. The Benefit of Digital and Hybrid Events | Northstar Meetings Group

The Benefit of Digital and Hybrid Events

Company cofounder Chuck Ghoorah discusses the Cvent Virtual Attendee Hub and his reasons for optimism.

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On the eve of Cvent Connect, the former meetings-tech user conference that has transformed into a major industry event, company cofounder Chuck Ghoorah was feeling optimistic. "I don't want to paint an overly rosy picture," noted the president of worldwide sales and marketing. But as he saw it, Cvent and the hospitality and meetings industries have reasons to believe things are looking up.

Ghoorah was particularly excited about the registration numbers for Cvent Connect, which took place online this week. To see our coverage, go to Digital Cvent Connect Crushes In-Person Attendance Record. For the event, the company used its newly minted Cvent Virtual Attendee Hub platform to run the show to its biggest audience ever; the new service is now part of its event-management platform.

Cvent cofounder Chuck Ghoorah
Cvent cofounder Chuck Ghoorah

"We've always had, for many years, a virtual component of our offering, but it's never been the necessity it is today," Ghoorah noted. "And so the Cvent Virtual Attendee Hub is part of our unified event management platform now — so whether the event is in-person, virtual or hybrid, we can provide a one-stop shop. Everything is housed under one roof, without having to string together different products."

The "one-stop-shop," long a tenet of Cvent's marketing promise, has become increasingly pronounced in recent years as the company has acquired a number of specialty tools and associated talent in the marketplace. Now the pandemic has ushered in an opportunity to accelerate the integration of those products, repackaging them to address the current need to meet online — and the future necessity of combining in-person and digital meetings.

"Let me give you some stats," offered Ghoorah. "Since March 1st, we've run 70,000 virtual events on behalf of our customers. For the entire year of 2019, it was about 20,000... We think that over the next 18 months, customers will run about 500,000 virtual events on the platform."

What's in That Virtual Attendee Hub

In addition to experiencing the hub as attendees, those who tuned into Cvent's product roadmap session Wednesday received insight into what it offers planners. The hub has been designed to integrate Cvent's registration system with the engagement tools that were already part of the event-management platform. Engagement dashboards — originally designed to sync with Cvent's mobile apps to capture in-person event engagement, and score each attendee on engagement and marketing-lead potential — are now part of the virtual toolset, so virtual attendees can be scored the same way. Participants are "tracked" using the same tools — for instance, they can automatically receive education credits for participating virtually in certain sessions, just as they could when using RFID technology during face-to-face events.

By keeping their mobile apps in the mix, Cvent hopes to ease the transition back to in-person events; every aspect of the on-site event experience would be contributing to one unified dataset. And interestingly, according to Cvent, planners needn't wait for the return of in-person events to use those apps: They claim 30 to 40 percent of attendees are using the mobile apps during the virtual events, too.

The Virtual Attendee Hub is now available to all Cvent customers. A number of clients have already been piloting the platform, and full-on virtual events already have been planned by Cvent customers, going live as early as Sept. 1.

Cvent also debuted a package of related consulting services to accompany the platform. Virtual Event 360 includes elements such as high-end production of sessions and keynotes, and professional video-editing services. Those, too, are available now.

Features to Come

An ambitious lineup of features are being developed for the Virtual Attendee Hub, slated to become available within the next six months. Cvent is working on the following:

  • Advanced audience control of the viewing experience and interface;
  • Live polling, using a variety of ways to display the results and with the ability to run the polling from the moderator's choice of devices;
  • Robust video content, and the option for attendees to broadcast event videos to their TVs from the app;
  • AI-driven session recommendations, employing an algorithm that takes into account an extensive amount of attendee data;
  • A matchmaking tool, to connect attendees;
  • Embedded videoconferencing solutions, including the ability to meet face-to-face with exhibitor representatives at the virtual booths; and
  • Gamification tools, to further drive engagement.

Green Shoots of Recovery

But it wasn't just the technology that had Ghoorah feeling confident. He pointed to an upswing in sourcing activity as cause for optimism.

"What's been really surprising to us is the amount of sourcing still occurring," Ghoorah noted. "To give you a sense, in Q2 2020, during what I hope was the peak of the pandemic, $2 billion worth of group hotel sourcing still went through the Cvent Supplier Network. Obviously that was for future dates — like Q4 2020, 2021 and so forth."

Is that sourcing leading to actual booked business? "At first, conversions were quite poor," Ghoorah acknowledged. "But now, conversions to real business being awarded is back to near normal levels [meaning as a percentage of RFPs going through the system]. Now, I bet there's some liberal cancellation clauses in those contracts, but that's just my best educated guess."

Ghoorah also pointed to improving booking time frames. "Pre-Covid, the booking windows across our platform normally were around 170 days lead time," he said. "That spiked all the way up to 270 days during April and May. And now it's come back down to around 185 days. So it's not quite normal but it's approaching more normal levels.

"And what we're seeing is, the larger meetings are being booked for late '21 and '22. But right now there are a lot of small meetings going through the system, meaning you have to comply with the local regulations — and for those, it's usually only two to three weeks' lead time."

Hybrid Multiplier Effect

In Ghoorah's estimation, the brightest silver lining takes the form of what he terms the "hybrid multiplier effect" — the ability of technology to expand the reach of your brand exponentially.

Based on Cvent's experience with the Connect conference, the math is promising, according to Ghoorah. Hypothetically, a conference that drew 2,000 people in person in early 2020 might only draw 1,300 or less in early 2021, due to travel restrictions and distancing requirements — but with hybrid capabilities, it might draw another 4,000 virtually. By 2022, he posited, if the virtual attendees liked what they saw, they'll want to attend in person; so face-to-face attendance might increase to 2,500 in 2022, in addition to an even larger number of virtual attendees.

"So in terms of the total audience," Ghoorah explained, "you might go from 2,000 one year to 5,300 the next, to 8,500 the year after that. And the hotel ends up with significantly more room nights than you started with prepandemic. And the company CMO is very happy because the brand experience, the number of leads, the reach all skyrocketed."

The fact that the Cvent Connect audience went from 4,500 to 35,000 in one year, said Ghoorah, is proof the numbers are more than just hypothetical. "This is how the technology can really accelerate the branding, the lead generation and the impact on pipeline in a way that just hasn't been done before."