Event Tech Stack — as I mentioned earlier, deciding on the right event tech stack is crucial to ensure you are creating an environment that enables attendees to connect as they would in person. Among others, this includes the virtual event platform, tools for networking and community building such as Slack, Twitter or Zoom as well as a content management system to create a virtual event lobby.
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 Anna Anisin.
Anna Anisin is an Entrepreneur with 15+ years in data driven digital marketing experience, she was named a Tech Industry Insider by CNN. Anna raised 10 million dollars in Series A funding and oversaw two acquisitions in her career. Currently she’s running a boutique marketing firm, Formulated.by, which specializes in enterprise B2B and experiential marketing and which is the organizer of the leading data science conference Data Science Salon. Anna is also an advocate for women in tech and a contributor on data science and marketing at Forbes.
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 Moscow Russia and moved to San Francisco, Bay Area with my parents and brother in 1994. I was basically given a golden ticket to pursue my dreams!
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always been very entrepreneurial from a very young age. Being an immigrant in the US, I wanted to be and do all “THE things” all the time and was constantly creating something, be it art paintings, videos or written content — I thought that I absolutely had to do something with my life. I launched my first business at a very young age of 16 — it was an eBay store that I ran pretty successfully for five years. It pretty much paid for college and then some.
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’ve made countless mistakes in my career and I don’t remember a funny one that stands out to me in particular. However, I’ve always learned from my mistakes and they also got me to where I am today. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
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’ve always been a fan of Gary V’s and Richard Branson’s and had the pleasure of meeting them both. As far as podcasts go, I really enjoy and get reinspired every week by the “How I Built This” Podcast with Guy Raz.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t be afraid to fail and fail again harder” is my favorite and most valuable life lesson. Failure is a huge part of entrepreneurship and my success in general. I’ve taken every failure as a lesson and moved forward to do something greater every time. Also helping others is extremely important — you get back what you put out there.
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?
Events and experiential marketing have always been a HUGE part of every B2B marketing strategy that I’ve put together, and I’ve done over 100 of those in the past 15 years. I have over 1K events under my belt — and now I’ve aged myself!
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
I started the Data Science Salon event series five years ago, when we were going to different cities in the US to host boutique data science events for data science managers and practitioners to share their experience in applying AI & machine learning in different verticals. With the pandemic disrupting the event industry in early 2020, I quickly realized that as an event organizer you can either go virtual or go home. So, we completely adjusted our event strategy and tech stack and shifted all our events to online — and it was worth the effort! We have hosted over 100 virtual events in 2020 for ourselves as well as for our clients. Given that we had previously organized webinars and online trainings, we were not completely new to virtual events; however, successfully managing and engaging 2,000 attendees virtually was a different experience from hosting hyperlocal face-to-face events. Frozen event platforms, disconnected MC’s or technical errors in the registration process were only a few new potential nightmares, which we fortunately only had to face to a very limited extent.
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?
Paddy Cosgrave and the WebSummit team are hands down THE BEST in the World as far as virtual and live events are concerned. Their custom virtual events platform was by far the most engaging platform I’ve seen so far.
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?
I’ve attended many virtual events myself this year and saw that community engagement and interaction are the main challenges. That’s why we decided to do everything we can to meet people where they are, be it on mobile or desktop. With tools such as Slack, Twitter, LinkedIn and Q&A panels, organizers are much more likely to keep the conversation going throughout the event. Feedback from our event attendees showed that this was a component the community enjoyed a lot.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
That was probably one of the biggest decisions we had to make when we decided to make the transition to virtual. It was certainly not an easy one, since there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and the perfect platform really depends on an organization’s specific needs and budget. An end-to-end platform can run up to roughly 300,000 dollars per event, so especially for companies with a limited budget, it’s important to first come up with a list of requirements and nice-to-haves of what they expect the tool to have. For us, that included great support, interface customization, and link-out opportunities to sponsored content or social media channels. We ended up choosing ON24 as our preferred conference platform as it proved to be the best solution for our use case and resources. Another great platform for live engagement and networking is Socio.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
There are a couple of tools that we use to put together our virtual events — we’ve actually hosted an entire webinar on it. Our focus was really to create an in-person feel by bringing people together both during the event and after the event. We leveraged the existing tools we already had in place for promoting the event and communicating to attendees. These are some of the essentials that are part of our event tech stack:
- Virtual conference platform. The first and most obvious tool required for a successful event. I can’t stress enough the importance of carefully evaluating your needs first and then choosing the right platform for your virtual event, according to your objectives and resources.
