Attendance at live events like trade shows and conferences has been trending down in large part due to the proliferation of Web 2.0 tools, but was also dealt a “haymaker” this year by tough economic conditions. As part of the planning committee for the ISA’s 4th Annual ISA Marketing and Sales Summit, I and the other planners were facing this reality. After reading Chris Anderson’s “Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business,” I was ready to advocate giving away as much content as possible at the summit. This article discusses how we did that and what the early returns look like.
I participated in a Social Media Round Table panel on Sep-11 at the 4th Annual ISA Marketing and Sales Summit. The panel included the following:
- Shari Worthington (moderator) – President of Telesian Technology.
- Brian Halligan – CEO and co-founder of Hubspot
- Catherin Derkosh – Marketing and Communications Manager at Siemens Energy & Automation
- Walt Boyes – Editor in Chief, CONTROL Magazine, and Principal, Spitzer and Boyes
- Juliann Grant – Vice President, Telesian Technology
- Gary Mintchell – Editor in Chief, Automation World Magazine
You can listen to the two hour discussion or read the chat transcipt on the Summit’s Posterous page, but this article not about the round table itself. Rather, is about the format of the discussion and how the technology allowed us to turn a conference round table into a true social media discussion. While Twitter is becoming more common at conferences and increasing the scope and quality of conversations at these events, the technology itself is still limited:
- Messages are limited to 140 characters
- Typing on a small mobile device takes attention away from the presentations
- Uploading media (pictures, videos) can take a long time
- Sensory information is limited (i.e. no sound, limited visuals)
The game-change for this round table was the use of web casting using a freemium service called DimDim. Using web conferencing for a panel discussion is not in and of itself a new concept. However, the combination of four powerful features is something that is not at all common and results in a terrific experience for everyone involved; live video and audio, desktop/presentation sharing, live Internet chat, and archiving capability.
Best of Both Worlds: Video and Desktop
Until recently, you had to choose whether audiences would see a desktop or video. Now, services like DimDim (and more recently WebEx) allow both simultaneously. When you are able to see the speaker(s) and the presentation slides at the same time, the experience is dramatically improved.
Open Invitation: Chat
While the combination of broadcasting video and slides together improves the experience for the audience, adding to that an Internet chat feature improves the experience of the presenter(s) and live audience. When integrated into the talk, online participants are able to share ideas and ask questions. During our panel, this became so interesting and effective that I actually put the live chat up on the screen for the live audience to be able to follow along real time. It was the liveliest and most interesting conference session I’ve ever been involved with – either as a presenter or attendee – not to mention the most fun!
“Keep it secret. Keep it safe.” Not anymore!
The finishing technological touch to the summit was the archiving of these webcasts and their transcripts as well as a “live blog” of content using Posterous. Conferences have traditionally taken the approach of hiding and protecting the content from the sessions as a way to ensure that the attendees “get what they paid for,” and that the value is not marginalized by giving it away after. I have to confess that I was concerned about this as well. Having said that, we are entering a business world that increasingly understands that “information wants to be free” and that the real value of live events is in the opportunity to network and interact with people face to face. One need look no further than the TED conference for proof. All of these truly world class presentations are given away for free, yet attendance at the conference is growing rapidly along with its popularity and prestige.
Not a full business day has passed since the conclusion of the summit, but there are already signs that some of the technologies employed dramatically improved the overall effectiveness of the event:
- Posting event notifications and invitatins to LinkedIn generated awareness and resulted in several additional attendees.
- Using Twitter for real-time notifications increased awareness of last minute changes to schedules and broadcasts.
- Sending content to Posterous made it easy and efficient to record and disseminate information to multiple social networks (Twitter, Facebook, blog). There were over 200 uniqute visits during the two days of the summit.
- Webcasting events via DimDim increased participation and awareness, hopefully leading to higher attendance at future events.
- Integrating Twitter and Internet chat into the discussions significantly improved the quality of the experience for presenters and attendees alike.
Oh yeah, one last thing before I forget. Did I mention this was all free?