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ETP’s BJ Singh and Zuddl’s Vedha on the success mantra for events in 2022

Tune in for useful insights into virtual events and hybrid events as well as other important trends.

Earlier this year, Zuddl hosted a fireside chat on ‘Virtual and Hybrid Events - Success Mantra for 2022?’. The conversation between BJ Singh - President, ETP and Vedha Sayyaparaju, Co-Founder & CTO, Zuddl gave us some eye-opening insights into how the event world is evolving.

In this episode, we’ve handpicked the highlights from this conversation so you can listen, learn and apply these pointers into your event plan in 2022.

Episode Highlights

Are event strategies for offline experiences still relevant today?
Understanding what content works with today’s virtual attendee
Doing away with a one-size-fits-all approach to events

Kishore: Welcome to backstage with Zuddl. I'm your host Kishore from Zuddl’s very own marketing team. And this is a podcast where we share eventful stories from thought leaders across India. To give you epic insights into the world of events and beyond.

Hello? Hello. Welcome back. What is up? People? Hope you're all doing fine. We're back with the second episode of backstage with digital. And that's pretty exciting for all of you who tuned into episode one. Thank you so much for the support. And we look forward to giving you great content about events, everything else.

All right, then moving. Summer has already kicked in in India and things are getting pretty hot. And that is why we picked a hot topic for you this time around now, back in February, that little CTO and co-founder Vedha hosted a fireside chat on event trends and secret mantra in 2022. And our guest was the president of ETP, Mr BJ Singh. Now, ETP is an event production company that is largely popular in North America and they do some amazing work there. So watching these two leaders talk about the trends that are likely to dominate 20 22 and also provide insights, uh, during the conversation was really, really, really amazing.

So what we've done for this episode is we have curated the highlights from that conversation. So you can literally take their expert insights with you wherever you go and listen to it on a streaming platform of your choice. Sounds good. I'll take the lesser. Yes. Okay. So let's get right into it and jump into it.

Vedha:

I check a couple of questions off the bat for you, BJ. How have events evolved in your perspective over the past, you know, two to three years and our event strategies for offline experiences still relevant today? What are your thoughts?

BJ:  Uh, yeah, so I think when the pandemic first happened, everything sort of SWAT.

All the way to the other extreme, a hundred percent virtual, uh, people found out pretty quickly that it wasn't really a very engaging experience. They were mostly web strains on steroids. Um, and then we saw the pendulum swing to the extreme other side where these are all events became very hyper produced.

Um, and now what we're sort of seeing is a swing to the middle, uh, And this idea that hybrid can simply be a live event and stream to some website or some platform, uh, is going to do the job. I think we're, we're all realizing and our customers are realizing isn't necessarily the best way forward. There are two entirely different experiences that have to be designed that way.

Um, what we've also seen sort of unrelated to the pandemic, but shortly a parallel. Is this renewed interest in ESG, right? What is the environmental, social and governance impact, uh, on my event. And it's not something we saw coming, but it shortly, I think partly because of the pandemic and the travel cost and everything else is, is absolutely becoming front of mind, especially for the fortune global 500 customers.

Um, so that's kind of how we've seen it evolve. There's obviously. For some event formats and go back to LA. Um, being in our sparse with, uh, more virtual engagements and use virtual as a way to replace some meetings where it makes sense. Uh, but then to also engage your attendees in between these live events, even when they come back in, in whatever format.

Um, and I think you were asking about, um, the one size fits all strategy and why it doesn't work. Um, so I think there's, uh, several factors, right? The pre. Um, the event and the content and the program was designed primarily for the library. Right. And, uh, you either never had a work tool component, or if you did, it was surely an afterthought, but I think what's happened with the pandemic is whether it's budgets, whether it's new travel restrictions, which.

Corporate clients at least are here to stay. Despite the pandemic, um, attendees have a new comfort level. Um, there shortly, some. Tiredness around virtual, but there's surely an equal amount of excitement around the attendees, knowing that they can absorb the content and the knowledge without having to get on a plane.

Uh, and there's a lot of corporate mandates, right? There's another sort of factor happening that I think a lot of people don't think about, which is gen Z. Um, it is predicted to be the largest attending demographic in the history of meetings and conventions. But my son is one of them. Um, they're really not interested in having to travel somewhere.

