How to Create a Best-in-class Event
Episode #040: Stephanie Baiocchi, Director of Membership & Events at IMPACT
Episode #040: Stephanie Baiocchi, Director of Membership & Events at IMPACT
You've probably attended your fair share of virtual, simulive, or in-person events, but what makes a particular event stand out from the rest?
In this episode, we chat with Stephanie Baiocchi, Director of Membership & Events at IMPACT. Stephanie has more than 10 years of marketing experience leading event and membership strategies, public relations, content, and more. In addition to her current role, Stephanie is a co-leader of the Chicago HubSpot User Group.
We’re talking about what makes a best-in-class, why hybrid events need to end, how you should be measuring the success of your event, and so much more.
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness not permission, obsess about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. And I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection. I use the Oxford comma. I love Coca- Cola. I have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries, share the real truths about marketing, and empower you to become a real marketer. First question, tell me something about yourself that few people know.
Stephanie Baiocchi: This is always the funniest question because I feel like I'm a very open person. I'm always posting on social media, so I'm like, I don't know, everyone knows everything. I feel like a lot of people who know me online though, and not in real life I guess, don't know I drive a Hyundai because they never see my car and I don't post my car on social media. So, I drive a Hyundai and I love it.
Stephanie Cox: That is not what I was expecting.
Stephanie Baiocchi: I'm like, I don't know. Everything else is online.
Stephanie Cox: Well, I'm excited to talk to you because one, I mean, your name is Stephanie, so it's about the name.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Oh, those Stephanies.
Stephanie Cox: Right? Out there.
Stephanie Baiocchi: That's okay.
Stephanie Cox: But also, because we're going to talk about, I think a hot topic for marketers right now, which is events and what do we do with them? The last 18 months has thrown things into a wrinkle compared to previous maybe event strategies in place. So, let's just talk a little bit about what are the types of events that people are doing right now in terms of structure?
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. For sure. If you're a marketer and you worked in events, now have done an event, or are thinking about events and have slept, you're lying. It's been so wild. Back in April of 2020, we had a big in- person conference planned and now there's the possibility of in- person events, there's fully virtual events, which there's been a lot of. And I think those even run the gamut from a webinar to a happy hour, to a full- on multi- day conference. There's software that gives you the ability to have a 3D experience where people walk into a virtual conference center. And then, I think we've started now going back to, I know I've attended one small in- person happy hour. And then of course, there's the hybrid experience, which is very popular right now. It's kind of the, how can we be all things to all people, type of event.
Stephanie Cox: It was funny, you were talking about if you're in charge of events, you haven't slept. And I'm like, is that different than normal? Because I feel like-
Stephanie Baiocchi: Good point.
Stephanie Cox: Right, every event marketer or when I've been playing a role in large conferences, I don't feel like I sleep six weeks up until the event or during the week of the event, or at the event. And then, I crash for three days later. I don't recommend it, but that's reality.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yes. Same here. And we've done 12 events in the past 18 months because we're like, virtual events, we got to do virtual events. And I feel like I've had that same cycle of six weeks of panic and three weeks of crash, every six weeks for 18 months.
Stephanie Cox: Right. It's exhausting. So, let's talk a little bit about virtual events and I really want to get into hybrid, which are a whole separate issue. So, with virtual events, I love what you said when you were talking about the gamut of virtual events, because pre- 2020, we didn't call them virtual events, we called them webinars.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yes. I get so offended when someone calls my virtual event a webinar, I'm like," It's so much more."
Stephanie Cox: Right? But it's true. A webinar was basically, we talked at you and now I feel like with everything that's happened in the last 18 months, you have true virtual events that are trying to mimic the connections that you could create in- person, in the in- person experience. And then, you have webinars that are now calling themselves virtual events and all other things. So, let's talk about, when you think about a virtual event, what is the best- in- class virtual event experience in your mind?
