Getting your attendees to meet, network and share at events and conferences is one of a planner’s main goals when executing an event. What if you got the conversation started before the event took place, and continued it long after the event was over? Short of holding a conference before (and after) the conference, you can now utilize an integrated website that gets the dialogue going. Verdant Event, an Oakland-based company that creates social networking tools with a green edge, offers integrated, interactive conference websites that incorporate schedules, speakers and information with social media and attendee interaction—accomplishing many goals at once.
Verdant Co-Founder Stephen Caltado and his team started creating integrated websites to be green tools for carpooling, taxi- and room-sharing for conferences and festivals. The social networking grew out of this sustainable intent, and now their websites allow all those involved in an event to create a profile, upload a picture, share information and network. “We know that meeting planners have a lot on their plate; the content management system simplifies things,” Caltado says. “It is all coordinated on the website, and even though we have added these new functions, they have less to do.”
His team created this type of website for the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in Denver, Colo. (for more information on the event read this month’s recap here). As an attendee of the conference and a user of the website, we were intrigued by its usability and range of functions in both its integration and sustainable aspects. “It’s extremely customizable; it’s all built on open-source tools and we work with each client to create what they need,” he says. We chatted with Stephen about this emerging trend in conference websites and its advantages for meetings planners and attendees.
What kind of event is Verdant Event website suited for? Our target audience is any event that wants to get their attendees talking to each other before and after the event. Also, any event that would be interested in greening [sharing rides, hotel rooms etc.]. We are trying to make it easier for speakers to go paperless and coordinate travel.
What is it?
It is a content management system for the event planner. They can start out by creating sessions and uploading sponsors. It evolves from a content management system to a social networking tool. Once online, speakers and attendees can all start talking to each other. It is targeted social networking for people that are interested in the subject of the conference.
What is the range of capabilities?
We try to start a variety of different conversations. One conversation is between the speaker and the attendee. Another type of conversation is travel discussions: subtopics of the conference such as planning an outing or recommending a local restaurant. At GMIC we had an Experts Corner for people that are not ready to speak on a topic, but can declare a specialty.
All on the session pages are integrated within the schedule, users can login and mark which sessions they will be attending. We are big on integrating everything, so a busy event planner just has to get the sessions up on the website. The planner tells the speaker to upload their information and everything just flows from there. It allows all the basic multimedia to be uploaded from the sessions afterward.
As a frequent speaker, I realized that many speakers get the PowerPoints done a few hours before the talk. This is too late for the slides to be uploaded to the conference website in advance. Then people have to run to Kinko’s and print things off, [and the session isn’t paperless]. Our website lets speakers spend five minutes to upload it themselves.
GMIC's Sustainable Meetings Conference website.
We can also integrate post-conference activities. For example, when an attendee makes a commitment, they can be followed with reminders to keep momentum of the conference going throughout the year and leading to the next one. We are planning to keep the accounts live so they will have these accounts just sitting there waiting for them.
Does it include a precon function? It will include ways of posing sessions. Event planners could get people to vote on which sessions they want to hear.
How far in advance does this need to be created? Ideally, we would want to work with the conference at least six weeks prior to their online presence. We can work with the clients around their schedule, but ideally it would be done all at once.
How do you encourage people to sign on?
For any social networking effort, getting things started is the hardest. We don’t expect every attendee to use every tool that we provide. If someone wants to share a taxi then it’s there. Whatever they want is instantly available to them, and whatever they don’t want, they can ignore.
How do you think this could enhance the conference experience?
People meet who they really come to meet. A lot people talk about the experience at the conference not in the sessions, but in the hallways. This basically adds another layer and expands an entirely new way to connect with each other. They can connect with exactly who they want to meet and who they really want to talk to.
Has it been successful?
Yes, last year at the end of the GMIC conference I met two people who met each other sharing a cab on the SpaceShare site. As a user you are thinking about saving $10 and half a gallon of gas, and you wind up making a connection—a much deeper connection than just sharing business cards. I know people did share rides and a lot people got introduced online. After the conference, I also used it to put a face to a name from a business card. It’s a great tool for when you meet a lot of people. I made business contacts, people replied to my posts and hopefully they will turn into clients.