It's just the learn and absorb knowledge. Right. They might do it for some other reason. So there's, there's, uh, shortly a strategy that has to be had around that. Um, uh, Enlive is really fixed location, fixed date, um, tool doesn't necessarily have to mean that. In fact, I think one of the biggest, uh, strategy considerations could be.

Is that the word tool attend. He doesn't necessarily want to be tied down to a fixed data on a fixed location. That means you can't just frame a live event, even if you want it to. Right. It's a different content. It's a different attention span. Um, and this, um, you'll hear me talk a lot about Netflix, like programming and Netflix, like persistent engagement.

But that's very different than the experience that the live attendee wants. The motivations are different, so they have to be different strategies. Uh, what we've seen a lot around sort of the strategy front is a lot of customers are moving. A lot of their internal facing means. That were primarily designed to train and learn.

So potentially being a hundred percent workflow. Um, if they are doing live live events, they're still using workflow to engage their constituents. Whoever might be employees, customers, um, association. Uh, you as well to engage them in between live events. Oh, good. 

 

Kishore: Very good point. That I loved what he pointed out about how the attendees have changed, because we usually acknowledge that the way we run events has changed or the kind of technology we're using is new, et cetera.

But, uh, we rarely talk about. People who are attending the events that can be even people like you and me have changed in the way we, uh, engage with things or, you know, connect with content. We're a very on demand generation and, um, Though we see it in daily life. It's very important for even organizers to also realize that, uh, this change in the way we engage with content is also going to reflect, uh, in our engagement levels during events.

So, yeah. Great point there. Yeah, let's continue. 

BJ: Uh, and the one thing that's been very, very hard to do virtually is the creature, right. Um, you have to, you know, you're never gonna replace a true creature and make it virtual and have the same success, what you can do. Is bill these 365 marketplaces that allow the exhibitors to engage their constituents in between those, those live creature.

And so, um, all of that, to say that the intention, the message and the incentive to attract the virtual only attending. It's very different than that, of alive attendee rights. And so your strategies have to be very different. Yeah, absolutely. And I think, yeah, even we've seen that with, um, you know, people being really creative with what they're trying to do to engage virtual attendees.

Uh, you know, whether it's. Opening access to speaker meet and greets after sessions and prizes and the gamification happening there, or even like live expo booths and, um, allowing attendees to join right away, whether it's onto the stage sessions or the expo booth sections. Um, and I think the other thing is with virtual.

Events the attendees, like you said, engage in a different pattern. And another thing that we've seen working really well is people actually opening up their event much in advance of the actual show day and leaving it open. Uh, beyond the show day, whether it's for networking experiences or resources, you, you know, you want to have, uh, want people to have access to online.

It's about the experiences that you create even before and after the event in that space. Because I think especially for virtual only attendees, what they're really empowered by is the ability to kind of explore the space on their own time. So also the, you know, thinking about. Yeah, we're going to build a live show, but you know, how do we build for a moment around that show or build a program around maybe not everybody is going to be there necessarily live during the show, but what are those experiences you're going to be enabled before and after to still really be able to cater to that audience?

So we've seen some really, really interesting, cool things. People are doing there as well. And I think one thing that everyone's gotten really used to over the course of the last couple of years is data and those micro interactions, and really being able to understand what attendees are doing during a virtual event and therefore just being able to make better decisions for future events.

And I think that's also led to some really interesting patterns. For you, you know, we always talk about like email drip campaigns, and now we're seeing this sort of like, is that campaigns or events, series of sorts where people are doing event series catering to their target target audience, and really like using that data, who's engaged with what, over the course of this event series to keep making adjustments and cater to that audience as they kind of hone in on who's where, on which, which of those attendees are really working for them.

Yeah, I think virtual, um, is definitely different and being able to harness what's working and what are, what are virtual attendees looking for versus just kind of saying, okay, here's what I do in person. And now I'm going to just repeat that same thing virtually. I think really being proactive about that is what we've seen work really, really well.

And so with that, thinking about, you know, like your virtual event audience, how do you define the right audience for your event? And, you know, have you seen like maybe better results with smaller groups or, and focus like more personal discussions or what's been your experience around. Yeah. So I think you hit on something.

That's a very important point, right? Virtual has given us that we've always struggled to do it. Live event, is, is data in real time to truly understand, um, what is happening in your event might. And if you tie it with your CRM data to say this demographic really engaged with this content, with this gamification, with this type of engagement, uh, and to continually refine it, not only to find.

