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Behind the Design of Virtual Expo! Expo! 2020, Part 2

Read part two of Behind the Design of Virtual Expo! Expo! 2020 for a behind-the-scenes look into the planning process of producing a virtual event from the organizers of #ExpoExpo.

By Mary Tucker

IAEE’s recent webinar, Post EXPO! EXPO! Case Study: A Recap on The Creation & Delivery of Education Content, featured IAEE Vice President of Learning Experiences Marsha Flanagan, M.Ed. joined by Carrie Ferenac, Co-Founder and President of CNTV, and John Cuthbertson, Director of Solutions for SmartSource discussing the educational content considerations taken when transitioning Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition scheduled for 8-10 December 2020 in Louisville, KY from an in-person event to a virtual event.

The webinar explores the various strategies show organizers can apply when creating the education component of their hybrid/virtual event. Whether the event is big or small, there are ways to maximize the attendee journey depending on the structure of the provider platform and its integration with the overall show objectives (more information about this can also be found in part one). Here, Flanagan discusses a few key takeaways from the hour-long webinar.

When it comes to designing a hybrid/virtual event, a crucial starting point is to determine your strategy before selecting partners. The next step is selecting the correct partners and determining how they will work together to deliver the best attendee experience. In the case of Expo! Expo!, the virtual event had to be adapted to meet partner agreements that were already in place for the originally planned in-person event.

“In that regard, we were working a little bit backwards in the planning process due to the unforeseeable set of circumstances presented by COVID,” notes Flanagan. “Now that we are able to work in the correct order of operations, so to speak, we are able to apply lessons from last year’s learning curve. One of those is to be sure to focus on the strengths of each provider to ensure you are picking the right tool for the objective you are trying to achieve. In order to do that, show organizers must be very thorough in determining the opportunities and limitations applicable to each provider.”

When it comes to the education component, another early determination the organizer will need to make is whether to present content in live versus recorded format. In the case of Expo! Expo!, education sessions incorporated a mix of the two. All sessions featured a pre-recorded 20-minute livestreamed presentation by the speaker/facilitator followed by a moderated 20-minute Q&A session in which attendees could submit their questions via chat and the presenter provided answers in real time.

“This format created an interesting challenge in that speakers had to hone their content to compact, yet impactful, presentations to deliver the same type of ‘a-ha’ learning experience attendees are accustomed to with our in-person Expo! Expo! without the ‘screen fatigue’ that can occur with the hybrid/virtual format,” comments Flanagan.

This consideration led IAEE to making certain decisions regarding the “feel” of the education programming, which is another essential and early part of what show organizers will need to determine when painting the bigger picture of their hybrid/virtual event. For example, IAEE’s education team made the decision not to use a standardized background for the education sessions for a very specific reason. The team wanted the sessions to feel more authentic, so instead chose a branded surround package that was used with each session.

“We knew our attendees, predominantly show organizers, had been thrown a very unexpected curve ball with the transition to hybrid/virtual and that COVID fatigue was especially present in every aspect of how they tackled their own events,” explains Flanagan. “We also understood that our attendees deeply missed being able to connect with their colleagues as they normally would at the show. After all, one of the most anticipated benefits that Expo! Expo! attendees look forward to each year is that it’s the show for them, as opposed to their show. Because of all that, we really wanted to give the sessions a ‘family feel’ by showing presenters in their own spaces as opposed to a uniform background, session after session.

“The overwhelming response from attendees was a deep appreciation for that personal touch. While this may not apply to all shows – there are so many elements that factor into each decision made for each show – in the case of Expo! Expo!, it was a successful approach. This is also the reasoning behind the BUZZ community sessions in which attendees could Zoom with each other in real time.”

Take an in-depth look at how IAEE, CNTV and SmartSource worked together to deliver a comprehensive and interactive education program to Expo! Expo! attendees by viewing the Post EXPO! EXPO! Case Study: A Recap on The Creation & Delivery of Education Content webinar.

In looking ahead, Flanagan follows statistical data and research provided by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) through its Global Virtual Event Trends series. “We’re examining our results from last year’s Expo! Expo! and comparing them to the data in this series, to determine the best steps to take as we plan our hybrid event for 2021. The first report provided a lot of insight into content presentation, which we are factoring into our planning process,” she adds.

(Click here to download the first report at no cost.)

Sharpen your professional skills every Thursday with IAEE’s webinar series. Presentations can also be revisited through IAEE’s on-demand webinar recordings library.

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