Value Event Partners — Just as you would for a traditional in-person event, partnering with the right vendors can be the key to success for a live virtual event. Make sure you do your research and look for a partner who is an expert in virtual events or live productions. Think of your live virtual event as a live TV special — plan for the technology and hardware — microphones, cameras, lighting and sound equipment — needed to ensure that the event runs smoothly.
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 Kim Smith, Director of Global Events at Saviynt.
Kim Smith is a dynamic marketing and events professional with a passion for bringing ideas to life. She holds over 15 years of strategic event management experience and has achieved her industry-leading Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) certification through the Events Industry Council.
Kim began her event management career in Washington, DC, working in the technology space for Tandberg, Cisco, Verisign, and GTSI. She expanded her breadth of industries upon moving to California, giving her exposure to various client brands, strategic goals, and the opportunity to collaborate with an interdisciplinary group of clients and vendors.
As Director of Global Events at Saviynt — the leading identity governance platform built for the cloud — Kim holds a key role in its strategic marketing initiatives and is a significant lead generation driver. Kim joined Saviynt in June 2019, taking on the responsibility of producing the company’s annual CONVERGE conferences in the Americas and EMEA, along with industry trade shows, regional events, internal recognition programs, and more.
After growing up in Northern Virginia, Kim obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and then made her way to sunny California. She enjoys playing beach volleyball, snowboarding, concerts, hiking, traveling the world, and spending time with friends and family.
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”?
Absolutely. Thank you for this opportunity to share my story with your readers. Although my family roots are originally from Kentucky, my father was transferred to DC when I was only three. Our family picked up and moved to Fairfax, VA, where they still reside today. I have one older brother who was the best at every sport to play, and naturally, I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I spent most of my youth at practices or traveling for various sports, but oddly enough, my parents were not exactly the athletic enthusiasts that my brother and I were. They are both tremendous musicians, and we often joke about where we got the athletic gene.
Looking back at my childhood, I believe I got my love for entertaining and bringing people together through events from my parents. They have always been incredible entertainers. They could whip together a party, gourmet meal, and fabulous decorations in no time flat. An elegant dinner for six or a lively cocktail party for sixty seemed effortless. I am also amazed that they somehow always had enough china and glassware for all the guests. My Dad had a passion for floral arrangements and has planned many weddings, retirement celebrations, and momentous birthdays. This was not his “day job,” but he always loved creating beautiful memories and celebrations for friends and family. My parents still love hosting, just on a much smaller scale these days.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I enjoy sharing this story because I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a career that I am passionate about and continue to love more and more as I grow.
In high school, I occasionally worked for my friend’s mom (Donna Cramsey), who owned Pizazz Ltd., an event planning company in the Washington DC area. Standing at no more than 4’11,” Donna fearlessly orchestrated some of the most brilliant galas in DC. From holiday parties for Laura Bush to the annual Washington Mardi Gras festivities, I would always jump at the opportunity to learn the intricacies of what went into putting on these meaningful events. I fell in love with the excitement and creativity that went into the planning stage, followed by the thrill of being onsite and seeing it all come to life. Even today, I can’t believe I had the opportunity to host events in some of the most notable historical buildings, such as the Library of Congress, the Rayburn House, the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum (DAR), and many lavish establishments on Embassy Row.
When I entered college at the University of Georgia, I had no idea that building a career in the events industry was an option. I earned my degree in Health Promotion and Education but wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do in that field.
Not long after graduation, I moved back to the DC area and overheard a friend mention his technology company was looking to hire an event specialist. I jumped at the opportunity to apply, and the rest is history.
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?
Wow, where to begin? I quickly learned that you must keep a sense of humor in this field if you want to survive. With so many moving parts, I find that the ability to improvise and “roll-with-it” is critical to keeping your sanity.
I still crack-up when I think back to when I forgot to order the plants at my first trade show. It typically would not have been a big deal, except they served the key purpose of hiding messy wiring and cables that made the booth look very unfinished. It was too late to purchase plants, so I grabbed a pair of scissors and ran to the parking lot where I remembered seeing beautiful fountain grass. I chopped a few handfuls, used the fancy silver Kleenex box cover from my hotel room as the vase, and placed them in our booth. No one knew my little secret, but I learned to be resourceful with what I had around me. I also never forgot to order the plants again.
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?
The film that immediately pops into my mind tells Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story and her struggles for equal rights in the film, “On the Basis of Sex.” Her extraordinary accomplishments and persistent fight for equality made a tremendous impact on me, but I also understand that I will never know the doors she helped open for me or the positive impact her actions made on my life. She did make me realize that taking action in the circumstances you believe strongly in, no matter how big or small, can create positive change and help open doors for others that I might not even know.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Two of my dear college friends sent me a care package a while back that included a notepad of inspirational quotes. I still use it daily.