The better audience or the more target audience, but then to find ways to engage them in different ways. There's something that I think works will gives us that as we near impossible even today to get in, in the live event. Um, what we have seen, um, is on average live events, uh, are becoming smaller.

They're becoming shorter. They're becoming more targeted. My most live event durations in general, that we are seeing in 22 are roughly becoming half the duration and half the size. Right? So a thousand percent event is now becoming a 500%. A four day event give or take to becoming a two day event. And that's at cranberry.

Our clients are telling us it's not going away, even when the pandemic is hopefully behind us. Um, so what's the right audience for those, right? If you're, if, if you're going to spend less money, fly people in for children durations. What we see is your high value customers, your high value prospects, your top performers, if you're doing an internal sales incentive, kind of a meeting, um, and then, uh, for the larger audience, uh, and for having a much more targeted experience on the virtual side, the big difference that we're seeing is not only picking the right audience.

But to then personalize the experience for that audience. Right? What, what, what has happened in virtual? Um, is that the attendee, all of a sudden has the power to consume the content in a format in a time, uh, and in a place of their choosing that wasn't the case in life, right? You'll get an event in Las Vegas and the event was the event you showed up if you want to do or not, but that was it.

And, uh, in virtual. Uh, the attendee that power shift is, is, is shortly moving towards the attendee might. Um, and so what does that mean? Right? Uh, I'll use the Netflix analogy again, it's personalized recommendation, personalized content, uh, and having complete control by the attendee over how, when they watch it, what that lets you do is to not really.

Ignore any particular attendee type. What it lets you do is to customize the content in a way that they're going to be engaged, right. Um, of course, using the data to constantly improve the return on those events surely in virtual. Cause you can measure it obviously as we go to hybrid a lot of the platforms that will included has the ability for you to collect that data, even from the library.

Um, of course finding ways to engage using things like gamification using things like giving education credits, um, you know, the AI based networking. Huge. I is the one thing that again, is we've struggled to do in life is I can go walk around and meet a hundred people. What percentage of them are actually relevant?

Uh, To the reason I'm there or for the reason that I want to network, right? Things like networking glitch, let you do that pretty, pretty quickly. Um, and people consume content in a different way. Right? Some learn by reading some learn by listening, some learn by watching. Um, some, uh, learned by simply experiencing in which case life might be a better format for them, but you have to customize the content.

Um, I read somewhere it's not my line, but it's the one I say probably once a week, which is that events must be programmed like TV for news, like Broadway and soul, like Hollywood. And I think the more and more we go into, um, the post pandemic norm, uh, that seems to be a successful format. Yeah, absolutely.

I think, I think, yeah, we've definitely seen similar trends as well. We've had, you know, customers, even for internal events start keeping them smaller to kind of facilitate more discussion, more engagement and actual like workshop type. Uh, format. So even for things like we had a scotch and water, which is one of these event agencies that runs events for Brittania for internal product launches and sales conferences, their event site.

Are in the couple of hundreds and, you know, they keep them within that really small discussion-based groups and they use, you know, rooms to talk more about products. They use expos to even, you know, talk about prototypes. Alive interact about certain products that are going to be launched. And we've seen really personalized engagement as well.

We had a Apollo do an event in partnership with a man U for their, uh, under 18 team. And they were able to really put out the manual brand and still use like expos for their products. Even though the whole brand of the event was menu and really create experiences where fans were able to engage directly with these academy players.

And I think really creating those smaller interactions spaces for more direct interactions, whether it's with speakers, fan engagement, whatever it is within a larger event, formats like that, we're seeing really, really work. Yeah, like you said, in terms of, uh, people consuming content, whether it's in some people are visual learners.

Some people like to read content, just having access to content afterwards and even live, whether it's something as simple as. You know, captioning has added tremendous value for virtual attendees. So I think really thinking about all of that in terms of event production has, um, is what we're really seeing from customers.

And I think there's also this trend of like, it's not just about virtual events. You know, replacing events that would have otherwise been in person. We're also seeing this whole new crop of events that would have never even happened in person that people are starting to experiment with and use smaller formats.

Like all of these different formats, uh, are really, really working in those cases where people are saying, oh, it's not just about, you know, taking what worked in person and moving it online, but, or just taking an in-person event and now making it hybrid. Also, how are you able to engage attendees in new formats and new experiences that you might not have before?

And, and BJ, in terms of, you mentioned, uh, you know, broadcast like events. So when you're talking about the delivery of content, like how do we prepare and deliver content in a way that really keeps attendees engage and really encourages participation? When, like you said, yo virtual events, you're going to be competing with a lot of really high quality.

