more webcasts than we ever have before, but that is partially because of the fact that when you do a virtual event you’re not doing a simple webcast. You’re usually doing several separate webcasts. So, in the past we’ve done about 150 single webcasts. Now, we’re adding to that roughly 30 virtual events annually. Within those virtual events you’ll have multiple sessions. And we’re producing them across all different technology types. We use telepresence, streaming broadcasts, streaming to mobile devices, WebEx, etc.”

If you’re building a team for virtual marketing you need people who understand marketing strategy, event strategy and meeting strategy. Online events are not something that is easy or easier to do than say physical events because you still have all the elements of a physical event that you have to deal with for a virtual event except for some of the onsite logistical items and the travel-related issues.

Start with a good event strategist who actually understands how to find out what your attendees are like, how they work, what they are interested in, how familiar they are with virtual environments and web-based learning and networking. How adventurous are they and likely to want 2D versus a 3D experience.

“They have to understand mostly what content that the target attendee really cares about and they’re going to have to use the right medium to engage that person. I think having a true marketing individual who understands strategies and key event elements is very important.”
Though you may have to have roles that overlap, you’ll either need a good content development person or someone that has duel responsibilities that include content development as well as speaker management and speaker prep.

You don’t necessarily have to have technical expertise on your team or build out a team of technicians to execute a virtual event. You do need someone who can manage a vendor and understands the technical side of the events you are producing. There are platform vendors who will partner with you to run your event, but without having some in-house knowledge, you’re almost too reliant on them and then, if something goes wrong you don’t know why.

“I would also wrap that up with a good solid analytics person who can take the results of the meeting and help you analyze where you want to go next and maybe help create your own company case study on how online events have impacted and benefited your business.”

When you talk about analytics and measurement, you need to start with a good registration system. In the end, registration can make or break an event for various reasons. There have been situations (not with Cisco) where people have simply not been able to register which no matter what kind of an event you are doing is a disaster but just knowing what you are trying to do with the registrant is critical. Are you actually trying to turn registrants into sales leads or are you just building a database or are they prospects that are already in the database that you are trying to move through the pipeline?

“At Cisco we have a blend where we use our own proprietary system for the majority of our programs, but the proprietary system is not yet integrated into the virtual event platforms. The vendors are building out that capability and we will know you’re a user/customer at Cisco and it will pass basic profile info so that you don’t have to create your profile from scratch.”

Of course if you are doing a ‘meshed’ event where you have a physical event and a virtual event running concurrently and in combination, that is a new registration challenge. In this scenario, you’ll need the event registration vendor and the online virtual event vendor to work together. Usually they can provide access to APIs so that they can transfer data in real time and create one profile for both aspect of the event.

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