Keep the audience at the forefront of everything you do. When hosting a virtual event, the audience experience is what matters most. When you pick the platform, determine an overall theme, craft the agenda, and create messaging you should be asking yourself and your team, will our audience get value from this? For the Adapt2 Accelerate conference, we knew we wanted it to be a mix of information, feedback, energy industry trends, customer appreciation, and best practices. During our weekly prep meetings, after every suggestion or decision, we would ask, “How will our customers benefit from this?” Having this drive our conference is a large part of what made our conference successful.
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 Carla Hartman.
Carla Hartman is the Director of Marketing at Adapt2 Solutions, a leading AI-driven power market operations software company based in Houston, Texas. As a graduate of Bowling Green State University, Carla moved to Houston and started a career in Marketing then went on to pursue her MBA from the University of Houston-Downtown. Carla has been a featured speaker at Digital & Social Media Marketing Summits in Denver and Chicago. She has been working in IT and Energy Marketing for 6 years and enjoys working closely with sales teams to enable demand generation initiatives.
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”?
Growing up in a small suburb outside of Akron, Ohio, I watched my Dad work tirelessly in sales and as a business owner. My mother at the time was going legally blind and deaf, so my father had the responsibility of being the sole provider in our household. He was the first in his family to go to college and that was something I knew I wanted to do. He always instilled in me and my sisters that we should be educated and be able to take care of ourselves. As I entered adulthood, I focused on obtaining a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Business Administration so I could achieve a career that would help me provide for myself the way my father provided our family.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I took an interest in marketing during my adolescence when I participated in my high school’s DECA program. My first marketing opportunity was during high school, doing outreach for a local Panera Bread. From there almost every internship or job I have had has been in marketing. Every profession and every job can utilize marketing skills and has an aspect of either selling a product or selling yourself. Marketing to me is the perfect mix of strategy, analysis, creativity, and relationship building.
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 don’t have any really funny stories, aside from at the beginning of my marketing career, I think my co-workers thought that I truly did not know how to spell because I was working too fast and not doing enough quality control. I like to get things done and there is always more to be done than there is time to get things done in the field of marketing. As I have grown in my career, I know the quality of the work is more important than the pace it gets done. I am proud to say I am no longer known for spelling errors.
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?
This is a hard one because there are so many that have shaped who I am as a professional but from a marketing standpoint, one of my favorites is Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross. Early in my career, this book helped me understand the role of marketing as it pertains to sales. Being a marketer and being able to build strong relationships with the sales team and put quantifiable revenue amounts to marketing activities has helped me become a leader in my organization and the field of marketing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Well, my co-workers would say that my favorite quote is “teamwork makes the dream work” because I tend to say that quite a bit. However, my favorite life lesson quote is “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the workplace, I truly try to live by it. To be enthusiastic in everything I do. Being positive in a marketing role is extremely important because results are always guaranteed and some leads go cold. Enthusiasm is even more important as you move into leadership. Enthusiasm not only energizes the person exuding it, but it is contagious. Enthusiasm makes people want to join you in whatever initiative you are embarking on.
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?
I have organized just about any event that organizations partake in both domestically and even internationally. I think face-to-face interaction is incredibly important. On a smaller scale, I have organized customer appreciation events. I have organized mid-sized events for small segments of industry verticals and the largest scale events I have organized are multi-day conferences.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
Over the past 4 years, I have planned, hosted, and executed several webinars. I think webinars are a great informational and lead generation tool. I’ve used some different platforms for these webinars and do recommend ensuring that if you are doing webinars, invest in a platform that gives you robust reporting and granular analytics. This will help from a follow-up standpoint and gives marketers the data they need for strategic decision making.
It was not until 2020 when I planned, hosted, and executed a virtual conference. There was quite a bit of fear of the unknown and many sleepless nights but overall, it turned out very well.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job of creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Atlassian and Tricentis. Both companies put on great in-person events and have had experience with ‘going virtual’ before 2020.
When I was evaluating platforms, I tried to model it off of what they had used. I was able to take and utilize aspects that worked well for them during platform vendor selection. Aspects I like include having everything in one place where you can easily access different sessions, allowing audience interaction, having a multitude of recorded and live content, and giving the event a special feel, to differentiate it from a standard webinar.
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?
Two errors I have seen are not having technical support and asking participants to jump from link to link for different sessions. To avoid this plan ahead to have the proper support and select a platform that keeps your audience in one place.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
I think it depends on the size of your event, the type of event, your audience, and your budget.