Yeah. So I actually think that it's, it's less about how you deliver content. We've touched on a lot of that, right? On demand in a format that, uh, or in all the formats that the attendee can possibly consume it. I think the bigger idea, and it's something that whether you and I worked on it, Is how do you make that work tool attendee as much a contributor of content, as opposed to just being a consumer.

Right. And, and I, I personally believe that's the holy grail, right? Nobody wants to say. On the other end of a computer and watch somebody talk or run a video for a half hour, I want to be engaged. And a lot of the reasons people go to live events is you can engage with people on a face-to-face basis. So, um, things that, for example, you know, one of the things we love about digital is right.

You can raise your hand and come on stage. So very different level of engagement. Uh, than me typing a Q and a, or, or chatting the attached. Um, you know, we did an event with university of Maryland, uh, with, um, with. The attendees and board members were able to raise their hand and Natalie come live into the platform.

Um, but we were able to then take you and put you live within the live room itself, right? Uh, am on the led wall or projection screen or whatever. Um, we are working with university of Maryland right now, um, where we're actually putting monitors in their presidential. So people that are attending Maryland football games can interact with people that are unable to be there or would have been in their suites in there.

So what great ways to interact and engage attendees? Um, we have a corporate client, um, that's using it every week. In fact, we are starting to do it internally at ETP. Um, where we just have open-ended networking sessions and the one-to-one networking area on a weekly basis. Um, and whether it's for diversity and inclusion, whether it's for new employee orientation, um, what a great way, right.

To, to really engage people. Um, in a much different format than just doing a one-way zoom call or a webinar. I must say that took me back to say college when, uh, the one thing that differentiated the good productive sessions from the boarding one's word, the level of interaction rate. I mean, I, for one just here did one way, uh, classroom sessions where.

Professor would go on and on about a subject. And I would just zone out. I think many of us can relate to that, hopefully. Uh, and the ones that really stood out for me were the professors and lecturers who kind of identified the need to, um, you know, Have two way interaction. That way the audience is way more engaged.

So I think, uh, it's relevant for events as well. Anyway, that was just something I thought I should share while we are listening to this. Let's get back into it and work from home is here to stay, right. It might not be 365, 24 7. Uh, some part of people's work life is going to be from home. So how do you continuously engage them, uh, on an ongoing basis?

And I think those are, um, some of the ways to use virtual go consistently engage of course, things like gamification of course the content has to be again, you know, OTT or Netflix. Like it can't be. Somebody talking on the stage, it can be bureau like can be a web screen. Um, it very much has to be something that's engaging and, and not, not necessarily very long duration.

Yeah. And I think it's pretty analogous to, you know, something like a, a talk show, like in talk shows, people are used to having an in-person, you know, studio in studio audience that they're talking to. But you also look at the camera, you're talking to your virtual audience and I think. We're seeing a change more recently, but I think definitely over a majority of the content in virtual events over the last couple of years has still been here's what's happening in person.

Hey, virtual attendance. Look, here's what's happening over there. Interesting. And it's not really like content that is talking to the virtual attending, whether it might be something as simple as, you know, the host looking straight into the camera and saying, Hey attendees, I do something, something. It does take a little bit of a mindset shift to keep that in mind.

And that's something that, you know, in Stu all the TV shows we've probably been used to for a while and event production is going to need to get used to now, because otherwise you're having a virtual platform is not gonna solve the fact that, you know, attending. Oftentimes, when we were talking to early attendees, they'd often said, oh, when we're watching these streams of in-person events, you know, we really feel like second-class citizens of the experience.

And at that point in time, it was more of, because of the engagement. There was really nothing for them to do online. But if you're going to add all of these, you know, ways to engage and things to do, but not solve the problem in the context, Self you're still going to leave attendees with a lot wanting.

So I think, yeah, really, really thinking about how do you get to that root content in itself and, and address virtual attendees and program content for both in-person and virtual attendees, especially when you're talking about hybrid events is going to be really, really. Yeah, I do. I do think you hit the nail on the head on that one, right?

You wouldn't. When we used to do or still do live events inclined to say, well, I want to just make 200 foot led wall. Um, my it's great, but unless you have content to really maximize it and engage clients or engage your attendees, uh, it really doesn't serve the purpose or get you the return that you want it.

