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Damien Bayle of Arkadin discusses the benefits of virtual events and what to take into account when planning them.

Virtual events are fast transforming the corporate communications landscape. Due to rapidly evolving technology, internal PR pros can be more efficient than ever before in sharing company news, whether for small team meetings or for collaborating with tens of thousands for large town-hall type gatherings.

Corporate meetings have new meaning when conducted virtually. No longer do employees need to be present to interact dynamically. They can connect in real time from their desktops or mobile devices from anywhere in the world and interact with colleagues through presentations that are streamed with audio, slides and live video. In some respects, remote participation enables a richer and more meaningful experience due to features that enable instant feedback and analytical reporting for measuring the success of the meetings.

My company’s experience in producing virtual events for some of the largest Global 500 companies to smaller SMBs has given me valuable insights into the opportunities and the challenges involved. Regardless of whether your company is a multinational conglomerate or a 50-person small business, careful planning is essential for ensuring successful outcomes.

Here is an overview of what you need to know for selecting the right solution and managing the process for a glitch-free delivery, followed by examples of how some organisations are expanding their reach and ROI using these technologies.

Selecting the appropriate technology platform

Virtual meeting technologies afford a great deal of flexibility in how your audiences receive content. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach. You need to carefully consider each of these points before choosing a solution and service provider.

  • Purpose of the communication and audience size (small regional meeting, global all-hands, investor earnings call, etc.)
  • Meeting requirements (integrated audio, document sharing, slides, streaming media, analytics, live questions, chat, polling, surveys, etc.)
  • Technology requirements (network bandwidth capacity for supporting video and streamed media)
  • Message delivery
  • On demand viewing (for viewing any time)
  • Integration with additional platforms (social media, Eloqua, CRM, etc.)

The technology choices suited to staging events for most corporate communications applications include:

Web conferences: This audio and web platform is ideal for real-time collaboration involving screen sharing, demos and video, and it is particularly well suited for small audiences that require high levels of participation and verbal engagement.

Webcasts: When you need to broadcast information from one-to-50 or to tens of thousands of live attendees in a dynamic interactive format, webcasting is a perfect solution. Organisers can pair rich media, including broadcast video, with other content suitable for large employee gatherings, training sessions, shareholder meetings and earnings calls. Dynamic interactive exchanges can be achieved through audience surveys, polling, live chat and Q&A.

When lead generation is involved – particularly for sales/marketing team events, message delivery takes on heightened importance. It’s essential that meeting participants are actively involved and that engagement tools such as qualification, scoring of contacts by various criteria, for example, are utilised for liaising with CRM tools and marketing automation.

Virtual trade show: This fully managed solution simulates a trade show or conference complete with virtual booths enabling participants to join breakout sessions for interacting with hosts, keynote speakers and their social networks. It’s the ultimate ‘just like being there’ experience. Communications teams will find it useful for large sales kick-offs, training sessions and career fairs.

In addition, video conferencing can also be used for staging multipoint virtual events since they are no longer confined to video conferencing rooms. Communications teams can have a fully managed service, either remotely or on site, with professional project management and interoperability capabilities to ensure success in connecting diverse video equipment.

How to ensure smooth running and highly polished delivery

Make it as simple as possible: It’s essential that virtual events are easy for hosts and attendees to participate in from their desktops or mobile devices of choice. While small web conferencing sessions and webcasts can be initiated instantly without formal training, corporate teams staging larger webcasts and virtual trade shows need specially trained conference operators and live assistance. Look for service providers who offer a full complement of technical experts and operators with a successful track record.

Insist on highly reliable and secure platforms: This is essential for any meeting, but when CEOs and investors are involved, the stakes are sky high. Whether you rely on your internal IT team or an outsourced service provider, be sure you have a highly secure and redundant network that can support multiple levels of rich media applications.

Use providers with global capabilities and local support: When worldwide reach is required you need a service provider that offers real-time language and localisation support as well as the ability to host events over multiple time zones. Choose a partner who can help navigate the choices and administer support from local teams.

Engage attendees and their social networks: Look for solutions with a broad array of widgets for engaging audiences. An immersive environment will help increase retention of the content and enable you to measure involvement. Some internal communications teams find virtual events ideal for ‘controlled audience participation’ as a means for gaining feedback from employees and other stakeholders. Social media functionality will enhance engagement by enabling attendees to instantly share content through their community networks.

Measuring value: ROI can be off the charts

Cost savings from conducting virtual events versus in-person meetings can be staggering, especially for large global conferences. The reduction or outright elimination of travel expenses, however, is just one way to calculate ROI. Consider the savings associated with planning and the added value of being able to expand attendance to a larger pool of employees and other constituents who can participate remotely live or on demand as their schedules permit. Here are a few examples:

Large all-hands webcasts are an essential component of the American Cancer Society’s internal communications programme. Arkadin Webcast gives them an interactive platform that scales for viewing by thousands of employees and volunteers in their network. Their signature “Society Talk” programme is modeled on a virtual talk show for delivering critical information to staff. Streamed pre-recorded and live interviews with executives provide an engaging format for employees to interact with through phone lines or social media. The webcasts were especially effective for addressing change management topics while the Society was undergoing a massive organisational restructuring which impacted their 6,000+ employees.

Our Asian subsidiary offers another telling example. Rapid growth increased the number of eligible employees for their annual kick-off event; however, the vast distances between the Asian countries made their travel expenses prohibitive. By using Arkadin Webcast they were able to triple employee participation compared with the previous year, while reducing costs by 77 percent.

Damien Bayle is Arkadin’s managing director of Global Accounts and Events. An NTT Communication company, Arkadin is one of the world’s largest providers of unified communications and collaboration services.
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