I have several quotes that hit home, but one of my favorites is by Maya Angelou: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
I find this very empowering on both the micro and macro levels. Ultimately this is an everyday reminder that I control my own happiness and fulfillment through my reactions. Especially working in events, which always have challenges. In the broader picture, it reminds me that complaining and negativity will get me nowhere. I either find the positives or take action to make a change. I am mindful that creating events at Saviynt often provides the platform to impact others positively, and I am thankful for the opportunity to do so.
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?
As Director of Global Events at Saviynt, I am responsible for producing the company’s annual CONVERGE conferences in the Americas and EMEA, along with multiple other industry trade shows and regional events throughout the year. In the past, CONVERGE has been a traditional in-person conference where I have had to plan and coordinate traditional conference activities, like booking the space, working with executives on the conference agenda and keynote speeches, planning cocktail hours and networking sessions. However, with the COVID-19 restrictions, I have had to reinvent our traditional approach to events while adapting to create engaging and compelling new virtual experiences that connect a global audience within the identity and security space.
I am also active and involved with local, national, and international event industry associations where I have been able to connect with innovative vendors, creative spaces, and the latest technologies to continuously create fresh and unique experiences that make an impact for all of Saviynt’s event attendees.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
As with many other organizations, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic threw us a curveball and I was charged with planning Saviynt’s biggest customer event of the year in a virtual format. This was the first completely live, completely virtual event I planned for Saviynt. However, I was able to pull knowledge from my past work experiences, so I was aware of what we needed from a technical standpoint in order to pull-off a virtual event — reliable video conferencing technology, Wi-Fi-bandwidth, backup internet, backup electricity and awareness around security protocols and standards. This knowledge set us up for success when planning CONVERGE — especially after we decided to make the event 100% live — because I was able to guide the team and prioritize the video-conferencing tools and other technical aspects needed to make a live-virtual event possible.
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?
Ahead of planning CONVERGE, I spent a lot of time experiencing other virtual events hosted by organizations both inside and outside of the security industry. Through this, I was able to learn a lot about what I wanted to replicate for Saviynt’s own events.
After joining these events I knew that I needed to look for event partners who either had years of experience producing virtual events, or had recently made a swift and successful transition to the online event experience — for me, this was new territory and I wanted to make sure the partners we worked with were knowledgeable and could aid in our success. Our partners, Marcus White and MCW Events, The Event Nerd, and our host, Daniel Slocki were able to help us build the infrastructure needed to put on a high-quality production that kept attendees engaged at every point in the conference, from executive keynotes to break time with our spectacular DJ, DJ Tessa.
We also took a note from Microsoft around how we crafted the format for some of our keynote sessions — making them more of an interactive Q&A versus a straight speech to camera. This ended up working really well, and we had more questions and attendee interaction than originally anticipated.
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 planning for the virtual CONVERGE conference I spent a lot of time learning from other organizations’ success and mistakes. One thing we knew that we wanted to do very early on was to make CONVERGE a completely live event. Most events that I attended were said to be live but had pre-recorded elements. To me, the pre-recorded sessions fell flat and were disengaging, therefore we wanted to do everything we could to keep CONVERGE live 100% of the time.
One major thing that I would suggest to anyone planning a live virtual event is to plan for mistakes and technical difficulties. If the move to remote and virtual workplaces has taught us anything, it is that mistakes and life can get in the way of a virtual meeting. Even though CONVERGE was a large-scale event, not just a video-call, we really wanted to create a home-like atmosphere to embrace the fact that all attendees would be joining from their homes. Therefore we were upfront about anticipating technical issues and/or delays. Thankfully, we had backup Wi-Fi, electricity and there were no issues during the broadcast, but it was reassuring to know that we were transparent with attendees and they were aware and prepared in case a technical issue did arise.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
For the CONVERGE conference, we made it a priority to find a virtual platform that was super simple for attendees to use. We wanted to use a service where anyone could log-on with one click — we didn’t want them to have to worry about downloading yet another virtual conferencing software or having to create another login. Therefore, we used the virtual event platform SpotMe and had great success with it. Another platform I really liked for its ease of use and simplicity is Hopin.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
It is very important to remember your audience and what type of platform they would like to use when planning a virtual event. For CONVERGE, our audience was mainly C- suite level executives who were really looking forward to the sessions that were being presented. For a virtual conference that has more of a show-floor feel, Vfairs is a super cool platform where attendees create an avatar and experience a simulation of a real-life conference.
You also shouldn’t forget about platforms like Zoom or Teams, they are reliable and comfortable for the user. These solutions are great to use when hosting breakout rooms or as an add-on to another virtual platform.
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.)
