A new study reveals the realities of meetings going virtual, from the variety of formats and sourcing to measurement and comparisons to face to face.
The role of virtual meetings is evolving. Previously perceived by many industry professionals as one-off event experiments, they now seek entry into strategically managed meetings portfolios. And, according to new research from the MPI Foundation and Maxvantage, some organizations are managing hundreds of virtual meetings each year.
But the virtual event is still in its infancy; it’s a child of the new millennium. And most organizations are still trying to understand just exactly what a “virtual event” is.
The research—a combination of online survey and qualitative interviews—shows that industry professionals agree in principle on the definition of a virtual meeting, but the details of each event are variable. There are eight major virtual event formats, each with six or more vendors. And the planning, execution and benefits of each format are unique such that switching vendors requires a learning curve for all stakeholders. Virtual meeting technologies continue to expand and can now even capture content and track participant data in ways live events can’t.
Anecdotal data shows that travel budgets are still driving the adoption of virtual meetings. In several interviews for this very report, meeting professionals reported that their internal clients had the necessary budgets to hold meetings, but their target delegates didn’t have the travel budget to attend. Virtual meetings programs allowed these groups to continue to meet.
But virtual meetings won’t just be emergency budget stopgaps for long. Organizations are beginning to add virtual meetings to their core business processes. IBM, for example, has tied its virtual platform into its lead management system and post-event lead follow-up procedures. As a result, it knows how much revenue its virtual event center generates.
As the industry continues to experiment and develop more experience with virtual meetings, event professionals will find new and innovative opportunities to use this format to deliver business value and accelerate the pace of commerce.
Virtual Meetings Overview
1. Meeting professionals lack a standard definition for virtual meetings. More than 75 percent of respondents didn’t think their organizations had a standard definition or policy for virtual meetings.
2. There are many technology formats for executing virtual meetings. The virtual meeting technology marketplace offers eight types of technology solutions, each one offering a different virtual experience—which means there are multiple answers to how a virtual meeting works.
3. Of these, online meetings and videoconferencing are the most popular formats. More than 90 percent of meeting planners prefer online meetings and videoconferencing systems, and 70 percent said they would recommend online meetings as a virtual event platform.
4. Organizations make virtual meetings shorter than others, because of limited networking opportunities. Meeting planners are convinced that virtual meetings were not suitable for networking.
Strategic Virtual Programs
5. There is no one-size-fits-all virtual meetings approach. Organizations take different approaches to managing their virtual meetings strategies. Some offer 2-D virtual worlds, others online meetings or online-video conference combos. The scope depends on organizational needs, resources, maturity of process and internal staff capabilities.
6. Meeting departments help drive the adoption of technology. In some organizations, meeting departments wrap good event processes (objective setting, planning, speaker training, measuring) and consulting around technology to drive adoption and format success.
7. Meeting professionals recommend virtual meetings. Three-fifths (61 percent) of respondents recommend virtual meetings in place of face-to-face meetings, most often when travel budgets interfered with a meeting. One organization enacted a default virtual meetings policy; face-to-face meetings occurred on a case-by-business-case basis.
8. Success in virtual meetings depends on internal support and integration. Meeting professionals know what helped them start their virtual meetings strategies. Leadership support, setting up an internal support team and integrating with other business processes helped adoption.
9. Key barriers include user adoption and technology and organizational challenges. Technology and perception of technology challenges from skeptics put virtual meetings teams on defense early. And many meeting professionals say that success requires strong cross-functional partnerships among their meetings, travel, learning and development and IT departments.
10. Organizations are strategic sourcing, but don’t know why. Some organizations have strategic sourcing in place for virtual meetings, but lack a definition for “virtual meetings” or formal virtual meetings policies.
11. IT leads purchasing decisions. IT traditionally sources virtual events technology and manages procurement. In some cases, first-wave virtual arrived via IT to combat early adopters who were sampling technologies by trial and error.
12. Cost savings were the primary incentive for virtual meeting adoption. Given the current economic climate, cost savings were a huge driver for virtual meeting adoption. In some cases, organizations have meetings budgets, but no travel budgets.
13. Virtual meetings offer more than just cost savings. While cost savings are important, organizations also use virtual meetings to reduce out-of-office time, diminish demand on executives and backup last-minute meetings. For marketing, organizations use virtual meetings to move prospects through the sales pipeline.
14. Virtual meetings create a new vocabulary for meeting planners. The virtual meetings vocabulary is full of words: semi-live, bandwidth, player, synchronous, asynchronous, switcher and streaming. Virtual meeting planners don’t have to be tech experts; they just need to feel comfortable around technology and its language.
15. Virtual meeting planners are more content-focused than their peers. Content delivery for virtual meetings is much different than face-to-face events, and so planners tend to get more involved in the former, including virtual speakers, presentations, content recording and repurposing, moderation and curation.
16. Virtual meeting planners need good organizational and customer services skills and a fearless view of technology. Respondents agree that virtual planners need to be comfortable with technology, but none of them thought planners needed to be technology experts.
17. There are few resources for developing virtual meeting planners. As organizations staff up and scale up their virtual meetings strategies, they are having problems finding qualified people. Most planners get their knowledge from attending virtual meetings, talking with other planners and training with technology suppliers.
18. The wealth of data in virtual platforms is under-utilized. While virtual platforms provide detailed delegate-level data, most organizations only use basic reporting and measurement capabilities.
19. Virtual meetings can segment an audience into a unit of one person. Sophisticated virtual meetings planners segment data to the individual level, compared with most face-to-face planners who look at data in aggregate. Some companies use the former for lead nurturing and education.
20. Performance metrics help virtual meeting planners assess success. In much the way that sports use metrics to assess athlete performance, measurements (registered versus attended, repeat versus new, percent in-platform time versus total content available) help sophisticated planners calculate performance and identify opportunities for improvement. One+
Jenise Fryatt; Rosa Garriga; Ruud Janssen, CMM; and Richard John also contributed to this article.
Virtual Meetings Tools
Visit www.mpiweb.org/research to read The Strategic Value of Virtual Meetings and Events research paper, which is accompanied by an in-depth How-To guide that demonstrates how planners can establish virtual events strategies. Also, read through a concise Lessons Learned paper for quick-hit tips.
business of meetings,
future of meetings,
One+ February 2012,