Building software to host a virtual event poses a million questions, many of them hoping to address the user experience. And the exhibitor experience. How to keep people engaged, how to keep them from being bored, how to have conversations, how to connect, how to give keynotes. And so on. I recently caught up with Sandy Hammer, co-founder of AllSeated, which has recently launched virtual event software that looks, well, impressive. She and I sat down to talk about it, and to give her a chance to show us a little bit about how it works:
What happens when your business needs a quick pivot to survive? Not all companies have been able to do that successfully. On this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning, I chat with Entire Productions’ CEO Natasha Miller about how they made the switch to virtual events in a big way.
Zoom is ubiquitous. So much so that I’ve even been reading lately about “Zoom fatigue.” So many Zoom meetings!
But what’s a person to do? Many offices are closed. Millions are working from home, navigating the line between getting work done, keeping kids occupied, quieting pets and so much more. Zoom is a lifeline as well as a way of life for many people. Meeting with business colleagues and clients, and family gatherings.
I recently chatted with Ken Newman of Magnet Productions, a long-time tradeshow friend and colleague, about ways to step up your game when a Zoom call. He works with a number of clients to do the same, and we chatted about the various ways of improving the quality of your Zoom interactions.
What are your goals?
Let’s start with your situation. Are you planning to make changes to get you through another couple of months (or however long it takes to return to “normal”), or are you looking to make permanent changes to your home studio? Even when tradeshows come back, many things will be normal, but there will also be a more robust virtual element of tradeshows.
How are you using Zoom?
Zoom was built to handle speech, not music. When Zoom hears a loud sound, like a siren or car horn, it will immediately clamp down the sound to prevent it from going through at such a high level. Which means, if you happen to want to play music or some other type of sound on your Zoom calls (such as a larger meeting where several people might be in a single room, or where one person is playing music through an amplifier, for example), you’re going to have a big challenge in front of you to keep the sound at an even level. To get around that, you can go into settings and “enable original sound.”
One of the first lessons I learned in my early radio days was to know what you really sounded like, not what you think you sounded like. It’s the same concept with a video call or presentation. Simply start a meeting with nobody else there. Record it and play it back. You can check how you look, how the lighting looks, how you sound. And when you do rehearsals, you’ll catch those little crutches that you usually don’t know about, like saying “like” all the time or “y’know.”
Check the background of your image
Don’t have an open window behind you, because your guests on the call will see a poorly lit image of you, mainly a silhouette. Use lighting at about three-quarters.
Green screen: a gimmick, but more as a fun thing, but after the initial view of Fiji, it gets boring and distracting.
Limit background noise
Close the door. Try to schedule meetings when people are doing other things (yes, that may be impossible!). Tell the others in your house that you’re going to have the call and to please assist with keeping kids and dogs quiet. Yes, I know that if you live near a train track that sometimes things just happen. If background noise is a continual problem, you might check out Krisp: recommended recently by Seth Godin, who says it is good a dampening background noise when you’re on a Zoom call.
Equipment to Consider
Ken and I discussed a number of pieces of gear, both hardware and software. These range in cost from small or modest to more expensive and are worth taking a look at depending on your level of use of video and how much your budget can handle.
LED ring lights are mostly low-cost and add a lot of control of your image. Set them off to the side so they’re aiming at your face at about 45 degree angle. Package them with a tripod that can also hold your camera and you’ll only need the one, if that’s what you’re using for Zoom or other video. Otherwise, consider getting two of them and put one on each side of your face at a 45 degree angle.
With a laptop or desktop, having a USB microphone will immediately take you above the sound you get from typical AirPods or earbuds with a microphone in the cord. AirPods have a decent sound, and in many case the smaller microphones on your earbuds will be okay. The microphone on your laptop or desktop computer is probably the lowest sound quality and the most problematic when it comes to background noise.
I use the Audio Technica AT2020USB+. Good sound, has a mini-headphone jack for plugging headphones in and mixing sound. It’s not a high-end microphone, but the sound is solid and it’s been a good workhorse for me.
Ken often uses a Shure MV-51, which is a higher-end USB mic with more bells and whistles.
We’ve both had the Yeti Blue mic, which is good but nor great. It’s lower cost means a lot of people have tried it. I stopped using mine a year ago when it simply stopped working. But frankly, if you can find a low-cost USB microphone it’ll be a good upgrade from your laptop or AirPods in terms of sound. Not only that, but it’ll show that you’re serious about your audio sound.
