It's not the chicken or the egg when designing the Digital Experience

VMEA (Virtual Meetings & Events Association) interview with Timothy Simpson, Brand and Engagement Chief Strategist of Design Studio, by Maritz Global Events.

Wow, all these years and we are trying to answer the wrong question. We are at the destination before we have set the plan together in what we want to achieve.

Joanne Bennett watering garden by jbene 2002
Make sure the fertilizer is not going on the weeds.

Why did we blindly throw _ _ _ _ (fertilizer) in the garden, when we may just be nourishing the weeds. That is the analogy derived from my discussion today with Mr. Simpson of what could be happening with events. Before I get to the question of the chicken or the egg, the first thing Tim clarified was that virtual can refer to so many things as it’s too broad and does not capture, or narrow, down the transformation of live, in-person events appropriately.

Tim's, and the Design Studio's work starts with determining the goals and objectives from the "C" Suite in the sponsoring organization through the key stakeholders perspective. These groups typically include the company, association, organization leadership, partners, employees, attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, students, faculty, membership... in the broad sense. Then working to unlock the unique characteristics by obtaining and evaluating relevant data to flush out unique insights of the individual groups.

Once that is complete, the next step is too curate a unique framework based on proven principles for the live and now more recently digital and/or hybrid event. This methodology is built to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the effort to better achieve the original stated focus upon the goals and objectives of the event

Before we get to the chicken and the egg...
Let's talk strategy...

With this information, and the questions of what comes first, the chicken or the egg, the real start comes from determining what you want to achieve or produce (get it, produce...)

You have determined the initial goals from the C Suite, the next area to conquer is the insights. Tim frowns on the cookie-cutter response of primarily looking at best practices and says you will never create anything better by just copying what others are doing. Every event is unique and the strategy must consider such to reach the highest potential.  That's why the Design Studio leans on a best principle before best proactive approach.

Understanding Stakeholders: the real work now comes down to gaining an authentic understanding of the stakeholder groups to fulfill their Need to WED them to your event (Want, Expect and Desire). You can't just take a look at what similar organizations have done says Tim Simpson, you should be curating the content and designing specifically for your direct audience. The best strategy comes from taking the deep dive into your stakeholders.

Want- Reason they are participating- (Maybe sales, exposure, education, etc).

Expect-Minimal achievement you must accomplish.

Desire- That's the wow, beyond the expectation that they or may not know about.

So that is where Tim and the Design Studio team come in to build the strategy. What do they want, how do they want it, what barriers or communication gaps are there between the wants and desires of say the Attendees and the providers of services or exhibitors? It's not just the determination of the content, but the buy-in of our methods for delivering on such content and preferences through surveying groups through history, interviews, surveys and actions. Before we pick the content, design, platform, production, location, means, methods, we must have the goals and objectives, to then create the strategy, message, design directives based on behavioral science principles to curate the most effective content and delivery methods.

We asked Tim for three long-lasting advantages you see out of the digital evolution in events?

  1. Engagement- client leadership teams are seeing significant increases of the amount of people reached in the events because of digital due to a myriad of reasons (time availability, lower costs, flexible viewing times).

  2. More Strategic in how they work within the event channels and mediums. Increased conversations and strategy, enabling small capturable moments, unified digital experiences with content with longer lasting availability and effects of such.                  

Shameless Plug: See VMEA's upcoming topical series using these unique smaller subjects and building topical education on specific Virtual (Digital) topics of the day.  

3. Marketers able to marry the live and the digital to create greater impact. More content, lasting longer and able to use beyond the one use live event.

Tim, what are the three guidelines you recommend for content in Digital?

  1. Being empathetic to the audience about what are they dealing with and understanding how to speak to them with true authenticity. You need to capture their attention and trust in first few minutes of your event.

  2. Strategic Design- Don't start with platform, design or production first, determine the goals, objectives and business needs, design for such and make sure what you implement is always reaching out to such.

  3. What's the big idea? We are all looking for such, and creativity, out of the box as the way to go. There is lots of competition for our time and attention, so take the chance and make an impact.

With the above in mind, there are strategies and methods derived from the ever evolving behavioral sciences that can help formulate the agenda, timeline, content, design, engagement… to maximize edu-tainment.  These ever changing formulas (built for each organization uniquely) are the key to effectively achieving your mission, not necessarily increasing your cost.  Some of these Tim pointed out are:

  1. Developing your staging an experience, engagement relating to each unique speaker and situation (Is the CEO an extrovert and can hold the attention?  With a panel, can the session last longer)?

  2. Being authentic in the process, telling the story empathetically to an audience knowing their uniqueness.

  3. Reducing times of sessions the later your go into the program for attention span.

  4. Is four the magic number for interacting in networking smaller groups?

  5. Purpose and intent, verse fluff (ie a wow box with a purpose vs. just junk) See fertilizer example.

  6. Using Q&A as well as Follow up sessions to keep the communication going.

Talking with Tim, you certainly hear the “C” Suite conversation at a high level and it can be appreciated.  Luckily, you have this B student interpreting for the laymen that I am.  For now, I wanted to share these tidbits to document the unique and enlightening conversation.

Jim Bennett is the executive director of the Virtual Meetings and Events Association  An organization promoting the collaboration of those desiring to produce virtual (Digital) events with those providing services of such through connecting and cultivating new ideas and best practices.