How to Embrace Virtual Events: Expert Insight with Aleksandra Panukhina

In this interview Samantha chats with expert Marketer & Event Planner Aleksandra Panyukhina who shares her insight on virtual events, what to think about when hosting your own and also how to get the most out of every event you attend. 

 

1:49 What is on your mind right now in regards to Virtual Events? 

3:43 What to consider if you should be hosting a virtual event?

7:32 How can companies who are hosting events get creative in ways to connect attendees at events

12:17 What KPIs should you be tracking for your virtual events? 

16:11 How do you get the most out of the virtual events as an attendee?

 

Sam:

All right, good morning Hubsessed community. I'm super excited, today I have Aleksandra Panyukhina with Userlane. I am super excited to talk with her about virtual events and what to consider if you're thinking about hosting one and also what to consider if you are attending one. I want to give you a chance, Aleksandra, to just explain a little bit about what you do with Userlane.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Hello Sam, and hello everybody who's watching this. I'm really happy to be here and talk more about what I love and what I do for life basically. Not just for living, but for life. These are events and currently I do that at Userlane. We're are software adoption platform and we are a German-based company, however, with global coverage. Our mission is to make any software easy to use for anybody, and I think with the recent pivot to virtual and all of the event planners having to learn how to broadcast, how to master all the complicated tools for virtual events. That would have been a really great addition for any tool out there. That's in short how we explain what Userlane is.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

What I do there is building from ground zero, our events programs, and previously I'd done it for SEMrush, they're a digital marketing platform, which probably some of you have heard about and also admin software. So I'm really this B2B tech company focused in particular on events.

 

Sam:

Cool. Thanks for that introduction. Tell me what's on your mind right now with virtual events. I know you've had the chance to attend and also host some of your own. So what's going on in your mind right now?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Yeah, actually in my mind this week, I was starting thinking about going 2021 and the funny thing that I realized is that I started thinking about the virtual event first, rather than in person. So actually over the past six months, it's just the virtual events have engraved in our minds so much that when I think about the planning, I think about how we can manage what, I think about virtual, I think about in person and I think about the hybrid.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

So there has definitely been a huge shift and that is something that every one of us I think should be doing if your company is running events and that's time that we are already are in the next phase of not just accepting, but living it, because I know there have been companies who first were interested, how it's going to unfold. Virtual events sounds interesting. Then there was this rejection phase and then it was okay, let's wait until things back to normal, back to in person. But now we're in a moment where we're like, okay, virtual is actually pretty nice and there are tons of things that you can do and a lot of benefits also of the virtual events. Yeah, we have to embrace that and at least from 2021 really properly plan them as a part of your marketing strategy and not just as a plan B and C that we all have to refer through this year.

 

Sam:

Totally. I love that. When you're talking about considering if you could host a virtual event, I follow HubSpot's blog and they just recently sent one out and I was thinking, I'm like, I wonder from perspective of some marketers it's like, Oh, how do you consider what type of virtual event you should be hosting? You're like, I'm not sure I have anything to host. And one of the things that I loved that they said was doing a meeting, a hands on meeting with your whole team as a virtual event to just try this out, maybe test out break rooms. Do you have any suggestions on if people are feeling stumped around what to host and to dip their toes in hosting something?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

I think there are two sides of the coin here. One thing, if you don't know if you should be hosting anything, maybe you actually don't have to host it. It's just like the in person events. Events are not a mandatory thing and your business can be extremely successful without doing any events. There are many companies that are just killing it without any event marketing being part of it. Sometimes maybe speaking at the conferences, but not necessarily running own events. So the same with the virtual, you don't have to do it just because everybody is doing it. And all of a sudden it has become a mainstream to throw in a conference there.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

So, if you have the particular reason to do that, you will know what you're doing it for. And if you're just like, okay, let's do an event, that has always been for me the problem that exists with events. That has also undermined its significance and its importance for different businesses, because when events are organized without any specific intention, without particular goals and results in mind, then it seems afterwards as a waste of time, waste of resources, waste of finances and that you could have done something different. And then it's like, okay, yes, that was an event. What's the result?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

But if you know that you want to organize an event and you know the particular goal, maybe you want to transition from your in-person events that you've planned to virtual, but you don't know how to do that. I would say, first of all, attend a few. Luckily there are a myriad of events happening every week. Most of them are free of charge. And to be honest, many of them are really good. Now organizers are getting better and better at what they're doing and you can learn so much from that. That's what I did back in March and April.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

I was not yet employed at Userlane And I had, let's say time off after SM rush. And I just started attending virtual events and picking up what I like, what I didn't like, thinking critically from the attendee perspective, from the speaker perspective, what I would have improved and I compiled my own playbook. So that when I started creating virtual event for Userlane, I already have this key bullet points and key do's and don'ts that I wanted to implement because it's different than the in person events. That's really true and you just have to adjust to it.