On location, and in any situation where you want freedom to roam but still get good sound, use something like a Kimafun 2.4G wireless lavalier microphone with built-in audio interface. Short-range dedicated wireless connection (not Bluetooth). It comes in a compact case that is smaller than a typical shaving kit.
Chances are you have a phone with a built-in camera or a laptop with a good built-in camera. If you want or need something a little better, consider these:
OBS – Open Broadcaster Software. More for the serious webcaster who wants a full package to be able to broadcast high performance realtime video and audio capture and editing. Audio mixing, adding in recorded video scenes to your broadcast. Like having a small TV station control panel in your computer. Learning curve is steep, but if that’s what you want, this is a good piece to explore. And since it’s open source, it’s free to use.
The world was moving to much more online video even before the pandemic forced a lot of us out of the office and in front of a webcam and microphone. Since the chances are you’ll be doing more video, you might as well look and sound as good as you can!
I had the pleasure to attend the International Food Technologists 2017 show in Las Vegas this week, thanks to our client Meduri Farms, who set up their 20×20 custom island booth for the second time. In walking the floor, I ran across a lot of fun exhibits that should be highlighted for one reason or another. So, let’s jump into another edition of TradeshowGuy Exhibit Awards – the #IFT17 Version! Let’s start with a look at the Meduri Farms booth, just because, well, to show off the exhibit:
Best Client Representation: Meduri Farms
It’s a custom 20×20 island designed by Greg Garrett Designs and fabricated by Classic Exhibits. Private meeting area, generous sampling and product display areas, and a nearly 16′ tall center tower that draws eyeballs from halfway across the floor:
Best “Booth-In-A-Box:” Ardent Farms
There’s no easy way to view this exhibit in a single photo, so I’ll include a couple. Ardent Mills, of Denver, Colorado, simply drove in a trailer from an 18-wheeler, complete with kitchen and fold-down serving areas. Throw in some seating areas and signage and voila – you have a classy exhibit:
Best Exhibit Using Stuff We Build: International Paper
Nothing quite like showing off your stuff by having a booth built out of the stuff that you sell. In this case, International Paper bills themselves as one of the leading producers of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper. So of course many of their booth elements were created using corrugated cardboard and related materials. Especially eye-catching: the custom charging table built from corrugated material:
Simplest and Most Effective Backdrop: Bulk Supplements.com
Simple like being able to read and understand a billboard a 65 MPH. I spoke with Keven, the owner, and he said his purpose was to communicate what the company does loudly and simply. And that exactly what this 20′ wide back drop does, very effectively.
Best Use of Grape Balloons: Welch’s
Well, it may be the only use of grape balloons, but in this case, they caught my eye from a good three aisle over. A great way to stand out from the crowd, indeed:
The “Let’s Get Their Attention NOW!” Exhibit: S&D Coffee and Tea
This large hanging sign close to one of the main entrances was designed to capture your eyeballs within a second or two – and it worked. The juxtaposition of the woman in a stocking cap with gloves, the “COLD BRRRRRRREW” statement and the experience of visitors walking in from the 105-degree Las Vegas heat drew a crowd.
Best Branding from Top to Bottom: Morton Salt
You could quibble on this award as there were a lot of exhibits at IFT that were exceptionally executed from communicating a brand. But Morton’s booth was well-thought out from side-to-side and top-to-bottom, down to the display of the different types of salts that you could actually put your hands on and feel and touch. Even the conference room had great information to communicate.
Best BluePrint for Ingredients and Innovation: Watson
From Connecticut, Watson Inc diagrams and displays more information than most people will bother to stop and read. But maybe that’s the point: the graphic design, displayed as if it were a blueprint, showcases information from infant formula to pet foods and leaves us impressed with the depth and breadth of their reach – all in a two-story exhibit that had plenty of room for meetings, storage and product display:
Best Use of Really Large Test-Tube Like Displays: Alquimia USA
More than eye-catching, this row of some 16 grains, beans, seeds and more also created a unique wall-off side of the booth.
And finally, a double/shared award to…
Best Use of the Periodoc Table: Asenzya and Land O’ Lakes
There may have been other uses of the periodic table of elements, but these two companies used the table to great effect, so show off the flavor elements and the seasons ingredients respectively. It’s a lot to digest (no pun intended), but great fun to take a look and see how they plotted out the display. Well done!