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah, absolutely. I researched a bunch of software, wrote a lot about it at the beginning. Anything I learned, I pretty much wrote about. And then, experienced a few, attended events on my own. And I think for me, the thing that bothers me the most is I don't have a preference of whether something's live or what is really popular is simulive, which is where something plays, kind of like a premiere, it plays at the same time for everyone. So, if you joined five minutes in, you're five minutes into the video. It's not on- demand. So, everyone's watching at the same time and they can chat and it's like watching the event, but the session itself was prerecorded. That's simulive, if you don't know. I'm a big fan of simulive, but I wouldn't say that one is better than the other or that simulive's better than live. If you can justify why you're doing it. So, if you're doing a live stream in a virtual event, you have an opening keynote, it's streaming live from wherever, whoever's desk, the office, the stage, wherever you can manage, and that's great. You better make it worth having done it live. Like, quality internet, tech issues happen of course, always do everything you can to mitigate running into any tech issues. Because the moment your live stream drops, you lose people and you lose confidence from everyone in that moment, which is just an unfortunate truth. And then, you have to engage your audience in a way that makes it valuable that they spent their time there live. We're in a time where anyone can watch anything they want, at any time, on their own time, without commercials. So, why would I have to still show up at a specific time to watch something when I can watch any show on Netflix at time of my own choosing. So, if it's live, you should be asking questions that engage your audience and then showing their answers on the screen or reading them out loud, making people feel special. That's something people love, is seeing their name on screen, hearing their names said by a speaker. So, if you're not taking the opportunity to make your live event somehow engage your audience in real- time, don't do it live. If you can't almost guarantee within reason that the stream is going to go well quality- wise, don't do it live. Then simulive is another interesting thing because I'm a big fan, we've done a lot of our events with simulive sessions. You can have multiple sessions going on at a time and it's a lot easier for your event staff to manage. When something's prerecorded, you can edit out any little glitches. And so, it's any stumbles. You don't want to take away the humanity of it, but it feels relatively polished and so that allows you to add things like music or cuts or a logo. So, if you just prerecord what's essentially a Zoom webinar or a conversation of two people and then pop it up there and play the recording, that's not doing simulive justice. You have the time to record something, refine it, edit it and make it amazing. Again, we have Netflix quality content out here. I'm not here to watch your webinar where you share your screen, your video's a tiny circle at the bottom. So to me, best- in- class virtual events incorporate all of those elements. They have great live, exciting things that engage the audience. They have polished, quality simulive content that can be watched in real- time with other attendees. And then, they have a community aspect, whether it's just the chat, you have that one- to- one video speed networking that's really popular. Sometimes there's breakout rooms with round table discussions. Any way where you can really get to know each other. And then, I think everyone might be, in this type of a conversation, waiting for me to say sponsors, but sponsored booths to me, are just such a waste in a virtual event. If you think about-
Stephanie Cox: Oh, preach. Like, who goes to your virtual booth? No one.
Stephanie Baiocchi: No one goes to your in-person booth, no one's going to your virtual booth. And I've seen a couple people do it okay, they'll have a booth and they'll say," For everyone who comes and has a conversation with us, you get entered to win these crazy cool Bose headphones," or something. And that's cool. But it works just like it does in an in- person event where you're going to get unqualified people having a waste of time conversation just for a chance to win something. To me, what we've done is we incorporated our sponsors into our events and had them teach an educational session about something related to what it is they do. So, some good friends of ours, Design Pickle, they're hilarious at creating video content, but we didn't want them to spend 15 minutes selling their service, selling Design Pickle. So, they created a really great session about how to create fantastic graphics for videos. And they're actually teaching something, that's so valuable. And then, they of course, have their logo and there's a little information about their website at the end. So, I think all of those things together is how I've found success and what I hope to see in virtual events. And also, I don't want to see your band play, don't live stream a band for me. I don't want to play trivia, like no.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and it's funny that you mentioned that because we can talk about sponsors probably for an hour.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah.
Stephanie Cox: And I think so many marketers are like," Oh, I do events and I have a booth and I got all these leads." And I'm like, yeah, but you gave them an incentive to go to your booth. Whether it's through the conference and some sort of stamp passport, whether it was through a Beats headset. And then, you give them back to your SDRs who have to call them and all of these people are like," I don't want to talk to you."