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Running events with your team, that's a good idea also, because you can test the technology or you can test actually the setup that you wanted to do. You will also understand what you need to learn and what you need to improve. Plus, as a team, you can share the feedback and get multiple people with different points of view and different life experiences, understand if it works for them or not.

 

Sam:

Yeah. Those are some really great points. I think just throwing an event for the sake of doing that, it's like what is the intention? And reframing that and thinking about some just attending or perhaps being a supporter of a conference that's happening is a really good place to begin, so good insight there. All right. This next question is for companies who have identified that they do want to host an event and what can you share about creating space for attendees to connect? I think about this a lot as when we attend events that kind of networking and meeting other people is a huge piece of why we do these, right?

 

Sam:

What have been some really great tactics and strategies you've seen around connecting attendees at your events that you can share with our members?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Yeah. I think this part with networking and connecting people is the one where virtual events will never replace in person. And that's something we just have to accept and be okay with and not blame an event of not being connecting enough, not providing enough of this networking experience. It will never be the same as talking to other people at the after parties, so don't expect that. But I think that in future, actually virtual events that will stay, they will be more content oriented and in-person will start doubling down on this in-person connection. So there will be different goals that this type of events pursue, but for now we live in a situation where that's where we will connect and we just have to find new ways to do that.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Luckily, tons of platforms provide all kinds of variations for these networking opportunities. And again trying to replicate the serendipity of meeting somebody in the holes or in the breakout rooms. So my advice would be to look into the platforms that provide you with functionality for either matchmaking networking, when people enter certain part of the platform and they're being automatically matched with somebody else who just joined. And then you have three, five, 10 minutes to discuss anything, literally connect with each other and decide if you want to stay connected afterwards. If you want to share some of the contact details.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

There are different platforms that allow that like Brella or Hopin and definitely some others, because there are so many of them. I just really can't keep track of everything. Then there are platforms that allow you to create, let's say corners where attendees are talking about something around the world or Remo where you kind of sit at the table with somebody and their cameras pop up and you can talk about something. Everybody says that the experiences, you're not 100% sure if you like it, but that it was interesting. So you can always utilize it. I would say it really works for smaller scale events. 

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

At least the basic opportunities are always having an event chat. If you have an event chat at your event, have a moderator who will be engaging in conversations, because I think we've all experienced that when you enter the event venue in the morning and everybody's sending and watching others, but not really engaging, the same happens with event chat. Everybody's sitting, they're in there but they're not actually interacting, so having somebody really outgoing. Say like, "Hey, how are we doing? Let us know where you're tuning in from. Let's count how many countries we have." So somebody who's really outgoing personality. Somebody who's smiling while typing, because this smile, you can feel it through the chat actually. This is one of the keys to success to have the chat vivid and ongoing.

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

I know that Growth Marketing conference, for example, really had a lot of fun with that just because of the amazing effort the team did on engaging in the chat and that's something we replicated for our events as well. I'm going to say that has been not only rewarding in terms of emotional connection, but it was actually very rewarding from let's say business outcomes for the event, because people actually would start talking and asking for recommendations and, "Would you use it for this particular use case?" And everybody, "Yeah, I've done it last year and the results were great." So there's really a lot to uncover there.

 

Sam:

Okay, great. So smile while you type and make sure you have someone who can engage as a moderator.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Yeah.

 

Sam:

Good advice there. All right. So, when companies are hosting these events, how do the KPI's change from virtual to in-person and what do you adjust and what stays the same?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Okay. So it's about the KPIs and how that changes with transition from in-person to virtual. So I would say what stays the same is defining the intent for the event, defining the goals and the expected results beforehand, because KPIs actually come afterwards. KPIs for events they really differ depending on what you're utilizing the event from. KPIs of third party events sponsorship would be different from hosting your own customer focused events and you can't put them in one line then nobody will be happy about the results and about the outcomes, even though the events could have been successful. Or on the opposite, maybe they did not really deliver the value that you wanted them to deliver, but it seems from the first glance that, okay, but the KPIs are there.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

And then I think it's just important to align your events with your overall marketing funnel to understand what it contributes to. What do you want to get out of it? If you're working on demand gen side and you do an event as a part of demand gen campaign, then of course you will be looking at the number of new and leads coming in. And then if that is an event focused on customers and your high quality prospects, then you will look at the conversions and so on and so on. But overall I would say there is always the component of revenue KPIs, and brand KPIs for the events and there is just the change of the ratio between them, of course. Higher, like top of the funnel, that would be more of a brand KPIs versus revenue KPIs, because you can't expect somebody who came for the topic that is overall related to what your product does all of a sudden to convert. Maybe somebody will, but it's not the rule there.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

And at the same time, if you really focus on, okay, connecting your prospects with your happy customers, then of course you want them to make decisions faster afterwards. So there will be higher portion of revenue KPIs. From the revenue stand point of view, for me personally, it always comes down to MRR and new and expansion. So this is the ultimate revenue metric. You can of course measure also number of MQLS and SQLs and the conversion rates and so on that's if you want to make your analytics more complex and really fine tune your process. But I think the revenue is what matters most.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

And from brand perspective, the same, there are so many metrics that you can look at that how it's often said among marketers, okay, that's for brand, you can't really attribute that to the revenue. I think there is always the metric that shows that your brand awareness is raising. It's a raise of organic traffic to your website. It means that people start being interested in what you're actually doing. And if you can tie it to the timing of your events or to the timeline of promotion of your events that's one of the ways that you can show that your event is generating [inaudible 00:16:20] it's generating traffic to your website and then it's that side to convert them already into leads.