Content is king, whether it's virtual or live, or you can have the biggest palette, the best platform, or the biggest led who all are the, um, all kinds of ways to interact. But if you don't have the content to really leverage it, to engage your attendees in a meaningful way, then, um, you know, you, you don't miss the boat.

Yeah. And do you have any, you know, quick tips, pieces of advice you'd like to share, uh, you know, as organizers start preparing for 2022 and what their events could look like? Um, sure. I think, uh, the biggest one is, um, always have a contingency plan. I think that's the biggest lesson we've learned in our clients have learned.

And I think the nice thing about works well is it can give you, um, that contingency plan. Um, what we are also learning is that, um, by using words, Walter continuously engage your attendees in between live events. Uh, there's a comfort level that when you do have to pivot or you do need a backup plan, it's, it's something that everybody's used to.

Right. And this idea that, uh, I have a lot of events. And I need to replace it with a virtual platform for this one-off I think is how it started. I think now, uh, virtual is becoming a way of life to continuously engage. So I would encourage everybody to. Um, of platforms as a way to continuously engage whether or not you're going to do live events or not.

I do agree with you. There's a whole new crop of events that clients are starting to do, uh, that are worthwhile only that they hadn't thought of before, because the cost is significantly lower, right? Once you, once you have. Um, shortly higher production value. And I'd probably say that with my filter, because that's what we do for a living.

Uh, but to have higher production value, have better content, have ways to engage, um, you know, the right, uh, or to engage your attendees and make sure you're customizing the content for that attendee, uh, empower them right. Really on demand is a thing it didn't use to be. And as live event people, we often get scared and say, well, I have to scream and they have to come at this time.

That's really not the case. Right. They want to be able to engage. And the nice thing about is you can still. And know that they consume the content when they consumed it, you can engage them with gamification, with polls, with quizzes, with giving them credits, to make sure that they're, um, you know, they're actually consuming the content.

Um, I would also say don't be afraid to lean on experts. Right? One of the things we have learned, the reason we became a digital managed services provider and oftentimes are white, glowing gain tire experience is as people are coming back and understanding. That to create a, a valuable engaging virtual event is a different skill set.

Uh, sometimes a different budget than what we're used to doing in life. And you may not have those resources. It might scare you. You may not have the budget, but to have a conversation, um, you know, and rely on the experts to say, this is my goal. How do I do this? Right. Um, until you get to a point that you're comfortable.

Um, the last thing I do want to say. Um, is, you know, use the data, right? What platforms give you, whether you use it in virtual only, or whether you use it, uh, and a mobile experience to engage both your works will end your life. But use that data to learn and continuously refine and improve the return on events.

And that's not just financial, right? It's engagement. It's a retention of the attendees attention over time. How often are they coming back? What content is resonating? Um, I think a lot of times we see all this data and we say, great, I got 3000 people there really diving in and using it to refine your strategy, I think is huge.

And that's something we've never had.

Another very, very useful insight there about how we actually went analitics can really help us gauge how our event went in terms of specific numbers and also educators as to how to tweak our next or upcoming even, and target those areas that where we feel there's sort of a gap. So, yeah. Brilliant. Gone.

Kishore:

Was it? But I, for one love listening to it and I hope you do too. We'll be back soon. Of course, with yet another episode, more insights, more guests, you name it. All right. Then take care and stay cool. This summer, we will see you soon.

This was backstage with Zed. If you'd like to hear more episodes, don't forget to subscribe. You can also listen to our episodes on Spotify, Google, or wherever we used to import cost. Don't forget to visit  dot com to know more about how you can begin humanizing events. .

 

Meet the guest

BJ Singh

President, Entertainment Technology Partners (ETP)

BJ Singh is the President of ETP North America. He was recognized by BizBash Magazine on their list of "500 Must-Know Event Pros in the U.S." in 2020 and "Top 500 People in Events" in 2018.

Vedha Sayyaparaju, Co-Founder & CTO, Zuddl
Meet the guest

Vedha Sayyaparaju

Co-Founder & CTO, Zuddl

A coder since the age of 6, Vedha has been a part of the earliest teams at Facebook, Blend, Pinterest and has now ventured out to transform virtual events with Zuddl.

Meet the guest

hosted by

Kishore CS

Content Lead, Zuddl

Kishore is part of Zuddl’s very own Marketing team. A content creator and enthusiast since 2012, Kishore’s experience ranges from web content and internal communications to copywriting and brand identity.

Kishore CS, Content Lead, Zuddl