Today’s an exciting day for the Event Tech Podcast! Our resident hosts, Will and Brandt, welcome a guest to talk about virtual and hybrid event platforms. Dear listeners, please welcome the knowledgeable Kyle Kocinski, the Head Of Implementation at Endless Events!

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In one of the most resourceful conversations in the history of this podcast, Kyle talks about how event platforms have adapted since last year and where are they going next. From must-have features to pricing, he covers it all. After all, event platforms are key to planning the best hybrid or virtual event and are definitely here to stay.

Virtual & Hybrid Event Platforms: All About Automation

First off, Will asks Kyle to talk about his thoughts on virtual event platforms. What happened in 2020 and where are they going? “I would say that they’ve become more automated. As soon as attendees get access into the platform, they’re able to see what sessions would be most interesting to them based on how they signed up in the registration process. There are a lot of key questions you can ask even before they get into the platform to try to personalize their experience as soon as they get in,” says Kyle.

He thinks that the future will be all about choosing your own adventure and making the event experience your own. A huge part of that is on demand content. “A lot of events in 2020 were only open for a short period of time. Now, they’re going to be using the platform as a community to bring everyone in and have them come back to it. That way, they’re able to re-watch all the sessions that they may have missed when they initially went live.”

Newer Virtual & Hybrid Event Platforms Are More Innovative

Brandt mentions that event platforms have exploded over the course of 2020. “What are the platforms that have stuck out to you as ones that weren’t doing this a year ago that are doing it very well now?” he asks Kyle.

“Technology companies have had so much more freedom to build out features at a much faster rate than a lot of the other companies that started with being an event mobile app. Those already had their technology framework in place and their limitations for what they could build. Whereas a lot of these brand new platform companies are starting from the ground up. They’re able to really tackle and be creative with engagement features, adding more movement within the actual platform itself,” explains Kyle. “As you’re walking up throughout the platform and you walk closer to an attendee in the platform, their video now pops up and you can have a conversation. Rather than just clicking around in an interface and selecting that attendee, you’re now able to walk up to them and meet them for the first time, like you would at an in-person event.”

Will adds that it’s easier for new players to be innovative because they have no code debt. “When you build up your app so big and it has all this code, it slows you down because it might break this other feature when you implement this XYZ feature.”

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Reliability In Virtual & Hybrid Event Platforms

The conversation then swerves to reliability across virtual and hybrid event platforms. According to Will, event planners’ biggest nightmare is that platforms aren’t exempt from Murphy’s law.

“Reliability and making sure that your event doesn’t have any technical issues is probably stronger if you’re selecting a platform that’s been around longer. Whereas if you’re picking one of the newer platforms, there’s more room for error because they possibly haven’t tested it out the same.”

Start With Your Goals & Objectives

“I always tell planners that have been stuck with the same platform for awhile that it’s totally worth trying and figuring out what are your goals for your event. There are probably platforms out there that have features that are much more direct for how you can accomplish your goals.” It all depends what you’re looking for. “You’re now able to have more engagement features that can really connect those conversations. Other platforms have really expanded on what it means to be a virtual exhibitor or a virtual sponsor.”

“Especially as we get into hybrid platforms, you want to be collecting all of your data here. You’re able to quantify the results for your sponsors so much more than ever before, whether that’s placing their ads in different places throughout the platform, whether that’s tying exhibitors and sponsors to different sessions. They’re able to get a bigger return than what they would have had just at an in-person event in the past. If having a really detailed exhibitor and sponsor booth is a part of your agenda, and you want to be able to provide that to your stakeholders, you have to take a look and see has your platform been offering that because if not, there are platforms that do that.”

Attendance Tracking In Hybrid Events

“This last year was so focused on virtual. Everyone’s building out one-to-one conferencing of video, the ability to do streaming, polling chat, and AI matchmaking. But now, there’s going to be a mix of in-person and virtual attendees across a single platform,” says Will. “Where do you see the future of these platforms evolving when it comes to hybrid?

Kyle emphasizes that attendance tracking is going to be more important than ever. “For hybrid, you need to be knowing who is allowed into certain sessions, so that you’re able to monitor capacity within that session. For a lot of hybrid event platforms, the only way they track attendance is by tracking who registered for that session. Some platforms will also have the ability to track the analytics for how long you’ve been watching that stream and when you’ve been watching that.”

