Tech Talk with Intrado's Ben Chodor

"We've changed how we feel about the virtual element and the physical and how they're going to combine together,” says the company’s president of digital.

Ben Chodor, Intrado
Ben Chodor, Intrado

What is Virtual Event Express? 

Intrado had been the world's largest virtual event streaming enterprise organization long before the COVID-19 pandemic. But until now, we only offered what I like to call our full-service, white glove product. The problem with that portion of the business is that since COVID, it's grown 10 times more than we ever thought we would. In the full-service environment, you need people to work on it because there are a lot of moving parts. 

So we went back to the drawing board and said we needed a do-it-yourself version, so companies can run events on their own. How great would it be if we can create a wizard and become like the [cloud-based web developer] Wix for virtual events? And that is Virtual Event Express. Now our partners can build a platform for a virtual environment in less than two hours. And I know, because I tested it myself without any instruction from the development team. 

How does Virtual Event Express differ from other virtual meeting platforms?

It's an entire virtual environment. When you use Zoom, you just sign in and watch a presentation. This is more than that. It's the same core infrastructure and technology as our full service. It has registration and reminder technology. Then you can build a beautiful lobby, upload the same graphics as our full service and post an agenda. The difference is in Express, you can have general event sessions and break out presentations, but it doesn't have gaming edification, integration of sales automation products or exhibit halls yet. That will be coming early next year. 

How much freedom do companies have for customization? 

It doesn't have the hundreds of design options that our full-service event environment has, but it's still fully customizable. In the lobby, you can upload videos, post sponsor information and link to sponsors. We also have two versions. There's a 2D/3D version that is more intricate for computers and a responsive version, which is more flat, but will work just as well on mobile as on the computer.  

Who are your clients? 

We thought it would be the association market at first because they hold such large annual events, but we've seen it across many other industries including tech. Every single type of organization can use it. It's a good entree into doing a virtual event because you feel you have control without spending as much money. 

What are your clients asking for the most in their virtual events? 

First, it's a faster timeline. For a full virtual event, we're going to tell you you need eight to 12 weeks. But with Express, you could come to us on January 1 and say you want to do an event on January 15, and this is the perfect solution. You still have to promote your event, but you can run it and design it on your own in a much shorter period of time.  

Clients are also asking for good reporting and capable AI. For now, only the full service has AI, where when an attendee logs in, they can be directed to sessions that will most intrigue them based on their registration information. 

What do you see for the future of virtual event spaces? 

My prediction is a hybrid model, meaning every event will have a virtual element. The challenge will become how to combine the physical and the virtual so both audiences are getting the same experience. How do I give the virtual audience the experience of being physically there? And how do I give the physical audience the tools we now have in virtual? There may be elements of VR or augmented reality, where based on your registration we send you an Oculus or Google cardboard for certain sessions.

We've changed how we feel about the virtual element and the physical and how they're going to combine together. We've now become accustomed to being on camera and watching video virtually. I think there will be a time where conferences will come back, but instead of being in one place, they will be happening in six cities around the world at the same time. It also makes it easier to find celebrities to speak at conferences because they can be beamed in virtually. If anything, because of virtual, everyone's content has to take a step up because we're used to getting really amazing speakers and really great content.

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