By Dale S. Laszig
For decades, tradeshows have provided networking, deal-making and educational opportunities to payments professionals. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pivot to virtual events, it fueled a nascent industry of service providers and digital conference technology platforms. Part 1 of this series chronicled the rapid rise of virtual events in 2020, as organizers overcame challenges to create meaningful, relevant events. In Part 2, payments industry leaders and event planners share tips on how to make virtual shows even better.
Denise Stamulis, director, global strategic events at ACI Worldwide, said virtual events will never replace in-person gatherings, but planning becomes easier with practice. "Pivoting to virtual events initially presented challenges largely due to many moving pieces from a planning perspective," she said. "As we've completed more virtual events, we've been able to more easily adjust."
Marla Ellerman, executive director of the MPC digital commerce event, agreed with Stamulis that online events will never replace connecting with friends and associates in person, but the gap can be closed. "People are still talking about our virtual cocktail party at MPC20," she said. "We had live music, drinks, and a chance to ditch the agenda and catch up informally on Zoom."
Elaina Smith, CFO at Settlement Data Systems, wants to see more Q&A and post-event follow-up at virtual conferences. "I've attended several webinars where there wasn't enough time allotted for Q&A, and there was no follow-up after the event," she said. "I would like to see more polling of attendees before the webinar so that they have a true understanding of what type of content attendees are expecting and what questions they hope to have answered."
Before and after webinars and conferences, organizers can use social media platforms to connect with audience members, and high-quality content, curated for a target audience, is generally more effective than diluted content designed to reach a broader group, Smith noted. Organizers should narrow the scope to improve content quality and provide productive takeaways; if the content is good, attendees will want to continue the conversation, she added.
Smith also believes it's also time to move on from the initial shock of the pandemic. "I don't want to see any more webinars that end with 'in a pandemic,'" Smith said. "If we haven't figured out how to adapt to the current environment by now, we probably need more than a webinar."
Jodie Kelley, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association, agreed the industry is entering a new phase as virtual events compete for attention, time and resources. Among such events is the ETA's post-election Payments & Politics set for Nov. 17, 2020. It will feature keynote speaker Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, and personalized breakout sessions. Registration is open at www.electran.org/eta-events-awards/2020-politics-payments/ .
"Payments experts will address election results and what it means for fintechs and payments industry stakeholders," Kelley said. "And we'll discuss further in small group breakouts moderated by former members of Congress and lobbyists."
Anna Degtereva, CEO and founder of the LinkUpConferenceShow (LUCS), also believes in the power of personalized networking. Degtereva has worked with clients in public and private sectors, including the Ukrainian prime minister. She recently moved to the United States to develop a new kind of event that disrupts traditional conference venues, which she calls boring.
"LUCS dedicates 70 percent to personalized networking and 30 percent to industry leaders, celebrities and comedians," Degtereva said. "We use a unique algorithm to group each attendee with others who match their business interests. Once matched, our hilarious moderators keep participants engaged, conversations flowing and interactions fun."
Degtereva pairs 20 participants per group with a LUCS moderator to facilitate meaningful connections. Participants can add contact and record their favorite presentations using the LUCS conference app, as well as share them on the LUCS website and LinkedIn event page. In these ways, participants can share the most memorable aspects of the event, she stated.
If you have passionate, professional, dedicated people on your team, it doesn't matter if you work in an office or at home, Degtereva said, adding that LUCS has a lean all-woman team. "Anna, Kate, Anastasia, Yanna, and Lorie are in New York," she said. "Stephanie is in Montevideo, Uruguay. Lisa is in London. Helga is in Steyr, Austria and Natalie and Marina are in Kyiv, Ukraine." The team uses Google Drive, live chat and weekly team calls to set goals and deadlines across time zones and regions. "Of course, I miss people so much," Degtereva said. "I miss hugs, handshakes and laughing over a shared lunch. I miss the energy of having people around me. I have forgotten what a group of people looks or feels like, and that's crazy."
Degtereva pointed out that digital conferences improve on some aspects of traditional, on-site events. While traditional events tend to focus on content and speakers, digital events focus more on the audience. She noted that a special algorithm is what matches and pre-approves people and creates a personalized list of connections for each participant.
Dave Hunkele, chief strategy officer at Finzly, agreed that digital events can deliver a compelling ROI, especially when attendees use technology efficiently to optimize the virtual networking experience. He advised participants to start on time, end on time or early, unmute themselves before speaking, and use the hand-raising feature during live chat sessions.
"Look for tools that allow networking to happen with ease in breakout rooms, or for larger audiences, there are other tools to enable networking with table topics," Hunkele said. "Click on your interested topic, and engage only with those individuals who share the same interest."
Hunkele emphasized security, noting the following:
Hunkele offered further recommendations for event hosting:
Finally, to ensure that registrants show up and have a worthwhile experience, Hunkele recommended that organizers "activate available meeting reminders to keep the invitation on top of everyone's inboxes, and use tools that work in your environment."
Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content development specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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