“I would also say that being able to connect the conversations that you’re having in the in-person venue to the virtual audience will be more important than ever. Are they able to communicate with those virtual attendees during the session? Are you bringing up those attendees up on screen at the stage so they can ask Q&As?”

How Do I Choose A Platform?

After Kyle answers Will’s question, Brandt asks him the question he himself gets asked the most. “How do I choose a platform?”

First, you need to understand what features are possible. “You might not be giving researching the ideal virtual or hybrid event platform as much time as it actually needs. In 2020, you had to pivot quickly, so it made sense to pick the platform that you felt the most confident in. But when you have a foundation for what features are currently out there within the market – whether that is for communication, branding, education tracking, even movement within the platform itself – how do you want to enhance your attendees’ senses when they’re participating within the platform?”

Only once you have have built that foundation is it time to do some researching. “Have conversations with the different platforms by just searching virtual or hybrid event platform. When you’ve gathered what your required features are, you can start having conversations with those specific platforms that offer them.” And don’t stop until you have exactly what you need! “While all platforms don’t have everything you’re looking for, you will be able to find something that’s 80% there. A lot of these virtual and hybrid event platforms are really willing to work with the planners and take the requests of features that they’re needing, because that’s going to help their platforms grow.”

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Personalization Is Key!

Kyle then goes on to explains what features should a planner consider when planning their next virtual or hybrid event. “You definitely need to have the ability to personalize the schedule, especially if the event has multiple sessions. A lot of times you get lost with what should I be attending, or there’s so much to filter through content-wise. But when you can actually take the time and personalize your own agenda, you can see what sessions everyone is most interested in.”

“While the mobile app may have been less important for virtual, it’ll almost be the number one necessity for hybrid events, because that’s going to be your one way to funnel all of the communication,” he adds. “A lot of hybrid event platforms will charge differently depending on how you’re streaming: whether you’re streaming with their native streaming player, whether you’re using an RTMP stream right from the venue, or you’re just embedding it as an iFrame. Understanding your costs is definitely going to be a consideration that you need to take.”

Hybrid Audience Engagement: The Power Of Gamification

In the past year, we’ve covered the topic of virtual audience engagement several times. That being said, Kyle particularly saw the many wayshybrid event to gamify the experience grow.

“You can earn badges now. Planners can customize what those badges look like. If you’re going to use that same platform again, those badges can roll over, so you could be collecting the badges year after year. You can even unlock and earn prizes and automate that. As soon as you’ve reached the score, you can either pick what prize you want to redeem, for example,” he says.

You can also build challenges. “As you’re building them out, you have to think about everyone who would be actually competing in these challenges. You want to make sure that there’s challenges that everyone is able to do, starting with updating your profile and earning some points. You also have to consider that there are going to be some overachievers in your event, too. They’re going to try to do every achievement right at the beginning of the event, or as soon as they get access into the virtual venue. One of the best tips that we could recommend is add new gamification challenges along the way of your hybrid event. Those who come in later to the event can still feel like they have the opportunity to be participating and exploring.”

What About Pricing For Virtual & Hybrid Event Platforms?

First, Kyle talks about how the newest virtual and hybrid event platforms do pricing. “They’ll probably be advertising that you can have your event for up to a thousand people for free. But what that means is you get the bare bones of the platform and then pay for all the other features that you want. Be aware when you’re seeing that, because if you’re looking at free platforms, you’re probably not getting the best overall experience from registration all the way to analytics.”

There’s no easy answer to how much a virtual or hybrid event platform should cost. “The average cost per person could be as low as $1 and as high as $20 per person.” Why? “Every one of these companies is pricing their models differently. Many of them will price it out as an annual license so that you have to pay a large fee, but you can host as many of events as you want within that platform and only be paying per person. Some will charge extra to add in gamification or some will charge extra to add a virtual lobby, which is just another way to add enhanced branding to different areas of your virtual event space.”

And what does the future hold? “I would say that the prices are going higher across the board, but you’ll also see newer platforms going lower so they can win over any planners who are already committed to platforms that they used in 2020. We’re seeing the pricing of models change, especially for those virtual and hybrid event platforms that want to stay open longer as a community. You’ll see different pricing based on how long you want to keep the platform open.”

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