Q&A on Intel’s Online Events Journey

Q A on Intel Online Events Journey


Recently, Intel’s Phil Tierney (@virtuallyphil) presented a Thought Leaders LIVE webinar titled “Intel’s Online Events Journey: From Internal to External to Self Service.” The audience reception to the online events presentation was so great that Phil was not able to address all the questions that were submitted.

Phil is not one to leave his adoring fans hanging, however – so as promised, the unanswered questions (and Phil’s answers) can be found here.

Q&A on Intel’s Online Events Journey
On Digital Event Production & Logistics

Q: Between live, on-demand and simulive, which do you prefer?
A: Of all the shows we produce, I would say that we are heavily invested in and generally encourage live production. If it’s not live, you need a really good reason to pre-record show content. Recorded is generally not as interesting to audiences. Active engagement through the use of live polls, Q&A and chat is just more compelling. I can post pre-recorded content to any website an day. I don’t really need a digital show to deploy it.

Q: Do you have any quick advice for the firewall problem?
A: Firewalls have been problematic for us at times. The first few times we hosted internal events, vendors asked us to open up specific ports in our firewall. My security and network engineers were adamant that we could not or would not do that.

This vendor “requirement” is one of several reasons I believe the industry must move away from the proprietary delivery technology that is deep in their legacy platforms. Default failover logic in the platforms attempts to use several network ports that would not normally be open in many, if not most, firewalls. This in turn can generate slow media transmission and misleading test results that could result in a less than optimal user experience.

As it turns out, we have found that every vendor in the industry can support content delivery across the standard internet ports 80 and 443, which must be open in every firewall for basic internet support. Since I know the vendors can support this requirement for me, I suspect they can support it for you. On the other hand, I have no idea if it requires significant effort on their part.

On Video

Q: Are live video sessions more enticing than recorded videos? Or does it depend on content?
A: We have used both for good reasons. Live is spontaneous and nearly always seems that way. For my money, live with audio-only or webcam (talking head) video tends to be simpler to produce than pre-recorded with live Q&A. Live can be disrupted by things like snowstorms, traffic, internet service provider outages or other technology failures, but in practice, we see these issues very rarely. If you are using live video from studio settings, there is an additional layer of logistics and other complexity added to your production planning.

Sidebar: We have recently been experimenting with porting live video from telepresence rooms which make it possible to produce live video with high production values without camera, lighting and sound crews. So far, we still have a webcast engineer monitoring the delivery, but I expect this to go away someday.

Pre-recorded can seem canned but removes much of the risk associated with live production. However, if we resort to this (most often because a presenter or panel could not be present at the show time) we always have live subject Matter Experts including some of the presenters available for post presentation live Q&A. Transitioning from pre-recorded to live audio adds technical complexity (and risk) to production, another reason to encourage show sponsors to produce live content.

Q: I have done and seen a number of digital events but I have only once seen live video quality that is any good. Do you think the poor video quality leads to a poor impression versus just having audio?
A: First of all you have to ask what the video is for. Do talking heads or a panels really require Blu-Ray quality? We have done late-night variety show format video that arguably required higher production values yet we were able to shoehorn into a 500 Kbps (kilobits per second) footprint. I get the question, but I’m not sure I see the problem. My eyesight? …not so good either 🙂

Seriously, In order to deliver HD video, vendors would need to assume that attendees have internet connections that would reliably support higher download speeds than they currently assume. This is not terribly realistic at this time in North America, at least. (South Korea is reputedly nirvana in this respect but not all of my audience lives there.) I have noticed that the 500 kbps that we test for on show launch generates enough inquiries from attendees to infer that location or temporal network conditions may regularly not support this bandwidth benchmark. Many hotel and public network locations will never test OK. Some Asian and European locations regularly report difficulties.

One of my serious concerns for our smaller offices is that high simultaneous consumption of 500 kbps content could clog the network, making other business difficult to conduct. (10 attendees x 500 kbps = 5 MEGAbits per second or capacity of 3-4 T1 connections).

So vendors have had to arrive at a video standard that delivers reasonable video quality to a majority of attendees. I think they’re doing a pretty good job. My team occasionally has to squeeze high bitrate, high framerate video content down to 350 kbps, 24 (or less) fps but I believe we have been successful at retaining decent video quality. (Warning: video producers hate this discussion…videophiles cringe). Variable bandwidth delivery is possible in some scenarios though the basic technology is not universally supported.

On Intel’s Digital Events Processes and Procedures

Q: Do you make your team members take a certification or other ‘test’ for self service?
A: Not currently. The steep ramp we have been on has not allowed us to do this. In addition, because my teammates all wear several hats (sponsor engagement, technical configurator, webcast producer, etc.), I am not sure that it would map well. Maybe at some point in the future when we have more specialization there could be a clear benefit. Haven’t really thought hard about it.

Q: Do you do these productions in-house or externally?
A: Most of our production is done in-house, whether it is for an internal or external audience. We have opted to use an externally-hosted platform so that we don’t need an army of developers and server operations folks supporting the effort.

That said, we often collaborate with our vendor on production challenges especially on special situations. I am fortunate to have an internal video production unit that really knows their stuff, so studio video production is often “insourced” to them. We occasionally engage with an external video production agencies, graphic arts teams or marketing partners to assist us in preparing for external shows.