Stephanie Baiocchi: Right. And maybe you have a killer follow- up process that sends a really contextual, personalized email about how you met the person, what you talked about in that booth conversation. It has a video, it introduces you. And that's great. I think those are few and far between and even so, there are some good virtual events offered out there that allow the reps in the booth to take specific notes about the conversation. But if you're just downloading a list of emails of people who" came to your booth." They don't remember you. I'm sorry, but they don't.
Stephanie Cox: And they don't remember the tchotchke you gave them, that was in their bag that they've thrown away now.
Stephanie Baiocchi: No. I'm always like," Oh, who gave me that chapstick I really like?" Not," Oh, I love that chapstick from so and so."
Stephanie Cox: Right. No. Completely. That's why I always tell people, don't do booth items, if you're doing a booth, everyone's like," Oh, I did pens or chapstick with my logo on it." No, you know what you should do? You should give me food.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. Oh, I know.
Stephanie Cox: Food that's pre- packaged, that I can take with me and eat on the plane on my way home.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yep. I love... I totally agree. Food is great. I also liked the one tchotchke giveaway that has stood the test of time for me was a deck of cards. Because every time I use them, I see the logo on the back of every card. But also, please don't everyone go starting creating decks of cards now. It was memorable because it's unique. It's the only one I have and it was actually Survey Monkey. They created a cool design on the back, they made all the kings and queens monkeys. It was really funny.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and you can always use the deck of cards to entertain yourself while you're at the airport or whatever. And I feel like it's one of those things that you don't buy for yourself very often.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. You can play games with your colleagues in the hotel bar or something. So, that was cute. But otherwise, yeah, it's tough. No one wants your crap.
Stephanie Cox: Right? No one. Especially the stuff you give out at the booth, which is just, price point wise, not very exciting. So, let's talk about the elephant in the room, hybrid events, which are basically a bunch of people that were doing virtual events are like," Yes, we can have in- person events. Let's make the two of them have a baby and we're going to call it a hybrid and it's going to be great." It's not great, is it?
Stephanie Baiocchi: It's not. So, we use an event software, this is not sponsored, not a pitch, I just really like them, called Swoogo. And that's how we do our event registration. And they sent an email this week that said," Hybrid events shouldn't exist. There, we said it." I was like, I knew I loved you guys.
Stephanie Cox: Yes.
Stephanie Baiocchi: It's so true. The thing is, I get it. You have great content and you want to share it and you can't get everyone together in person. You don't want to exclude your online audience. You don't want to just have virtual while you could get back to in- person, we all want to get back to in- person, I get that. So, it's hard. It's going to take some doing. This is what's so interesting to mem I've seen companies try to do hybrid events recently, especially virtual events software companies want to be first because they want to show," This is how you can do it with our software," and they want to set the bar. And that's great. I've attended a hybrid event as a virtual attendee recently, and I think it was probably as good as it could have been done. And I still hated it.
Stephanie Cox: And I was going to say, and on a scale of one to 10, it was-
Stephanie Baiocchi: Two. It was so bad. And it goes back to a lot of the elements that I was talking about earlier, but one of them being, if you're live streaming your conference, say, and you've got an audience of two, 300 people, you have a speaker on stage and then you're live streaming it. All I feel like is," Wow, sucks that I don't get to be in that conference or that audience of people, way to rub it in."
Stephanie Cox: So, it's kind of like Mean Girls. And I know that's a really weird reference, but there's so much of life that I can relate back to Mean Girls, the movie.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Always.
Stephanie Cox: Always. And it's like the Plastics, right? When you have a hybrid event, the in- person people are like the Plastics. They're really cool. They're really popular. You want to be part of the group. You can't be part of the group. You can kind of see what's going on, but you can't fully get into it.
Stephanie Baiocchi: You're still an outsider looking in.
