The right technology is crucial to both driving and capturing engagement data. Have the necessary technology to engage audiences, and most importantly — make sure they integrate with each other and your sales and marketing stack. Engagement can be captured directly through the virtual event platform or in a companion engagement app. By interacting through a second device, you preserve the “showcase” effect of the event on the main screen.
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 Peter Micciche.
Peter Micciche has served as Certain’s CEO for 10 years. He has extensive executive management and board level experience in public and private software companies. His previous roles include president of Cognos Corp (acquired by IBM); CEO of NativeMinds (now HP); and CEO of Kinecta Corp.(now Oracle).
Peter received his B.S. finance and accounting from Boston College and an M.B.A. from Suffolk University.
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”?
Sure. I grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, just down the street from Tufts University in a “triple-decker” my parents owned. My grandmother and two aunts lived on the first floor; my sister and her young family on the third floor. We lived on the middle floor. My Dad and his family were Sicilian immigrants and when tempers flared in that house — -look out! When I was 12 my father bought the local convenience market a few houses down and I worked there after school until I went off to college. Music was important in our family and I took accordion and organ lessons as a kid. I had a great youth. When I wasn’t working or playing music, I was playing sports in the street. Hard work, family and play have stayed with me to this day… And I still take every chance I get to practice, write and play music.”
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
My career is a confluence of sales, leadership and transformation. Music has been a lifelong hobby for me. While in college I worked for the largest retailer of Steinway pianos and Hammond organs in the United States. Helping people fulfill their musical dreams was incredibly rewarding and I learned that selling is really problem solving.
That early sales experience led to an opportunity after graduate school to sell software. In selling financial and ERP applications to Fortune 500 companies, I discovered that companies and careers can be transformed by solving business problems with software. The company I was working for was acquired by GE. Working for an entrepreneurial software company in the GE family gave me an early education in how large companies solve large problems and exposed me to a deeper understanding of leadership.
Later my experience in business intelligence software helped me understand data and analytics can act as key lever for large company competitiveness. Those business advantages form data shaped how I view the events industry. My early events industry experience revealed an opportunity to help transform an industry from one focused on event logistics to one producing business intelligence for marketers.
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?
Before I sold software, I had been a commission-only salesperson. When I received the offer letter to sell software,I was shocked to discover I would also get paid a base salary! I learned that sometimes being child-like and trusting can lead to surprise and delight.
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?
“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill which I read as a teen-ager, opened my eyes to possibility thinking and instilled in me a sense that I could control my destiny through thought and action. The pace of technological and societal advancement now makes literally anything we conceive of possible. So today my operating premise is that anything we want to conceive can be brought to life. There are obstacles but no limits.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Accuracy is the soul of artistic success”. This Gustav Mahler quote resonates with me in pursuing any creative endeavor including art, music and business. It’s exciting to create the first brush strokes; it’s challenging to get the details right.
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?
It was my experience as an executive and as an attendee which gave me some perspective on the opportunity to transform events. As an executive, I sponsored events from which I expected a return. How that gets measured has been an enterprise-level focal point for myself and the Certain team. Attendees are really buyers who may “purchase” whatever the event sponsor is selling. That can include tangible products and intangible ideas.
What experience and sentiment is driving my experience as a buyer? How is that being captured? What data is informing and influencing the buying cycle.Those are the critical questions that underlie how I think about organizing events.
It starts with explicit business goals and measurement. How did the event or series of events create more buyers or accelerate buyer actions? My enterprise experience led me to an understanding that when executed on a large scale, customers can achieve a massive competitive advantage.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
At Certain, we work with enterprise companies like Anaplan, CommonSpirit and Rockwell Automation to provide the event experience technology for their virtual events. So that includes everything from their event websites, registration forms, digital content hubs, and engagement applications. A big part of that relationship also involves collaborating on how to collect and manage all the valuable event data that powers their marketing strategies.
When it comes to virtual events, we know from our own research and experience that attendee engagement is the biggest challenge once the in-person element is removed. We’ve seen some truly engaging tactics from our customers to tackle this, including gamification, live polling and interactive Q&As. It also became clear early on that the best way to overcome screen fatigue is through strong, relevant content delivered in short, digestible sessions or event series.
We’ve experienced this firsthand with our own hosted events. Last summer, we hosted #EVENTS360, a three-day virtual event that was delivered over the course of three weeks. Each day was tailored to specific personas, allowing us to focus on delivering the most relevant content for the audience, and they were all delivered under two hours. By breaking the delivery up into a live panel discussion, pre-recorded video and interactive networking session, attendees were engaged throughout the experience.
This then grew into a monthly virtual chat series where, in the course of 30 minutes, industry leaders participate in an interactive conversation with audiences on timely industry topics. This has been a massive success in terms of building a community of event marketers and professionals, while also allowing us to share both our message and relevant information for their own events programs.
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’ll share two examples as they standout for distinct reasons. The first is from our partner and customer, Hartmann Studios, who recently produced a global leadership training event for over 10,000 climate leaders around the globe during the summer of 2020. The event took place over nine days, with attendees from 143 countries all engaging with live broadcasts, breakout table groups, networking sessions and on-demand skill-building sessions. They facilitated nearly 3,500 meetings, offering one-click access for attendees to their assigned “rooms”, with up to 350 meetings happening concurrently. They even designed and delivered a fully remote broadcast studio the keynote speaker’s residence for his keynote sessions. This is an excellent example of how working with the right production team can elevate an event. The quick shift of this event from in-person not only increased their reach and number of attendees but generated incredible engagement from a global audience.