Q: Can you define “events” in the context of Intel’s marketing strategy?
A: My slice of Digital Events at Intel is generally focused on shows that:

  1. Have target audiences of greater than 200 participants.
  2. Have an agenda complexity greater than a single topic or presentation (we have several webinar programs that support simpler agendas)
  3. Require highly interactive exchanges between audience and subject matter experts (SMEs) as in job fairs, learning conferences, etc.
On Digital Event User Experience

Q: Do you believe the role of UX professionals are important in making sure these learning journeys successful?
A: I like what Human Factors Engineers bring to the table. If you have them available, use them but try to avoid the conceptual theorists. Insanely great UI might require rebuilding the platform, so a good practical thinker is who you want on the team.

Also, some customers may need an application more than they need a digital show. Best if you figure this out eary in the engagement process. You should help them understand their real needs.

Q: Are there any features/components you’d like to see offered for virtual events that would improve the audience experience?
A: Improved screen/application sharing. Whiteboarding. Packaged methods for what I call full-duplex hybrid events that optimize and integrate virtual and in-person experiences to a much higher degree than we do today.

Mostly, I would like to see the platforms support non-proprietary standards-based video so that I don’t have to think so much about what flavors of content I deliver inside my firewall, outside my firewall, to mobile devices, etc. The move to mobile devices is accelerating the complexity of supporting this for vendors and for show producers. I’d prefer to see the vendors focused on other needed development areas instead of how many flavors of video they can deliver.

Q: The “virtual trade show” platform with booths has taken a lot of criticism. Do you use virtual booths and what has been your experience?
A: Booth doesn’t fit so many usage contexts for me, so I am one of the chorus on this. Why not classrooms, laboratories, fireside chats, coffee shop or science fair scenarios? Maybe a visual metaphor is a distraction? While I’m not sure I would go quite that far, I regularly hear from proponents of a very plain take-me-to-the-content approach.

But I also get enthusiastic support for environmental metaphors. Clearly, individual preferences vary widely. Navigation is a subtle but important element of the impression a show leaves on attendees. Too many clicks to get to content tends to decrease attendee satisfaction.

On the other hand, show sponsors may want attendees to wander past the ice cream on their way to the milk. The obvious advice is know your audience. Don’t cave to gratuitous use of convenient graphics. Go get your own. Take pictures of environments or scenarios you want to simulate. And if you’re using metaphors, use metaphors that map to your audience’s interests and make sense with respect to your mission.

On Online Training

Q: We specialize in training and it’s still quite difficult to train and have really interactive training sessions online.
A: Agreed. This is why I believe that everybody in this business needs to develop improved sensitivities to user experience. The websites we’ve all become accustomed to have very limited interaction opportunities.

They are mostly passive except you can navigate, launch a video or open a document. Digital shows offer additional interaction modes and some integration to social media (though I generally dislike siloed social media within show domains…I would prefer more fully interactive integration with my pre-existing social media platforms).

As for making online learning more interactive, you just need to work hard at it. Screen-sharing, whiteboarding, chat and video chat should be used and used effectively. Games are underutilized as are sub-group/breakout assignments. I like the interactive shared screen model for software instruction, but it’s fairly rare to see it enabled within the platforms.

On Content

Q: You mentioned content as playing a large role in the success of your events.  What kind of content do you develop? What kind of content is most effective?
A: My team doesn’t develop much content per se, but we often assist show sponsors in developing content. We have produced a broad spectrum of webcast content from audio-only with slides to highly produced video vignettes.

What makes sense in a specific show context has a lot to do with how much time, money and resource a sponsor can devote to the piece of content. Our show sponsors often have animations or short demo videos, white papers, product tear sheets and other documents available as well. All of these require preparation, thought, etc.

My team does assist with helping sponsors use the show interaction tools (chats, polls, Q&A, etc.) to enhance the show experience. I believe the interaction is an important component of show. The context in which content is consumed has a large bearing on what the consumer will take away from the experience. Having had a chat with an expert who just gave a presentation is a lot more memorable than just downloading a white paper.

Q: Content is key, but sharing is also important when trying to replicate a live event. What do you suggest for this? Doing teamwork breakout sessions, etc.?
A: Several possibilities here, but yes, this is one of the challenges that show producers and sponsors wrestle with. A virtual show must be more than just a website with links to content (or we’re working way too hard). It has time value (It’s an event!) that makes attending interesting or appealing to the audience. It has opportunities to interact with subject matter experts and other attendees with similar interests.It also has some great attributes like convenience (no travel, missing the kids’ soccer games, etc.). So how do you maximize interactivity?

In addition to webcast presentations, live (eg not pre-recorded) demos with live Q&A can add interaction and spontaneity. This can be orchestrated in trade show style booths or in more intimate breakout sessions (pick a metaphor or not…). I think that the concept of scheduled chat works well in support of this context though pre-defined constraints of some platforms might not fully support screensharing and chat together.

This is actually an example where I have had to design and integrate with platform components plus external screen-sharing. Another variant of this would be the birds of a feather session. Like a scheduled chat, I believe this needs to be enabled by good facilitation, so subject matter expert seeding and “management” of the conversation is highly desirable. These activities can/should be scheduled to increase interest in attending when SMEs are available.

In addition, the conversations started (or continued) at a show really should be integrated with other social media activities that keep the conversation alive after the show. Whether that conversation only happens in the show context or is integrated with external blogs, feeds, etc. is a choice you must make.

I lean towards outside the show context since the same social media can be used to redirect people back to show content as appropriate or announce new content or offerings in the case of a recurring or persistent event like this Thought Leaders LIVE session. I am generally not fond of in-show, stovepiped blogs or forums since there are so many associated external vehicles that are more likely to intersect with the audience before or after the show.


Post contributed by Dennis Shiao