Stephanie Cox: You're an outsider looking in and no matter what you do, you can't. Right? Like," Well, we have an online chat and you can engage in the conversation." Yeah, but it's different than being there.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah.
Stephanie Cox: And it's like you're calling it out that I'm not cool enough to be at the cool kids table.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Exactly. That's so true. And at this one that I was attending and I won't call them out because they worked very hard and they certainly put on quality content, I'll say. But the speaker was onstage, he had an iPad and he said," I can see all the chat right here. I'm so excited that I'll be able to call on some of you and to answer your questions, and see the chat." I'm like, this chat's going a million miles a minute. There's no way this guy's going to be able to keep up. There's 3, 000 people.
Stephanie Cox: Is he also trying to present or talk during this time?
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. He's talking.
Stephanie Cox: How the hell do you do that?
Stephanie Baiocchi: You don't. Not well, that's the thing. And then, the funniest, well, saddest part was the audio that was being streamed was fairly low volume. And I kept trying to turn it up and I was turning up my volume, turning it up, it was all the way up. And I'm just seeing people in the chat like," We can't hear you. It's too quiet. Turn up the volume." So, then this poor speaker who's onstage trying to present and glance down and grab a fun comment, loving the event, just looks down and it's just utter panic. His face, the comments, it was just... Because he had no control over, he couldn't speak louder. I mean, the volume of the stream was the issue. He could yell, but that wouldn't be a good experience for the in- person audience. Then suddenly his face is panicked. The in- person audience has no idea why, because they're not reading the comments. So, it's just this completely disconnected, disjointed experience where the in- person audience also doesn't feel special because if you're playing out to the cameras to try and engage your virtual audience and speak to them and say," I'm going to read a question from you." The in- person audience is suddenly checked out, like,"Well, why does it matter if I'm here then?" So, it's just tough. And I had said, I have yet to see anyone do it well, and now I saw someone do it probably as good as you can and I'm still not crosstalk.
Stephanie Cox: And you're still a two out of 10. I mean, that's like a 20%.
Stephanie Baiocchi: And it's like, when you try to be everything to everyone you end up being just less to everyone, you can't, it's not possible. And so, you wind up with a subpar virtual experience, a subpar in- person experience, stress for everyone. They even cut to their backstage set up, with a news anchor back there. And it was like," All right, we want to take a look at our backstage set up." And this guy with a switcher is putting up the next slides and he's cutting to the other camera. And this woman leans over to him and was like,"So, what's it like back here?" And he's like,"It's really busy." And then, he just went back to what he was doing.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and who wants to see that anyways?
Stephanie Baiocchi: He was like, leave me alone. And I get that for an event company it's, you're showing behind the scenes because you're showing how you do it. Other people might do this. I don't think you'd break that illusion for other industry conferences that weren't so meta to be an event about events. Also, I'm so sick of events about events. Just let it go, send me an email.
Stephanie Cox: Right. Write, your ebook, email it to me and I'll read it later.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. And that's what Swoogo did, and I read it and I actually liked what they had to say. And I of course, was already on board with this, they're calling it a hybrid strategy, which is really about having your in- person event and just having it and then having a separate virtual experience for your online community.
Stephanie Cox: Yes.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Which is essentially what we're doing as well and I'm really excited about it. We are announcing officially what we're doing at the end of July, but yeah, you don't have do everything all at once for everyone to be successful. And I hope that's what we can get into moving forward. I think the true dream is a road show. I love road shows. I miss going to these smaller, more intimate events where I could see someone speak but I also didn't have to leave the city that I live in. I didn't have to book a flight. They're easier to manage and maybe you have a couple key people from your organization traveling around and then maybe some of the best content from that is then streamed at a later date, for people who couldn't attend in person or something. And I think the community aspect is so important. So, if you can give people a way to discuss and chat. I would love to see someone do a road show, and every city they're in they take the best session, they put that online and then they do a live Q& A the next day. And then, everybody comes to watch it and then everyone comes to the live Q&A.