Running a completely live virtual event is not an easy feat. However, the benefits of virtual events far outweigh the challenges — my team saw an 135% increase in attendance from our in-person 2019 event and we saw significant growth in engagement from attendees, even during speaking breaks. Moving forward, I believe that all corporate events will have virtual elements built into the agenda because of the ability to capture the attention of a larger audience than ever before. Therefore, I believe there are five things that every event organizer should keep in mind in order to run a successful event.
1.) Take a Realistic Approach
Before beginning to make set plans, make sure you are taking a step back and have an understanding of what is realistic for you and your organization. As the whole world shifted to remote work earlier this year, I knew that I would have to make drastic changes to Saviynt’s event plans and the CONVERGE conference. At first, I was overwhelmed but after some time I understood that I had to approach planning a live virtual event just as I would an in-person event — by asking myself what can we realistically achieve? What are our goals for the event and what can the events team do to make a live virtual event possible?
2.) Change Your Mindset
For many of us who plan in-person events for our organization, being forced to change plans this year was frustrating, stressful and even overwhelming. However, I found that in order to be successful, I had to switch my mindset. I had to change my thinking and accept that I couldn’t take what we would typically do for an in-person customer conference and simply translate that into a virtual format. My team and I had to start at square one and really look at the situation as an opportunity to create a new type of conference experience. Once we shifted our mindset, we were able to look at this opportunity with a new perspective — for us, this meant thinking of the virtual conference as a live, interactive event that you would watch on TV, a conference with the goal of entertaining and engaging with every attendee.
3.) Value Event Partners
Just as you would for a traditional in-person event, partnering with the right vendors can be the key to success for a live virtual event. Make sure you do your research and look for a partner who is an expert in virtual events or live productions. Think of your live virtual event as a live TV special — plan for the technology and hardware — microphones, cameras, lighting and sound equipment — needed to ensure that the event runs smoothly.
Remember that because the event is virtual you don’t have the atmosphere and energy of the other attendees to keep people interested and entertained. For Saviynt, we knew keeping folks engaged when watching a virtual conference would be a huge challenge. Therefore, we worked with an MC who was a professional entertainer — not someone internal from the company — who brought levity and laughs to every keynote and breakout session. With the help of these partners, we were able to host a very successful, 100% live virtual event.
4.) Practice Makes Perfect
As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” When planning a virtual live event for the first time it is important to set aside time to not only practice for the big event but also test out the technology in smaller event settings. For Saviynt, we scheduled a number of live webcasts ahead of our CONVERGE conference. This allowed us to test out our technology — the virtual meeting platform, Wi-Fi and cameras — in advance of the big event. Through this exercise, we were also made aware of minor details that actually made a big difference during the CONVERGE conference but might have been overlooked had we not had these webcasts as practices.
For example, we knew that we wanted to feature Saviynt’s office space at the CONVERGE conference — we wanted to welcome our customers into our “home” since they would be joining the conference live from their own homes. However, this meant that we needed to ensure the environment, specifically the lighting, would be right during different times of the day since CONVERGE would be an all-day event. Because we hosted each regional webinar at a different time of the day, we were able to identify what part of the office had the best light at what time.
In addition to testing the technology and venue ahead of the event, we made sure to plan for a number of practice-runs of the CONVERGE keynotes in the days before the conference. Since the event was completely live, we wanted to make sure each keynote speaker was comfortable with their presentations and interacting with the camera.
5.) Have Backups
As with any live event, when planning a live virtual event, you must plan for things to go wrong. Because of my previous experience working with a videoconferencing company and learning from the mistakes of other virtual conferences, I knew that in order to be successful we needed to plan for the worst and have backup electricity and Wi-Fi on hand. We had a plan B for almost every possible scenario — we even had backup moderators and speakers on stand-by in case the planned moderator could not logon to their session. We were also very transparent throughout the conference with our attendees, sharing that technical difficulties may pop-up unexpectedly and asking for their patience. Luckily, we didn’t experience any difficulties in the delays during CONVERGE, but our team felt much more comfortable knowing that these backup plans were in place.
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?
My recommendation to anyone who has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop would be to do your research. Attend as many live events as possible and make note of what you like or do not like about those events. This will guide you as you work to plan your own event. It also provides you the opportunity to learn more and experience the work of potential vendors and event partners first-hand.
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 am always in awe of events that not only bring people together physically but emotionally as well, like the Olympics. I love how those types of events evokes a feeling of togetherness for both the folks who are watching in person and those of us watching from home. I would love to be a part of something like that one day.
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 would love to have lunch with the Olympic planning committee who are planning the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board helped me develop my career and get involved in the events industry. I would love to learn more about how the city is preparing for such a large event since I am always amazed by how these organizers can plan and execute such a large and inspiring event.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.