The outbreak of the coronavirus caused the Ohio Safety Congress (OSC) to cancel its annual event in March at the “last minute,” but they were able to deliver a first-ever online conference right on schedule. The reason, whether through luck or planning, was that it had already decided to run an online event concurrently with its live conference with the help of Digitell, Inc. months before.
Digitell helped organizers during the OSC 2020 online conference record speakers who looked out towards empty rooms at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
According to James Parker, Digitell’s president and founder, this is not the most practical solution for events that have to be canceled with little lead time.
“We have a very successful model,” he said. “That model is a hybrid model based on live streaming. For those whose events have been canceled, we use the exact same model we use when we live stream, but we don’t tell them to live stream…
“You might have one live recording with a virtual moderator next to the stage taking questions or use one room for the live recording, but that’s it. For all the other sessions, we get on Zoom with them [the presenters] and record them through Zoom or even audio and Power Point…
“It’s not ideal,” he said, “but it’s ideal for where we are today…we have teams of people with banks of computers, and we can help them record many, many sessions in a day.”
After the speakers are recorded and put online into a catalog, the virtual conference “…syncs up in minutes.”
Whether it’s all presented live or spread out over a year, most organizers also use Digitell’s event platform which includes streaming, a question box, live chat, virtual tech support and a host of other features for organizers.
Besides Digitell , INXPO, MediaSite and On24 are companies in the video production and live streaming space that are adjusting to the realities of having to host events completely online when they do not occupy any physical space at all. Companies have been working around the clock to see that their clients’ important information still gets out.
Other companies whose business is firmly rooted in having live physical events taking place are having to quickly adjust to realities imposed by the coronavirus. This includes PSVA and Freeman, the big exhibition company with offices around the world.
Freeman’s CEO Bob Priest-Heck said in a March 5, 2020 webinar that hybrid events are not new, and “I’ve been looking for this since the 1990s…” Freeman has made significant investments in digital services to support clients’ live events.
So when in response to the coronavirus a client declared: “No sessions will take place in the Hynes Convention Center…” a few days before the conference as it did for the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in early March, Freeman was ready to help them switch to an online event.
According to Ken Holsinger, SVP Data Solutions, Freeman has developed extensive digital services and products for online events but getting hundreds of speaker presentations ready for a virtual conference “…is more about logistics than software…”. Fortunately, Freeman had “…an army of people who do logistics every day.”
It is an important conference. In addition to its previously scheduled content, organizers held a timely session with information on the COVID-19 epidemic that included a virtual presentation by NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
“Is this the new normal?” Holsinger wondered.
“No one wants that,” concluded Parker from Digtiell. “Once meetings start back up, I have unanimously heard from people that events should add live streaming. It solves lots of problems when there is a cancellation of the physical event.”
In the meantime, keeping all the stakeholders pleased – especially exhibitors – is especially challenging in an online only environment.
Holsinger said Freeman has digital partners exhibitors can use, and an online event can still serve as a way for exhibitors to generate leads.
“If you need a match-making service for your event, that’s where Fuzion comes in,” he said. Fuzion is Freeman’s platform that lets event organizers take advantage of a marketplace of apps from other vendors to solve a wide-variety of mission critical tasks. It shares data among apps and the main dashboard.
Despite these and other advances available for producing online events, planners and many companies scrambling to serve them look forward to the day when face-to-face events return.