Stephanie Cox: That would be so cool. The other thing, and this is less I think maybe a bone to pick with hybrid events, it's with virtual or I guess, technically hybrid too then. Have you ever gotten an email that's like," Don't forget to register for my virtual event that's tomorrow."?
Stephanie Baiocchi: Oh yeah.
Stephanie Cox: "If you want the recording, you're going to have to register." I'm like, no, why can't... You already know who I am, I'm not going to come. Can you just send it to me after tomorrow? Why do I have to fill out a form?
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. It's so true. I mean, that's something we've learned as well with our online community. So, we have an online community of courses and virtual meetups and one of the things we do is we have all the recordings from our past events and we put them in an on- demand experience, essentially. So, if you want to come to the event, you register and we import you into the event software, you show up live, and you attend. Great. You'll get the recordings automatically, if not, if you're a member of our community, guess what's going to show up the day after the event? All of the recordings.
Stephanie Cox: Wait, what, are you serious?
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. They just show up automatically.
Stephanie Cox: Crazy idea.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. So, done, check. Everyone else, get on board.
Stephanie Cox: Right? Because I literally got an email from someone that was like," Hey, we have this event," it was on Tuesday and they were talking about an event, I think today. And they were like," Make sure you sign up for it so you can get the recordings afterwards." And I'm like-
Stephanie Baiocchi: No.
Stephanie Cox: No, you know I'm a customer. You know who I am.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Also, I only want people to sign up for my event who are going to attend, because then I know I have a more realistic view of the rate of people who are going to show up. And I know what kind of event I'm putting on. We're doing live workshops at our events. They're interactive. This is another great way to make something live worthwhile. So, there will actually be attendees on video interacting. Not everyone. We have up to 16 people on video at a time. They can turn their video on and off, if they want to volunteer to answer a question or do a role play. And so, in that case, I need to know how many people I have, so I know how many breakout rooms I'm going to do. That's a justified reason for having people register. Yeah. Register so that you can intentionally not come and we'll email you the recordings. No, be better.
Stephanie Cox: Well, and I think part of it's because when you think about event metrics, oftentimes, and maybe it's because we've been with virtual events conditioned by webinars-
Stephanie Baiocchi: Oh yeah.
Stephanie Cox: ...everyone's like,"I have this many webinar registrants and this many people came." And I'm like, why do you care about how people said they were going to come, because they're not coming.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. It's so true. And we get the same question from sponsors all the time,"How many registrants do you expect?" I'm like, that is the wrong question.
Stephanie Cox: Right?
Stephanie Baiocchi: And some even say," How many people do you think will show up?" Which is fair. That's a fair question, but it's really how many people are going to show up, who are qualified potential customers for you, in your industry, in your niche, with this price point and who are going to actually go to your booth and then remember you when you do your fantastic, I'm sure, follow up.
Stephanie Cox: And I'd be interested to hear your perspective because in my perspective, it's real hard to know the answer to that question.
Stephanie Baiocchi: It's nearly impossible.
Stephanie Cox: Right? It's like, well, I think it could be, let me stick my finger in the air and pick a number out of my head, 45.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yes. I'm glad you agree. The seasonality of events and virtual events specifically is so wild too. And then, you just get virtual event fatigue. We did an event in 2020 that had, I don't know, 1, 500 registrants let's say, and we got about 80 or 90% attendance rate. So, we had like 1, 200 people. That's probably not math, but we had like 1, 200 people. And then, we did the same event earlier this year and had like 500 people. And it's just same theme event, new content, but people are virtual evented out right now. And I get that. But even with the webinars, I don't necessarily care how many people are registered. As an event planner I want to keep an eye on that. Knowing, is my message resonating? Is this content interesting to people? Is this event worth doing, are we only going to have five people there? But yeah, the metrics, I mean, we try to say, we want our event sessions rated highly by the attendees. That's something that we measure. We've also started measuring by the DICE standards, which is diversity, inclusion in events and conferences, or conferences and events. That's how you spell. So, trying to make our events accessible, diversifying our speaker lineup. These are the things that are valuable to us and to our audience and we know that that will draw more attendees over time or more people who want to watch our great content on- demand.