The second is an example of how to effectively manage and use your virtual event data. Our customer, Red Hat, has taken advantage of multiple video webcasting/meeting technologies to deliver one integrated event experience — while tracking and managing the dataflow behind the scenes in real-time. Certain’s data management platform integrates engagement event and session data with Eloqua, Oracle’s marketing automation platform. This is a notable example of an intelligent, effective virtual event data strategy in action. If you have a global events programs that involves hundreds or thousands of events a year, smart effective data management dramatically increases the value from your events investments.
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?
It’s critical to recognize that virtual events do not mimic in-person events. Review and understand your event objectives — and how they have or should change when the event goes digital. This will determine the development and delivery of your program and content, as well as data strategy.
Another major area for improvement is that virtual events are just too long. Screen fatigue is real, so short and engaging sessions go a long way to help overcome that. By spreading your program out over multiple days and swapping a one-hour catch-all session for a 30-minute, personalized event tailored a specific buyer persona, your audience stays engaged and comes back for more.
Lastly, if you’re not focused on how to both drive and capture engagement data, you’re missing out on crucial data points and buyer interest that ultimately drive pipeline. You can host an incredible show with all the bells and whistles, but if you miss out on the opportunity to engage with and capture buyer intent, then the business impact of your events is significantly reduced.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
Realistically, no single virtual platform is a perfect fit across the board, as each event will have its own variety of goals, audiences and scope. At Certain, we found that customers use a variety of virtual technology across events — and sometimes within a single event — including large scale webcasts, smaller scale webinars, interactive workshops, one-on-one meetings, virtual networking etc.
Perhaps the most significant resource out there is an integration strategy — how can that variety of technologies interoperate effortlessly? Our approach has been to unify the experience across events and within events, enabling a seamless attendee journey that’s powered by multiple technologies behind the scenes. By unifying both the experience and the data across platforms and events, businesses are better able to control costs and maximize the business impact/ROI of their events — whether they be virtual, hybrid or in-person.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Well, it should come as no surprise that I’m going to put Certain at the top of that list! No matter what combination of tools or technology you use for your events, you must have a platform that can unify disparate technologies. As essential as webcasting providers, engagement apps and livestreaming platforms are, if they’re not all working together to help deliver a frictionless attendee experience, you’re going to be working uphill to prove whether your event was a success and worth the investment. So having an event experience platform that automates your event data and integrates with your sales and marketing technologies is necessary when it comes to any events program.
Another essential solution for overcoming the challenge of attendee engagement is an event engagement application. By employing an engagement app, you have an excellent resource for encouraging and easing attendee interaction via surveys, gamification, discussion boards, etc., and you’re also enabling a wealth of engagement data to help inform you of your attendees’ needs and interests.
My advice: You can be flexible and agile with virtual technology, but truly invest in data management.
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.)
- Virtual event success is defined by the data you collect and how you use it. This will determine the levels of personalization you can offer your attendees, the relevance of your program and content, and your ability to measure the outcomes of your event. So, for example, use your registration process as an opportunity to capture and qualify buyer interest. Use these insights to make specific session or content recommendations. An executive might be invited to the keynote while a technical buyer is invited to a product overview. Scoring high in relevance drives deeper interaction.
- Interactivity is the key to ongoing engagement. Find ways to get your audience interacting with speakers, sponsors and each other. Tactics such as Q&A, polling, surveying, chat, live attendee interviews give the attendee a voice — and gives the organizer that valuable data.
- The right technology is crucial to both driving and capturing engagement data. Have the necessary technology to engage audiences, and most importantly — make sure they integrate with each other and your sales and marketing stack. Engagement can be captured directly through the virtual event platform or in a companion engagement app. By interacting through a second device, you preserve the “showcase” effect of the event on the main screen.
- Treat your event like a production. Consider that you are a producer — how do you keep and maintain people’s attention and be visually appealing (lighting, camera quality) — small details in differentiating goes a long way when you are facing virtual fatigue. We often send panel participants a basic production kit that includes a microphone and ring light. That way for a small cost, you increase the professionalism without sacrificing the authenticity of broadcasting from home offices.
- Offer a seamless and personalized attendee journey. This means from the moment they visit your event website and click “Register” to when they join a session and then fill out their post-event survey, there is nothing standing in the way of them having an easy, smooth event experience that is tailored to their needs or interests. This also means customizing your event more toward specific audiences, instead of doing “catch-all” events that lose that personalized touch.
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?
- Start by ensuring that you clearly understand how your event supports your greater marketing strategy
- Establish your event goals to help identify your audience and decide the best method of delivery
- Develop an event data strategy that aligns with your sales and marketing strategies
- Evaluate the technologies needed to deliver on your event goals; work closely with your technology vendors to align their offerings with your goals
- Design your program and content for your audience; be intentional about how you define your audience and tailor the attendee journey
- Figure out ways to make your event interactive and what solutions are needed to do so
- Integrate your event tech with your marketing and sales tech to capture key data points
Thank you for these excellent insights!