 

Sam:

Yes. I love it. And we are doing a training course on looking at your web traffic analytics. So this will be a perfect follow up. Yeah. Great. Okay, so the final question is, what advice can you share to members who are attending? How do you get the most out of virtual events? I know you and I had chatted and it's like with these virtual events, it's kind of 50% on the company to create the spaces. And then just as much on us as attendees to put ourselves out there and to engage.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Exactly. With in-person events, we always made an effort to physically be there, to be present. We would travel to the location. It could be overseas, it could be in another country, or even if it is in the city, you would basically take a day off at work, or you would clear your schedule from any meetings and you would go to the event and probably will share on Twitter your early morning cup of coffee, saying how excited you are about this keynote of this amazing event. And then you will post another few things and key takeaways. This has significantly dropped when we transitioned to virtual and part of that is because people are working from home and they're like well, I'm still at home. So I'm still basically working.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

So still answer emails and I will take a couple of meetings at the same time as the virtual event I signed up for is happening. And what we see sometimes is that people do not pay enough attention. They don't make time for these virtual experience that organizers have created for them. And then they don't feel that it was fulfilling, that it was interesting or engaging just because you didn't make enough time to actually unlock all of that experience that has been put out there. So I would say always the main tip is do your homework and your homework consists of a few parts.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

First of all, clearing your schedule and blocking the day for the event. The second thing is not ignoring, but actually reading all of this reminder is that event organizers are sending to you. They're sharing with you usable bits of information, something about the platform that the event is running. We deal with technology as Userlane is helping out to do that easier, but still there is part of your preparation. Maybe you need to install a new browser to have proper experience and have everything working seamlessly, or maybe you need to create the account on the platform and it's better to do it in advance so that on the day, you just log in and you're already in there.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Maybe there is some incentive or scavenger hunt going on that will actually lead you through agenda that has been curated for you based on your requests on the job that you are doing. There are so many things that event organizers currently do. I know it because I'm a part of the community where all of the B2B event organizers are every day asking each other what have you done, how to do it better, guys look this is what I'm planning. So tell me if it's good or not. So people are really trying to be better. It's not like everybody tries to set up these boring meetings or webinars or anything. No, there's a lot of work being done and these attendees should also do our part of the job.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

And then also getting excited about it. Research speakers, choose sessions you really want to engage with and engage in chat and share that on social. So just like you would do for the in-person event, this has to stay. So yeah, three things free time and engage and get excited about the events and, yeah.

 

Sam:

Cool. I love that. Did you guys with Userlane do any trying to get people to post from at home their coffee while they're at their virtual? Or is there a way to engage that you've been trying that out?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Well, I have a lot of things planned for our next brand event. I'm trying to capitalize more on social media. But we always encourage people to share their feedback and their key takeaways, but that's just the basic and I'm planning much more to actually encourage everybody to participate in that.

 

Sam:

Yeah. Wow. Exciting and when is this next event?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Well, our brand event that would be open to public and that will be all about bringing fun and energizing digital transformation will be happening in November.

Sam:

Ooh, okay. Great. I will have to link that in our article where I post this.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Yeah, absolutely.

Sam:

Okay. Well, thank you so much for sharing all this knowledge. I definitely know with this, I have a virtual event, Inbound that is happening in two weeks and I will be doing my homework. I'm going to post on my social media key takeaways and really do my effort on being a good attendee.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Amazing. So I will meet you at Inbound then.

 

Sam:

Yes. I'll meet you there.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

There is a networking event, that's where we meet, right?

 

Sam:

Perfect. I can't wait. Well, anything else you want to share with our users? I'll link to where they can find you on LinkedIn and also Userlane website. It seems like such a great concept. I know that I oftentimes need a lot of tutorials with software, so I love what you guys are doing, but anything else that our members can find you or support what you're doing?

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Well, the best place to find me and some tips of bound events that I share on almost a daily basis is LinkedIn of course. I also have a blog eventmadness.pro that has been on pause, due to a lot of work and all of this new ideas at Userlane, but that is something that I plan to restart and really add more value in there with the ultimate season of events being on.

 

Sam:

Cool. Yes. I follow your blog. She's an amazing writer. Connect with her on LinkedIn and yeah thank you so much. Enjoy your weekend.

 

Aleksandra Panyukhina:

Thank you so much. You too. Bye.

 

Sam:

Bye.

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