How to Make 1 on 1 Virtual Appointments Add Up to Meaningful Meetings

April 9, 2021
How to Make 1 on 1 Virtual Appointments Add Up to Meaningful Engagement

Soon after founding Meetaway three years ago, Scott Barnett conducted research for how his platform could work best for conferences. All it took was one question, asked pre-COVID: What is your favorite part of an event? About 90% of respondents cited one-on-one hallway meetings — impromptu or pre-planned.

“There’s something magical about that one-on-one conversation,” said Barnett, who has built his product to “take that magic moment and run an entire networking session around that.”

Flash forward to the past 12 months, when many attendees and exhibitors have cursed their virtual appointments. The irritation is demonstrated in a study by Freeman, which found more than 50% of event attendees prefer to keep networking as strictly an in-person component. But at Meetaway, “we haven’t seen that problem,” Barnett said.

With a client base continually growing — one that includes the virtual event series Mission Critical — Meetaway has served a total of 4,000 events, the vast majority of which have, not surprisingly, occurred during the pandemic.

The reasons for the success are obvious: The company has built a predictive system to better match attendees and essentially eliminate the problem of the no-show.

Yes, the technology is good, but there is more to it than that — and that’s been a terribly sore spot for the events industry as it races to return to in-person gatherings.

“Everyone says attendee engagement is a huge challenge with virtual events,” noted Curtis O’Keefe, senior vice president of virtual events and conferencing solutions at Communique Conferencing. “Organizers most often look for the platform to solve the problem. Well, it’s not just the platform.”

Don’t Blame the Technology

O’Keefe compares the situation to planners blaming a venue for troubles arising at a traditional networking session. Could the room’s acoustics and spacing make it difficult to communicate? Sure, but is that the venue’s fault or should the planner have known to look elsewhere?

While much of the technological adaptation the industry has gone through would almost surely occur regardless of COVID-19, the speed of the revolution caught everyone off-guard. The learning curve has been steep, at times, and most noticeably around trying to build engagement among attendees. Exhibitors, in particular, have grown frustrated by the lack of quality leads.

That challenge has brought many of the industry’s best minds together. For instance, Brian Scott, president of ClearTone Consulting, began blogging about the technical difficulties virtual events were having. Heather Holst-Knudsen, a veteran event planner who is now CEO of the events consulting agency H2K Partners, read one of Scott’s pieces on LinkedIn. That connection spawned Techmatch, a service they offer to help planners find the right technology for their event.

“It’s not just picking the right platform, you have to have the right strategy,” Holst-Knudsen explained. “A lot of organizers were basically transferring an in-person event experience into a virtual one and it just doesn’t work.”

Barnett encountered many of the same patterns early in the pandemic, but thinks planners have come to the same conclusion that the technology providers were advising all along. Meaning, companies and planners have come around to the notion that a virtual event has to be treated as a separate experience than an in-person gathering, even during the same overall event.

“We’ve gotten smarter,” he said.

The Right Match

As momentum builds toward the return of face-to-face meetings, hybrid and omnichannel elements will remain prevalent, if not irreplaceable.

Scott and Holst-Knudsen have researched hundreds of virtual platform providers. Many have their uses and can be effective in the right circumstance, they said. But only a handful, including Grip, are truly capable of meeting the needs of sophisticated, multi-faceted conventions and trade shows.

Two consistent problems Scott has seen are data analysis and usability. “We need to drive better data collection,” he said. And, in an observation many can relate to, “The platforms hurt themselves.” Piggybacking on the last point, he cites two examples:

  • Some platforms don’t have notifications for when an attendee enters a virtual booth, so an exhibitor could very easily miss a business opportunity if he or she turns away from the computer screen;
  • Even when an attendee is notified, it’s not clear how to access a meeting — as happened to Scott. “I couldn’t find where to go to talk to this person. It turns out the other individual couldn’t find it either,” he said.

Meetaway keeps it as simple as possible to collect information. Attendees are asked to respond to four or five “tags” that help identify the type of people they are interested in meeting. They can also request a specific person known to be at the same event, which makes connecting even easier.

The platform, Barnett explained, gathers feedback from both sides of conversations to then make real-time recommendations for other appointments. If a good match is not online, Meetaway moves to another preferred match.

Meetaway is meant to be simple enough so organizers, ironically, don’t even need to meet with Barnett or his team to use it. That’s often the case, he noted.

Beyond networking sessions that can last anywhere from an hour to a full day, the platform has also been used as a pre-event gathering so attendees will see some familiar faces when on-site at a convention, conference or trade show.

Meanwhile, he expects virtual meetings to continue, and to improve with more experience. “We’ve learned what works virtually and what doesn’t,” Barnett said.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.