A couple of other observations from walking the floor…
There were a LOT of big monitors at the show, on the order of 60″ to 72″. Some exhibits had several of them. In speaking with on exhibitor, I suggested that in his next version of the video, that he added closed-captioning, since the ambient noise on the show floor made it nearly impossible to understand what was being said. “Good idea!”
I ran across a few exhibitors touting Virtual Reality: sit down, put a headset on and enjoy some virtual reality – mainly a quick interactive look at a company’s production process. Frankly, I’m still waiting to be impressed with VR at a tradsehow. Having said that, I’ve only tried it a few times, so no doubt someone is ready with a really good VR experience somewhere. I watched some people sit down, try the headset on while wearing glasses (didn’t work for them, didn’t work for me, either), and then go through the experience. If you wear glasses, taking them off to slip the headset on means that things are not clear and sharp, although it didn’t keep me from comprehending what was going on. The best ones are those that show off the company’s production process, or give a tour through a field or something related to the company. But with more and more VR coming to tradeshows, they’re going to have to step up with a great experience, or it’ll be hard to justify the use of VR headsets and the accompanying cost of creating the program.
I really liked the larger 20′ wide center aisles that were spread in a few places on the floor, complete with park benches. A nice place to grab a quick respite from walking and talking without having to leave the hall:
I love a good discussion where I come away with more information than I had at the beginning. That’s what happened with the 20-minute webinar discussion I had with Dave Beck of Foundry45, a company that creates content for virtual reality viewing. Virtual reality can be used in a number of ways, and content can be created from many different angles and for many different reasons.
First things first: I’m not an expert on virtual reality at tradeshows, known as VR! But there’s a lot of information out there which I’ve absorbed along with some observations on using technology in a tradeshow, so I thought it would be fun to explore the topic from the perspective of using VR at tradeshows as an attractor.
In a recent conversation with Jennifer Liu with Hyland’s Homeopathic, a long time client and an attendee at Natural Products Expo East, she mentioned that there were a handful of exhibitors there using VR in their booth.
My first question when it comes to using VR, or any video in a tradeshow is this: what is your content? After all, content is everything. Without the right content, you might as well forget it.
Apparently the content at one of the booths involved spacious outdoors and action video: glaciers, mountains, beaches, and so forth. The idea was for the viewer to experience the full spectrum of virtual reality, regardless of the relationship that content had to the exhibitor’s product or service.
If you’re going to invite people into an engaging and intimate experience using VR in your booth, it would seem to me that you’d want to make some sort of connection between the experience and your product or service. If you’re a company that provides outdoor climbing or hiking gear, for instance, having 360 VR video of hiking or climbing would make sense. But if you produce chocolate bars or headphones, you’d have to ask yourself how that VR experience of hiking or climbing would relate. And while you might be able to find at least a tenuous connection, the stronger the connection, the better.
Starting Up with VR
In Foundry 45’s blog, there’s a discussion of the first step of creating content for VR. Record a bunch of video with the right cameras! This post discusses how to approach using VR for a tradeshow. Without spending a lot of time quoting the article, their advice is sound: do a dry run before the show, be prepared to help newbies, create a safe VR zone, use good sanitation techniques for the headsets, and so on.
When it comes to how people experience VR, the headset is one item you’ll need to decide on. Wareable has a recent rundown of several sets, including Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, HTC Vive, Gear VR and others. These range in price from about $100 to nearly a thousand bucks. And of course there’s Google Cardboard for just $16.99. And where do you have visitors sit? You might want to give them comfy auto-race car type seats which hold them comfortably and safely while they zoom around a virtual world. You might check out the Roto Interactive Virtual Reality Chair. No doubt it would give you a line of people waiting to get into your booth!
Whether you choose to incorporate VR into your exhibit now or not – or just wait and see, it’s safe to say more and more exhibitors will step into the VR world as time goes by. If you do consider it, make sure it’s a good fit for your product or service, and make sure you have content that is a good match to keep visitors engaged and learn about what your company can do for them.
Setting up a virtual tradeshow website for your tradeshow appearance is as easy as setting up a new website. Mainly because that’s exactly what it is. While I’ve seen a number of ways to do it, having a blog platform for your virtual tradeshow gives you the most control and flexibility.
There are some platforms that allow you to set up an virtual ‘booth’ which looks graphically much like a booth, replete with branding, graphics, aisles, floor sections and more. The trouble is, it looks like a website from 1998.
With a WordPress blog platform, you can customize it to no end and maintain total control over the process, look and feel and content.
