Tech Giants: Social hour’s Adam Riggs on Elevating Human Connection and Engagement in the Virtual and Hybrid World

September 17, 2021

While the words “startup” and “epiphany” seem to go hand-in-hand nowadays, a pivotal moment of realization is not what inspired Adam Riggs to create Frameable and build out its suite of remote-first digital experiences, including its virtual and hybrid event platform, Social hour.

“Many founder stories start with a magical ‘aha!’ moment—a sudden spark of inspiration an aspiring entrepreneur scribbles on a coffee shop napkin,” he said. “I don’t have one of those.”

What Riggs does have is an incredibly varied career that has led him to reflect on learnings from his many prior roles, including positions in the fast-paced world of derivatives trading, the first president and CFO Shutterstock, a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s staff and an investor in all kinds of companies.  

During the past decade, every position and board seat Riggs held had one thing in common: lots of meetings. 

“Over the years, I’ve come to believe that a lot is broken about how people typically collaborate,” he said. “The technology that makes it possible to ‘meet’ through conference calls and video chats on its own certainly does not help people make the most of their time.”

After his last formal role with the U.S. State Department, Riggs committed to creating better remote collaboration tools that put the humans who use them at the core, which eventually gave rise to Social hour.

We sat down with Riggs to get his take on what distinguishes Social hour from other platforms, the best ways to truly engage attendees and the evolution and future of the ever-changing virtual and hybrid event space.  

Since the pandemic began, a plethora of virtual and hybrid event platforms have rushed to the market. What sets Social hour apart when it comes to helping clients produce standout trade shows, conferences and other events?

Our relentless, merciless focus on design, both graphic design and interaction design. It has to look beautiful, each feature has to work beautifully on its own and they also have to fit together in a way that is natural and effortless, easy to understand for the attendee and easy to set up and implement for the event planner.  

Marketing can put eyes on your product, of course. But if the design falls short, if the user’s experience is frustrating, then companies that invest more in marketing than user experience will be pushed aside. This is happening now and will continue.  

Specifically for trade shows and similar large-scale events, Social hour enables hosts and planners to create sponsored booths if they want to, fully brand and customize the event on several levels, list participants and user profiles for easy networking, let participants opt-in to exchange contact information and garner insights into the event with metrics and reports on attendance, popular table topics and engagement levels. 

All these features are beautifully executed, but they are a means to an end: deliver the human connection. A virtual event needs to be more than 10 hours of video that attendees passively consume. It has to be elegant and at least partially interactive for everyone involved. Aside from breakout sessions, the benefit of in-person conferences is the ability to casually meet and network with industry colleagues in the lobby or grab a coffee while also meeting new, meaningful contacts before, during or after any programming. 

No one goes to in-person events just for the content. They go for the human connection, and that is what has been lost. We’re focused on bringing it back through great design and a well-thought-out user experience.

What’s the secret to cracking the engagement code for virtual events, and how are you helping your clients do it?

There are several ways to help keep your audiences drawn in and engaged during virtual events. Event planners can set up and provide live chat tools, dedicated messaging channels, small group video sessions and open video conferencing rooms where in-person and virtual attendees can hang out and connect before and after the event. Post-event landing pages or dedicated forums that allow all attendees to connect and interact are good ideas to boost engagement.

When you are planning a virtual conference or trade show, consider how you can use technology to re-create the in-person experiences that attendees find the most valuable (i.e., meeting and engaging with other people). Be sure you enable virtual attendees to interact with speakers, network with industry vendors and engage with industry colleagues.

What are some of the biggest client pain points that Social hour is successfully addressing?

Social hour integrates with numerous conference content delivery platforms to provide a variety of attendee engagement opportunities. The user experience is compelling and straightforward. The platform’s fast, intuitive, customizable layout and breakout tables allow new networking and interaction sessions to be implemented on short notice and provide a very close feeling to an in-person experience. 

One of the most important compliments we hear from people who have used other virtual event software as well as Social hour is that they love how easy it is to get up and running with Social hour. There is no need to work with a third-party tech vendor to plan, set up or run your event. From the finalized agreement through to the event day, we are available to help but at the same time, once you have run one or two events with us, it’s very easy to manage on your own.  

Can you give us examples of some of your most successful and engaging virtual or hybrid events?

We recently partnered with TechChange, the Institute for Technology and Social Change, an online events and course provider for the social sector (government agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, etc.). The pandemic fueled an increase in virtual events, which accelerated demand for TechChange’s services. Over the past year, TechChange scaled up its virtual event product offering and has hosted several dozen large-scale events (multi-day or 1,000-plus people often with high-level production). 

They run an annual 10,000-plus person event called RightsCon, the world’s largest tech and human rights conference. They conducted approximately 100 Social hour sessions across a five-day schedule during this year’s event and used Social hour for additional focused networking rooms. RightsCon’s leadership said in the final plenary session of the event that their use of Social hour was the top-of-list highlight of the entire conference.   

For the recent Society for International Development’s Annual Conference, TechChange used Social hour to create something more like an expo hall with logos for different sponsoring organizations at the tables. When a presenter was speaking and doing a demo, the other people at their tables could talk with each other on video.

Do virtual and hybrid events have a future as the industry continues to move back to in-person?

Definitely. I think it’s a mistake to think we’ll go back to the way things were before. The truth is that the future of events is hybrid—that is, featuring a mix of in-person and virtual experiences to maximize the potential value and ease of access for attendees worldwide. Even if we could completely erase the larger concerns of COVID, many organizations have realized the benefits that come with running virtual and hybrid events in terms of cost savings, reach, increased sponsorships, etc. Further, attendees around the world have had an entirely new set of opportunities opened up for them—why would you want to throw away this potentially huge revenue and engagement source?

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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.