Follow-Up to My Session on “Using Virtual to Generate Leads”

by Dennis Shiao, Director, Product Marketing, INXPO


At Virtual Edge Summit 2012, I presented a session titled “Using Virtual to Educate Prospects, Generate Leads and Nurture Relationships.” I wanted to make this session an “unpresentation.” What do I mean by that? I felt that the most value I could provide was not in “teaching from the lectern,” but in enabling a dialog and conversation that drew upon the wisdom of the crowd (i.e. the audience).

Crowdsourcing the Session

It’s my belief that at many presentations, the combined wisdom of the audience far exceeds the knowledge of the “expert presenter.” As a result, I went with a very small number of slides (less than 10), then turned the session over to the audience.

I started by asking what topics the audience wanted to dive into. Two areas we identified were “driving leads to exhibitors, beyond the booth” and “driving value to attendees via exhibitors.” I’d like to highlight some interesting ideas from the audience.

Driving Leads to Exhibitors, Beyond the Booth

The theme of our discussion was around the “booth” and how in digital events, at least, the booth as a sponsorship model may be less relevant and effective these days. I made the analogy that a booth signified “sponsor area,” and that sponsor content needed to be better integrated (organically) into the attendee experience. Ideas that surfaced:

  1. Sponsored webcasts.

Dannette Veale (Cisco) gave an example of Cisco Live Virtual, in which sponsors could provide their own webcast and become a part of the program agenda. The key here is to provide value to viewers. Product pitches seldom work. Instead, provide useful information and you’ll find attendees seeking you out for more.

  1. Interactive kiosks.

Borrowing from the model of interactive kiosks at physical events, why not position online kiosks throughout the digital event. Attendees could interact with the kiosks to obtain interesting information and the kiosks could include content contributed by a sponsor. Again, go for useful information over product pitches, Mr. Sponsor.

  1. Sponsored chat.

Online chat is a very effective engagement tool in digital events. In fact, there was a lot of buzz from the chats that occurred in PCMA’s digital extension to Convening Leaders 2012. Sponsors could play a role in chats by having subject matter experts (from the sponsoring company) join the chat as hosts – or, host scheduled chats exclusive to the sponsor. As always, sponsors need to avoid product pitches and provide value.

Driving Value to Attendees from Exhibitors

If your digital event’s attendees perceive that exhibitors are there solely to sell their wares, then you lose (and your exhibitors lose). Consider these ideas to drive value from exhibitors:

  1. Free assistance or troubleshooting.

In a technology-focused digital event, sponsors company  provide “problem solving rooms” in which technical issues are presented (and then solved). In other vertical industries, sponsors provide subject matter experts to answer the attendees’ most pressing questions. The idea here is to demonstrate expertise and industry knowledge, rather than fielding questions about your company’s products or services.

  1. Office hours.

Some attendees may be further along in the sales cycle and do have specific questions they’d like to ask of you. In the existing “booth” model, they may be unsure whether your booth staffers are capable of answering their questions. Instead, publish the names of your experts and make them available during “office hours,” during which very specific product questions can be asked.

  1. Surprise gifts.

I provided a real-life example of a digital event in which a sponsor provided a spur of the moment trivia game and awarded game players with “real” prizes. The prizes were left over from a physical trade show and were sent to the winners via U.S. Mail. Attendees loved the game and cherished the surprise gifts.


The “unpresentation” format proved to me that audiences bring a wealth of information and a breadth of experience that’s hard to match. I’d love to see more 2013 Virtual Edge Summit sessions take a similar audience-focused approach.


About VEI Staff

The Virtual Edge Institute (VEI) is an international organization dedicated to advancing the development and adoption of virtual event and meeting technology and best practices for collaboration and marketing.