Stephanie Cox: No, I completely agree. And I love that you're really challenging how to think about not just what your events strategies should be, but how you even think about measuring that. So, if I'm a marketer and I'm thinking about," What the hell should I do for events?" Like one, should I invest budget in it? Because I feel like that's been a conversation that's happened over the last 18 months. People have, I think we've done one of two things, tested virtual events, it went poorly for a variety of reasons.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yep.
Stephanie Cox: And then, they've pulled the money from events and they've put it somewhere else. And they're trying to see if they should go back. Or two, they've put it in virtual events, they have different results because let's see, I don't know, no one's knew how to market during a pandemic. So, some people it's worked well for, some people it hasn't, and now they're trying to figure out, do I continue with virtual? Do I go to in- person, do I do hybrid? If you had a blank slate for either one of those situations, where would you suggest people start to rethink their strategy? Because we do live in a very different world now.
Stephanie Baiocchi: Yeah. I mean, you have to start with your goals. That's always the answer. What are you looking to get? If you're looking for broad brand awareness, that's obviously going to be different than a really qualified, small set of leads that you can turn into customers. It also depends what side you're on. I know there are a lot of people who say," Well, we don't host events, we sponsor events, we go to events, we go to all the booths." That's an entirely different strategy. But from the perspective of someone who maybe would host a virtual and/ or an in- person event and hopefully not hybrid, I would say, you got to look at your space too and see who else is doing what. Is there another event in your space just like yours? If there is, how is it? Can you do better? And then, do you have something valuable to say? I think, I see far too often, especially earlier in the pandemic, everyone wanted to do a virtual event, and heck yes for enthusiasm. That's great. But did you have something to say or did you just feel like you should do an event?
Stephanie Cox: Did your CEO come to you and say," What are we doing? I heard so- and- so's doing virtual events."?
Stephanie Baiocchi: No, not at all. We had an in- person event planned for April 6th 2020, so really early on. And just after St. Patrick's Day in March, we made the choice to cancel it, well, to postpone it at the time. And in about two weeks, two- and- a- half weeks, we turned it into a virtual version of that. We took all the speakers, we had all the content we had planned and said," All right, we're going to record it instead. And we're going to play it on the sixth, just like we were going to have our big event." And that went great. It was the most stressful three weeks of my life, I think. But it was so fun because we already had all this amazing content planned and we're like, we can't just not share this. It's ready. It's great. And these are things people need to learn. And this is a time where, as we have this massive pivot, for lack of a better word, I'm a big fan of Friends, so I'm just picturing the couch. But as we made this big pivot, we said, we're going to put this content out there and people need to come together right now, we're all floundering. We're all just freaking out, what are we going to do? And as a sales and marketing education company, we knew that we had to step in and say," It's going to be okay. Yeah, you can still sell. Here's how, you need to use video. Yes, you can still market during a pandemic, here's how to do it sensitively." So, there were things that people needed to discuss, to learn about, to just have some confirmation of, and just have a little moment to come together. And so, I think it was really valuable that we did that. And then we said from there," That was great, we should do it again. What do people need to learn about right now? What are people struggling with? Can we help them? Okay, let's do that as an event."
Stephanie Cox: So, last question, if you could tell a marketer one thing that they should think about for their event strategy, and it's not tactical, but strategically, what should they be aspiring to create in terms of the experience, what would that be?
Stephanie Baiocchi: I would say, make it easy for your attendees to experience your event. However that is, in- person, virtual, whatever you're doing, it is always harder for people than you think it will be. Even if you think your directions are clear, if you think your software is intuitive, if you think that your agenda makes sense, it's not, it doesn't, and it isn't. People need help. And the biggest deterrent for people I think is if you try to get into an event and it's difficult to log in and you can't find the agenda. So, if you could just make it an easy and smooth experience, you're going to already be starting off with happier attendees.
Stephanie Cox: You've been listening to Real Marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. And don't forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn't be kept a secret.