Do a post-event splash on social media! I usually post on LinkedIn and tag speakers, take a screenshot of the event in progress, and suggest that anyone who missed the event and wants a link to the recording tag themselves in the comment section. This is a great way to generate additional leads and ensure the buzz continues from pre- to post event.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Melamed.
Sharon is a multi-award-winning Australian entrepreneur who founded business matchmaking platform, Matchboard. Fascinated by other cultures, she studied four foreign languages and lived and worked in five countries — the US, Israel, Japan, Germany and Australia — each of which provided inspiration for her startup.
Media have dubbed Sharon “The Matchmaker” as her platform has helped more than 3,500 organizations find their perfect match supplier.
Sharon holds a double honors degree from the University of Sydney, and is a former tournament Scrabble champion.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in a happy home which encouraged diversity — we hosted exchange students from different countries and debated world issues around the dinner table. My family were high achievers — my Dad an International Master in chess and child prodigy pianist, my Mom an accomplished writer — and I knew from an early age that anything was possible with focus and an open mind.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always loved bringing people together. I’ve matchmade friends, teachers, even my brother and his wife. Not to mention the hundreds of times I’ve introduced people in business over the years who I thought just might have an opportunity together. So it’s no coincidence I launched a business matchmaking platform back in 2012! It’s the B2B equivalent of a dating site.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I made such a rookie’s mistake when I started Matchboard — I forgot to check whether the domain name was taken in international markets (never dreaming the business would take off and go global!) I discovered not only were the .com and .co.uk URLs taken, but that “matchboard” was an actual word in the English language — defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “a board with a groove cut along one edge and a tongue along the other”. The learning: check in the dictionary if the company name you’re thinking of is a word (dah!), then check if the domain names are available globally!
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I loved “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins”, by world chess champion and activist, Garry Kasparov. We see more and more automation in our daily lives and, as someone who believes in the deep power of the human connection, I felt I had to learn more about the future of the human-machine relationship. I finished the book feeling inspired about how humanity can embrace AI to build a better tomorrow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“As one door closes, another one opens,” my grandmother used to say. Every time something went wrong for me over the years, I would remind myself of this to stay in a positive mindset.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?
A couple of years into Matchboard, I realized our online matchmaking platform could be extended into business matchmaking events. The concept started as a series of monthly boardroom lunches, where we’d bring together a vendor and a room full of potential clients. We matched the vendor’s target market (in terms of company size, job titles, industries) to create perfect alignment. The idea took off and we expanded from Sydney to Melbourne then London. One of the reasons vendors love our model is that we take risk around the outcome — in other words, we take a success fee if the vendor wins business from the event, enabling us to reduce our fixed fee to about half of other events companies.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Since Covid, we transitioned our in-person boardroom lunch events to live virtual lunch events. At first I was skeptical this would work, as I thought it would be hard to create the human connection and intimacy in the same way virtually. I also thought people would be overwhelmed with webinars and online events and it would be hard to stand out in the crowd and get registrations. But the opposite has happened — we’ve got more registrations, better attendance rates and more engagement than ever!
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I made a conscious decision to try to develop something original and not just replicate what others were doing. For me, it’s the events that are different that are the most memorable.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?
When I launched virtual events, I actually did a lot of research and made an extensive checklist of what can go wrong, and what the risk mitigations should be. The most common mistake is not doing a rehearsal with speakers before the event. Rehearsals invariably uncover opportunities to iron out technical issues, such as virtual backgrounds, poor audio, or user unfamiliarity with functions such as screen or video sharing. Another error is not suggesting speaker backup equipment or providing attendees with alternate participation methods — such as downloading the event app on a smart phone, if the organization’s security controls do not permit the event app to run on the desktop. These are all easy fixes with planning.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
We use Zoom, primarily because it’s so easy to use and everyone is familiar with it.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
I’d recommend a first-time event organizer explore the help library, including video tutorials, offered by event software providers like Zoom. There are lots of advanced functionalities in software platforms, but my advice would be to start basic and small — don’t try to do a large complex global webinar first go!
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes? What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
We’ve run 73 events and each one of them produces a learning. Here are my top 5 tips for live virtual events:
- Think how you can get the audience engaged with fun polls or prizes, as it’s quite frankly boring just listening to long presentations. At a recent event, we offered a bottle of champagne to the most interesting audience question, and the questions flowed as freely as the champagne!
- Don’t focus just on registrations, think about how you can maximize attendance. With Matchboard’s Virtual Events, we achieve an outstanding 86% attendance rate. This is partly attributable to our successful formula of delivering a gourmet lunch to the (home) office of each attendee (just because it’s not in person doesn’t mean we have to forego catering!) At the start of the event (we ask people to join 5 minutes before kick-off), people hold up their lunch to the camera and it becomes one of those events they tell ten people about! For those who can’t accept the lunch due to company policy, we donate 50 dollars to our charity partner. We’ve raised much-needed funds for charities suffering more than ever during Covid.
- The energy of many business events dies when they are too formal. To create energy, you almost need some off-script informality. Our virtual events are typically 15–30 senior execs, and in the five minutes before kick-off, while we’re waiting for more to join, I ask attendees to turn on their cameras and I introduce people (who perhaps are in the same city or industry) to create a networking effect.
- Record the event — there are so many reasons to do so. The event can “live on” after it ends, as you can share it with prospects or clients with a link to the recording. You may be able to slice or dice portions of it to include in your marketing. You can also re-watch to gain learnings for how to improve next time.
- Do a post-event splash on social media! I usually post on LinkedIn and tag speakers, take a screenshot of the event in progress, and suggest that anyone who missed the event and wants a link to the recording tag themselves in the comment section. This is a great way to generate additional leads and ensure the buzz continues from pre- to post event.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Once you’re clear about your target audience and objectives, think what will make your event stand out of the crowd. Maybe it’s a household brand case study or well-known speaker (we use the former strategy a lot as it can dramatically lift registrations). Or perhaps you are revealing the results of market research which attendees will be the first to hear. Tune in to some other online events to see what not to do. Practice running an event on your platform of choice with family or colleagues so you are 100% familiar with every button and feature, and have tested all the tech, from headsets to cameras. And make sure you have a good marketing strategy ready to activate once your planning is done. Bear in mind most event registrations come through email marketing so it’s important to have a good database to invite.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d love every business of every size to commit to spending half an hour a month to pro bono marketing for a charity. Not all businesses have money to donate, but there’s something every business has — a database of customers or subscribers. I started a movement in Australia called Small Business for Small Charities where we rotate to a different charity each month and give their cause a voice via our social media and newsletter. It would be great to see this idea get picked up and copied by millions of businesses around the world!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’d love to meet Reid Hoffman, the Founder of LinkedIn. Firstly to say thank you, as I would never have got where I am today without the LinkedIn platform. Secondly, I’d love his view on our matchmaking platform as a way of connecting businesses for great outcomes.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.