For internal staff events, I think Microsoft Teams works great. The organization I work for, Adapt2 Solutions is extremely creative and forward-thinking. Our team hosted our holiday party on Microsoft Teams and had trivia, breakout rooms for scavenger hunts, and made a very interactive and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
For standard webinars, several platforms work well. I prefer Zoom Webinar or GoTo Webinar because of the polling reports and analytics on the back. As I mentioned previously, having the proper data is one of the best drivers of marketing decisions, and top of funnel sales leads.
For events for less than 500 people, I think Accelevents is very effective for hosting a virtual conference and has all the critical aspects in one cost-effective and easy to use cloud-based platform.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
Essential tools for running an event are:
- Access to an internal communication tool, which most organizations have like Slack, Google hangouts, or Microsoft Teams.
- Laptops for audio and camera functionality.
- A registration engine, which some platforms include
- A platform to stream and host the virtual event.
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.)
1. Keep the audience at the forefront of everything you do
When hosting a virtual event, the audience experience is what matters most. When you pick the platform, determine an overall theme, craft the agenda, and create messaging you should be asking yourself and your team, will our audience get value from this? For the Adapt2 Accelerate conference, we knew we wanted it to be a mix of information, feedback, energy industry trends, customer appreciation, and best practices. During our weekly prep meetings, after every suggestion or decision, we would ask, “How will our customers benefit from this?” Having this drive our conference is a large part of what made our conference successful.
2. Ensure you have the proper technical support
A virtual event will require a different mix of staff than an in-person event. For our virtual conference, we had our usual leadership team but also needed to have our IT department delegate some of their team members to assist with technical support and connectivity testing. I am very fortunate to work at a software development shop and have highly talented IT professionals at the organization I work for. We had several members of our IT team watching the conference and fielding technical questions, which is not something we have at in-person events. The role of the marketing team also changes a bit, as we had to dedicate a team member to be a viewer and give feedback on what the audience can see and the proper start and stop times of the live broadcasts. Lastly, and probably one of the more beneficial technical support items we implemented was having a dedicated team sign on three hours early each day to allow attendees to do connectivity testing on the Accelevent platform for audio and sound. This minimized the amount of technical support required during the actual virtual event. Like I said before, “teamwork makes the dream work.”
3. Audio Visual aspects are still very important
When hosting an in-person event, the venue usually has specialists that come in and do the audio and visual for you. When hosting a virtual event during a pandemic, everyone is their own audiovisual technician. For the presenters, setting guidelines about having a clean and professional-looking background is necessary. Some platforms allow for a virtual background which makes this very easy. Lighting also is a factor that we tend to take for granted at in-person events because the venue sets it up. For virtual events, there are several ways to improve lighting to ensure a clear and bright view of the presenter or attendee such as placing a lamp directly above the camera of a laptop and ensuring there is not outdoor sunlight directly behind them.
4. Practice, then practice again!
Technology isn’t always perfect. Hosting your first virtual event means there will be a learning curve as you are utilizing new software. During a scheduled practice session there may only be enough time to understand the platform. Plan to have more than one practice session with speakers and to utilize your internal team to test out roundtable, networking, and workshop sessions. Something may work seamlessly one day and have a few issues the next. The key to practicing for a virtual is not only to ensure the best possible content gets relayed to your audience and that your speakers are confident but to gain insights on how to overcome technical challenges that may occur.
5. Have a contingency plan
Hosting your first live event can be stressful and even a bit scary especially if you are using a platform that you have never used before. It is reasonable to be worried about technical issues or that the platform will go down. It is normal to have fear of the unknown. The best advice I have is to make a contingency plan by scheduling out each session on your usual webinar platform or software you are more familiar with in case of a catastrophe.
As they say, “The show must go on!”
Luckily, during my first virtual conference experience, we did not hit any major snags. We did have to get a bit creative when a speaker could not get connectivity during his live session. I ran his slides from my machine and called him, then put him on speakerphone to do the audio. When all else fails, get creative but have a plan A and plan B first.
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?
Determine your audience then figure out your theme. That will drive all the other parts of your virtual. Given that 2020 forced many organizations to host virtual events, find someone who has done it before and reach out or research how they did it. I have seen so many incredible virtual events during 2020 from cooking classes, to conferences, to concerts, to theatre productions. Our world has changed and digital events are more prominent now than ever. If you can dream it, you can do it!
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.
The internet has changed the world but there are still many households without a computer and interest access. I think enabling computer access and literacy to all corners of the globe would have a positive impact on our current and future generations.
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 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.
This is probably a very popular answer but my person would be Elon Musk. He is such a visionary, I would love to just listen to where he thinks the world and technology will be in 10 years. Now that he is a Texas resident, perhaps we will cross paths someday!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.