So why set up a blog that’s specific to a single show appearance? Because you can funnel lots of eyeballs there, and once those eyeballs arrive, you can drive them to other useful things, such as opting into email lists, downloading branded white papers, ‘liking’ your Facebook page or more.
A well-built site that’s specific to a show will be packed with content. Some of that content would optimally be posted before the show to prep the world to the site. While this would be very useful for search engines, it is also a prime opportunity to invite your current clients and newsletter subscribers to check it out. Once the show is underway, have a plan to post videos, articles, interviews, photos and more on the site. Make it a place for people to find general information about the show, and specific information about your products and services and company.
Even though you have the virtual tradeshow website, don’t forget about Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter. Use those outlets to inform the wider population by the use of hashtags (Twitter), keywords (YouTube and Flickr) and ongoing conversation (Facebook). Those social media platforms will help raise awareness and drive traffic to your main site, even though much of the content is the same.
Two recent examples of the use of virtual tradeshow websites come to mind: the site set up for Osram Opto Semiconductor for Lightfair and the site put up by Griffin Technologies for their appearance at CES in 2010. Both were quite successful, and should be used as models for how to set up your own virtual tradeshow website.
So, the short list:
Set up a blog that focuses on one event
Register a domain and create a name for the blog that describes your company and appearance at the show
Create some content before the show, mainly teaser material
Post obsessively during the show: videos, articles, photos, interviews, product reviews, testimonials, booth guest schedules, demo schedules, etc.
Post much of the same material to Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, using keywords, show and company hashtags, links back to your site.
After the show, continue to post updated material or video and information from the show for at least a couple of months. It’ll help keep the site high in the search engines. Plus, if you can keep material dripping onto the site for the rest of the year until the next show, it’s a great set-up for the next year.
Your payback for your time and energy will be much more visibility and a unique record of all the materials you took and archived at the show.
I’ve seen virtual tradeshow platforms before and have been mildly impressed. But after spending twenty minutes getting a tour of Social27’s new virtual tradeshow / event platform, it appears to be a substantial entry in to the virtual tradeshow world.
Want to bring your LinkedIn profile in so that you don’t have to re-create a new profile? Done.
Want to send a quick tweet out or post to Facebook while attending the virtual event? Easy to do.
Want to watch a keynote speech on video? Check the theatre, sit back and watch.
Want to connect instantly with other attendees via instant chat, or send a quick email to a speaker or event exhibitor? Not a problem.
While attending virtual events rarely comes up on my calendar, it’s not an uncommon thing to hear about in today’s economically-challenged event world. With companies looking for ways to cuts costs – and event organizers looking for a way to engage people that may choose not to attend, a platform such as the one offered by Social27 deserves a close look.
The company was formed in 2007 by two former Microsoft employees, Ike & Bally Singh Kehal, so it only seems natural that Microsoft would be among the first clients for Social27. Along with the Redmond software giant, Social27 has also worked with the University of Washington. The virtual tradeshow event product is a mere six months old as of this writing, so it’s to be expected that the company may want to iron out a few bugs before a major launch.
Still, they’re making a splash: recently Social27 was winner of the Northwest MIT Enterprise Forum’s Start-up Demo in Spring of this year. The gathering is sponsored by six regional angel investment organizations, looking to highlight entrepreneurs and the next big ideas.
Social27’s event platform is aimed at a variety of virtual events, including tradeshows, conferences, training seminars and the like.
A user, once logged in, is treated with an array of tools including message walls, links to Twitter or Facebook posting areas, conversations, videos and more.
Each individual tradeshow booth is skinned with logos and links to content such as PDFs or videos, which can be from YouTube or hosted privately if needed.
Theatre offerings include the opportunity to ask questions of the presenter, post comments to a forum and meet up in a lounge to discuss the presentation.
Other items include the ability to offer incentives to greater participation by offering an ongoing point tally for various activities in the show; an event organizer has the ability to offer prizes or rewards for the highest point tallies. The system is also API-enable, giving organizers the ability to include outside applications such as wikis or blogs.
Here’s the challenge: you’re sharing a booth with a much bigger and more visible partner. How do you create buzz, build traffic and get the word out? Bring on the social media, of course! But of course there’s more to it than just sending out a few tweets and creating a Facebook page.
Tim Patterson discusses the results of a virtual tradeshow with InGenex Digital Marketing CEO Derek Mehraban (psst – lots of great ideas in this podcast!)…