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The (virtual) show must go on

Experiment with live streaming apps and hybrid event formats to mitigate Covid-19 fallout.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been an uptick in virtual meetings. This week, Salesforce World Tour Sydney, an annual conference that usually attracts thousands of tech leaders from APAC, was transformed into an entirely virtual experience; and Messe Berlin launched a new content streaming platform, ITB Virtual Convention, after cancelling its ITB shows in Berlin, Shanghai and Mumbai.

Earlier this month, William Reed, the company behind Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, recently announced that its annual gala, due to take place in Japan’s Saga Prefecture on 24 March, will now be streamed as a virtual awards ceremony.

As the global business events industry grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus, Yusno Yunos, CEO of event tech consultancy Evenesis, says now the time for event planners to start exploring virtual event formats.

With the current advances in technology, there’s no shortage of online event solutions for planners. Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions study, identified Zoom, LogMeIn and Cisco as the top providers, offering a combination of live streaming, multiparty video feeds, security, and meetings support.

Zoom has become a highly popular live conferencing solution that easily integrates applications such as document sharing and live audience polling, enabling event planners to create enhanced experiences for remote audiences.

Meanwhile, LogMeIn offers various tools to run meetings, webinars, and conferences on a much larger scale. It also has an extensive partner network, giving users more third-party options to integrate with.

With a well-established product range, Cisco’s strengths lie in its ability to cater to the regulatory requirements of niche industries such as healthcare and finance.

Consider starting small

Many event solutions providers offer tiered packages with free plans and Yunos encourages event planners to explore these options.

This is exactly the strategy adopted by Uzaidi Udanis, president of the Malaysia Tourism Council, who is debuting an e-Travel Fair, a virtual marketplace to sell travel packages this month. The online event, slated for 15 to 30 March, is in response to travel fears and also to stimulate domestic tourism.

“Due to time and budget constraints, I’m just utilising basic applications such as Facebook Live to push out the event urgently.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Dee Dee Quah, director of Medical Conference Partners, uses Zoom’s premium technology to deliver live surgical demonstrations from remote locations.

“In this line, I must be discerning of the technology, and I rely on the IT teams to deliver the AV quality that I want. They are also familiar with the specific protocols required in the surgery room.”

In response to the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress, network security solutions company, Allot, launched its own Allot Mobile Virtual Conference in which users could “walk through” a 3D environment and experience online demo tours, live-streaming of product presentations and virtual meetings.

Despite the elaborate setup, Allot utilised commonly-used tools to ensure users had a familiar and welcoming experience.

Vered Zur, Allot vice president of marketing, says: “The live streaming was built around YouTube while the one-on-one meetings used a live chat platform — we felt if the user did not yet have a relevant conferencing solution installed, then setting up a conferencing tool on their end could be frustrating… Both were a success with relevant traffic.”

Flexible options for an enhanced experience

Hybrid events, which combine online content delivery with a live, face-to-face component, are another option.

This is where solutions such as Interprefy can enhance the reach of online events by providing remote, simultaneous interpretation to multilingual audiences worldwide.

Richard Roocroft, general manager of Interprefy Asia Pacific & Japan, says: “We partner with NTT who use platforms such as BlueJeans, Zoom and WebEx who have video conferencing and live streaming capabilities, then we add a layer of remote interpretation to help remove language barriers.”

Speaking to Biz Events Asia, Roocroft says that during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the Interprefy solution was utilised to deliver Mandarin-language content online to Chinese delegates who were unable to attend a live conference in Sydney.

Other bespoke solutions include applications such as Evenesis Biz Matching, which can facilitate networking on virtual conference tools such as Zoom or Skype.

For a multi-hub panel discussion, a virtual chat room and Q&A session can be set-up by integrating Pigeonhole Live or Slido applications into the live streaming platform. 

Weighing up the costs

While there is a perception that live streaming tech can eat away at the event budget, Evenesis’ Yunos says there is a wide choice of apps available to suit all budgets.

“The important thing is to get everyone in the event ecosystem to adopt and be comfortable with the use of technology, explore the options and costs, and overcome any resistance.”

Event professionals are confident in the belief that business is based on human connection, and that online video formats will not replace face-to-face meetings. But, for now, a virtual handshake will have to suffice.