Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! — Since we are all new to virtual events, rehearsal is imperative. That said, even the most experienced executive may never have presented on camera. Spokespeople need to run through their presentations multiple times before the actual event to ensure the highest quality presentation possible.
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 Pamela Jacques of NETSCOUT.
Pamela brings a creative mindset to her role as a strategic marketing communications executive. She has more than three decades of experience in the technology space, harnessing her broad background across the corporate, agency and publishing sides of the marketplace to offer a unique 360-degree perspective on achieving business objectives and bottom-line success for companies that range from Internet start-ups to the Fortune 500. Pamela has distinguished herself as a strategic thinker with a passion for all facets of marketing communications including research, planning and implementation of media and public relations strategies, advertising, customer engagement, online and integrated program development. Recently, she became a member “of the Forbes Communications Council where she continues to network and share her expertise with other industry leaders. She prides herself on developing outstanding working relationships and is a leader who truly cares about her colleagues, partners and customers.
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”? Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
I truly fell into this career. I was in between jobs, and my sister happened to run a temp agency. At the time, one of her biggest customers was looking for a position to be filled. She didn’t have anyone in her talent pool that fit the requirements, so she put me forward for the opportunity as I had the qualifications they were looking for.
I first worked at Quotron Systems, a company that designed and manufactured computers for the stock market. I was there on Black Monday when the stock market crashed, and I’ll never forget they were throwing the terminals at the window because they thought the problem was with the hardware. My position was focused on management training and organizational development that was part of an internal communications department that they were creating. From there, my interest in marketing grew, and I eventually moved over to the marketing department. Not long after, I got a job at Microtek Lab as a trade show coordinator, my first real introduction to large events.
In the early ’90s, many entrepreneurs were beginning to emerge, which leads me to the next major phase of my career. A colleague of mine was working on launching a tech magazine geared towards small business owners and recruited me to assist with the launch. The magazine was geared towards educating small business owners on how to create more impactful business communications. All of the big tech companies wanted to reach these markets but didn’t know how to market to them, making the magazine content valuable.
Around that time, I had my daughter, and being on the road 85% of the time was not a sustainable lifestyle, so I decided to start my own agency in 1996 in Los Angeles. Looking back, I guess you could say fate pulled me into this career, but 33 years later, I am still enjoying it and finding new things to get excited about.
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’m fortunate that I never made any grave errors or did anything I can specifically look back on that was too embarrassing! However, I would say my biggest mistake early in my career was not asking enough questions. I always approached situations with the mindset of “I can figure this out,” and while most of the time it served me well, there were many occasions where I could’ve asked more questions and probably saved myself some frustration.
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?
Although I read a lot and keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry, I would say it is people rather than books, films, or podcasts that have significantly impacted me. I had two mentors early in my career that were very different but taught me critical lessons that I remember to this day. One reinforced the importance of a work ethic and dedication to your career, and the other taught me the necessity of a work/life balance.
The latter mentor, Dennis, was a leukemia survivor. He had a bone marrow transplant, and following the procedure, his outlook on life was amazing. He was a big proponent of working hard but drove home the point that you have to enjoy life at the same time. Work hard; play hard.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is what it is.” It’s not my favorite by any means, but probably the most relevant. I tend to be pretty stubborn and sometimes life reminds me that there are many things simply out of my control.
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?
Early in my career, I held a job as a trade show coordinator, where I organized 50–60 events across the globe. I facilitated nearly every aspect of these events, so my experience was extensive, and I learned a lot during that time. Over the next 30+ years I organized everything from trade show exhibits to customer appreciation events and PR events. However, until 2020 they were primarily live, in person events. Going virtual brought on a whole new twist.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?
In April of this year, so right around the thick of the pandemic, NETSCOUT had to reformat our annual ENGAGE customer event from being in-person to virtual. Folks who had already registered to attend the in-person event had blocked off the week, so we wanted to do our best to provide them with a quality experience as best we could given the circumstances.
The event was a great success — we were even able to expand our initial attendee list –but since it was the very beginning of the pandemic, we were, of course, met with challenges. There are a lot of things that a virtual event requires that you don’t think about. For instance, we had to pre-record the sessions in the event the presenter had a poor connection. You can’t risk hosting a live session and losing the connection because that creates a low-quality experience for the attendees. We also had to make sure that our spokespeople had the appropriate audio/visual equipment to record their sessions, and their backgrounds were appropriate and consistent to keep the event as professional as possible.
The most interesting part of this specific virtual event experience was that it was at the very start of the shift to virtual everything, so we were all figuring out the next steps as we went. In that way, the process was unique to any other project I’ve ever worked on.
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?
A mistake is trying to incorporate too many live elements into a virtual event. For instance, if you are trying to set up virtual booths at a virtual trade show and want a company representative to man the booth as if it were a live event, you have to consider that person’s time and the likelihood of attendee engagement. It’s a struggle to see this as a marketer because, in virtual events, you as the company spokesperson cannot seek out attendees to visit your booth as you would during a live event. They have to come to you. That said, an executive could be “standing” at the booth for several hours without one person engaging, which is a waste of time and resources.
Another common error is having the sessions run too long, resulting in screen fatigue. At NETSCOUT, we cut down our live sessions to 45-minutes, and for our next event, we are considering cutting down to 30 minutes. It’s important to realize that an attendee will rarely sit and listen to a two-hour presentation on Zoom.
Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?
It’s fascinating to see how the platforms have exploded over the last 8 months. There is some amazing technology available today. The key to success is selecting the platform or combination of platforms that help you meet your objectives. Our 2020 event had a very different set of objectives than our 2021 event does.
Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?
From my experience organizing ENGAGE, I think the most essential tool you can use is an experienced, professional producer. For our event, we had multiple tracks running at once, and there were a lot of moving parts. Having a producer and production team to ensure that the event runs smoothly is vital. As the coordinator, it is impossible to be everywhere at once and have your hand in everything going on.
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.)
- Know your audience — The only way you can keep attendees engaged is by presenting information that interests them. Make it clear that they are in an environment where they will learn something and leave the session feeling like they have gained new knowledge about the subject matter.
- Beware of ‘Death by PowerPoint’ — This is a tough adjustment because PowerPoint has been the standard method of presentation for years. However, now more than ever, as we move to a virtual format for events, we need to find more innovative, engaging ways to present information
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! — Since we are all new to virtual events, rehearsal is imperative. That said, even the most experienced executive may never have presented on camera. Spokespeople need to run through their presentations multiple times before the actual event to ensure the highest quality presentation possible.
- It takes a village — The success of a live virtual event is a huge team effort that requires collaboration and creative thinking.
- Assume something won’t go as planned — In doing so, you won’t be as frustrated if/when it happens.
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?
- Select the right partner (ex. a seasoned production company). Nobody can do it alone!
- Be aware that it will cost money to host a virtual event, and be willing to invest that money in order to achieve success.
- Be consistent. I mean that in every sense. I mentioned earlier that we had to ensure all of our spokespeople had the same backdrop and high-quality audio/visual equipment. If the event looks like it was thrown together, it could potentially result in a lack of credibility for the company.
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.
It would be for each person to just give back in whatever way is meaningful to them. No act is too small. Imagine how different the world would be.
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.
Honestly, after the year we’ve all had, I’d be happy having lunch with anyone and everyone. In a real restaurant. With real servers. And walls. And no time limit.