- Networking and community building. To keep the human element in virtual events, include plenty of networking opportunities for attendees by incorporating breakout sessions such as coffee chats, “ask me anything” sessions (AMAs) and virtual happy hours. For the Data Science Salon, we leveraged a combination of different tools for networking, such as Slack, Twitter, Zoom and a customized event mobile app.
- Content management system. We used our existing content management system (CMS) to create a virtual “event lobby”, which is a big component of the tech stack. It’s one centralized space from where registrants can navigate to specific content. Ideally, it’s hosted on the organizer’s website to drive traffic to their website and to customize the interface according to their needs. It includes links to sessions with start time, links to the virtual sponsorship booths as well as links to social media platforms.
- CRM/Marketing. Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRM) are great to personalize communication flows for registrants. For example, we leverage Hubspot to have campaigns in place to upsell multi event packages, buddy passes and post-event archive access. CRMs are also great for marketing automation for communication with the speakers, particularly when hosting multiple events at the same time with many speakers.
- Ticketing automation/SEO. As with a physical event, organizers of virtual events need an event ticketing platform. We stuck with the same platform, Eventbrite, and were able to automatically connect registration to our CRM and virtual conference 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.)
First of all it’s really important to clearly understand your attendee persona and what they want to get out of your event. Then you have your basics:
- Event Tech Stack — as I mentioned earlier, deciding on the right event tech stack is crucial to ensure you are creating an environment that enables attendees to connect as they would in person. Among others, this includes the virtual event platform, tools for networking and community building such as Slack, Twitter or Zoom as well as a content management system to create a virtual event lobby.
- Attendee Success Team — team of folks to handle any login or registration issues. The more whiteglove this service is, the better the feedback will be. Look at your event truly as an experience and write a script — think movies or award shows! Also, think about potential worst-case scenarios and how you would manage them. Have a plan B if your event platform is not running smoothly, if a speaker does not show up for the live Q&A or people are unable to register to the event. No matter what issue you are facing, the most important thing is to address the problem the attendees are facing first, be responsive and communicate authentically.
- Add a networking aspect — this is a MUST. Networking is one of the top three reasons people attend events in general and it’s your opportunity to set your event apart from competing events. Slack offers great networking opportunities as you can create different channels, based on the attendees’ and speakers’ interests. Community managers can drive engagement by dropping interesting questions and/or by encouraging the attendees to introduce themselves when joining the workspace. Other ways to keep the conversation going are coffee chats, event apps or “ask me anything” sessions (AMAs) on Twitter.
- On-Demand Strategy is important — more than half of your attendees will choose to watch your event on demand. A solid on-demand strategy is very important to satisfy your whole audience. Make sure to include your on-demand offering in all of your communications from the very start of your marketing campaign to the very end. This gives you an opportunity to generate additional leads.
- Use Storytelling — creating a story around your event is crucial when developing a deeper connection with the audience. Tell your event attendees why you are organizing the event, why coming together virtually is important and why each individual matters. This will create curiosity about your brand, wake positive emotions among the attendees and make them feel part of your 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?
Do your research, see who’s already out there in your space and maybe even reach out to them. You always learn from your competition! Then, I would recommend coming up with clear attendee personas and their journeys to your event end-to-end. Always put your community first and you will have a successful event. Then you can look at all the other things listed above.
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.
Love this question! I’m a BIG advocate for women in tech and pretty much any technical field. I’ve always implemented female forward initiatives in every industry that I’ve been involved in. This time around we launched DSSElevate, an initiative designed to elevate women in data. With partners like IBM and NVIDIA onboard, that initiative is taking off and I’m super excited and proud of our team for doing all the work on this initiative pro bono. And let’s face it — companies that don’t encourage diversity in their data ranks could miss out on discovering new insights that could lead to new business opportunities. More diversity equals smarter, more efficient business.
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.
It would be an absolute honor to have lunch with Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg, both women I admire as strong entrepreneurs, moms and leaders.