A Guide To The Future Of Virtual Meetings And Events

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Marketing Podcast with Mark Kilens

Mark KilensIn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Mark Kilens. Mark is the CMO of Airmeet, a leading virtual and hybrid event platform. He oversees Airmeet’s global marketing team responsible for brand, demand, lifecycle, and product marketing.

Key Takeaway:

Although virtual events and meetings were a product of the pandemic, it’s safe to say they are here to stay for the foreseeable future even as we inch towards the return to normalcy. In this episode, I talk with CMO of Airmeet, Mark Kilens, about the state of virtual meetings and events today, what innovation is necessary to drive more engagement, and where the future of these kinds of virtual connections are headed.

Questions I ask Mark Kilens:

  • [1:10] What is Airmeet?
  • [2:07] How would you describe the status of the virtual meeting today?
  • [3:29] How do you think augmented reality will play into virtual events?
  • [4:33] A lot of people I talk to now are sick of Zoom, TV, sick of these kinds of virtual meets that are going on –is that a function of the technology itself or is it a function of how people are using it?
  • [7:00] Many people make the mistake of taking events and putting them online versus changing the way they present to virtual audiences — would you say there’s a difference in how you should present?
  • [8:03] Is Airmeet doing something to address that problem?
  • [10:28] What are some best practices and tips for getting engagement during virtual events?
  • [12:48] Are these practices that we should be doing in meetings?
  • [14:23] Is there a sweet spot for how many people should be in attendance for a virtual event?
  • [18:40] What do you think is the future of the big events you mentioned?
  • [19:19] Do you think we are going to be in this hybrid land for the rest of the foreseeable future?
  • [21:43] Where can people connect with you?

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John Jantsch (00:01): This episode of the duct tape marketing podcast is brought to you by business made simple hosted by Donald Miller and brought to you by the HubSpot podcast network business made simple, takes the mystery out of growing your business. A long time, listeners will know that Donald Miller's been on this show at least a couple times. There's a recent episode. I wanna point out how to make money with your current products, man, such an important lesson about leveraging what you've already done to get more from it. Listen to business made simple wherever you get your podcasts.

John Jantsch (00:47): Hello and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Mark Kilens. He is the C O of air meat, a leading virtual and hybrid event platform. He oversees air meet's global marketing team responsible for brand demand, life cycle and product marketing. So mark, welcome to the show.

Mark Kilens (01:08): Hey, thanks so much for having me, John. It's a pleasure.

John Jantsch (01:11): So you said you didn't wanna talk about air meat. I really appreciate that, but give us the quick hit, like what is their meet?

Mark Kilens (01:17): I mean, we just help people join together and we help them join together from any place. And that's, you know, something that's more important than ever today. So, you know, we help facilitate conversations. You know, I come from a background of drift and HubSpot to other pretty well known SAS brands. Sure. And my background's always been about helping people. And in this situation with airme, it's just about helping people connect, learn from each other and hopefully form some type of relationship or, you know, kind of reconnect and keep that relationship going. So it's pretty much as simple as that.

John Jantsch (01:48): So, so the pandemic did a lot of things. One of the things that really did was put a jolt into the virtual meeting space. I mean, you know, some of the legacy platforms been around, I mean, I was using, you know, go to webinar, go to meetings, stuff like that 15 years ago, but there's really like so much has happened in this space. I mean, how would you describe kind of the status of the virtual meeting today?

Mark Kilens (02:11): It's an interesting question. I think it's still very much ripe for disruption. Yeah. You know, there's this notion of the web today as is like two dimensional space. Yeah. The internet before the web was very like one dimensional, it's very, just text based. Right. You know, command lines and whatnot. Now it's very two dimensional. There's rich imagery. There's videos where, you know, at this inflection point or somewhere close to this inflection point where the web is gonna become three dimensional. And that's like, how you think about the metaverse right? That's the Facebook rebrand, etcetera, et cetera. And to me that's where virtual events and online meetings, online events, that's when they're gonna really take shape. Once we make this transition, some of this is, you know, software related, maybe bandwidth related, but some of it is also just hardware related. Like one of the, that most people use every day that is yet to be disrupted by some type of technology. Are your glasses mm-hmm, like your glasses are probably one of the only things you still put on your body that doesn't have some type of technology into it. And once your glasses start to get disrupted, like the watch has been disrupted, right? Yeah. And your phone, et cetera, et cetera, you know, that's gonna be, I think a tipping point for when not just meetings and virtual events change, but fundamentally how we communicate and interact with the world changes again too.

John Jantsch (03:29): All right. I wasn't gonna go down this rabbit hole, but you went there already, you know? So are we talking about augmented reality to where an event now will feel like I'm in a conference room

Mark Kilens (03:38): Eventually, you know, this is far out, the hardware's gotta catch up. Software's gotta catch up. It has, when we get to that point, it also has to be super easy for the end user to experience that, right? You can't have to, you won't be able to, you know, anticipate them having to learn a lot. Right. It's gonna have to be pretty seamless and frictionless. Like if you're asking the user or those people that are joining those meetings to have to figure out a lot of configuration or go through this onboarding flow, it's not gonna work. So it's gonna have to be really simple and it's gonna have to build upon existing patterns that exist today, both in our, in real life lives and our digital lives and just make them easier. If it goes in the other direction, it's just not gonna work, John.

John Jantsch (04:17): Well, you know, it's interesting though. It's really, I mean, people can change their behavior, right? I mean, that happened. I mean, you saw the memes in the beginning of 2020 of, you know, people not being able to get on zoom and you know, trying to teach their parents and grandparents how to do stuff, you know, virtual. So I mean, behavior can change, but let me ask you another, maybe harder question. A lot of people I talk to now are just sick of zoom, TV, sick of these kind of, you know, meets that, that are going on. I, is that a function of the technology itself or is it a function of how people are using it?

Mark Kilens (04:58): It's both, in my opinion, one is we over index so hard into just communicating and working through digital channels that has to be balanced out. And now we're seeing that balancing happen. But to your point, there are new habits that have been developed. Preferences have changed. Lifestyles have changed. I know that's true for me and most everyone. I know. So some of that is permanent and it makes sense, cuz it's been like a year and a half, two years of a pretty drastic change. And it's like a 10,000 hour rule. Once you do something for 10,000 hours, it kind of just sticks. Right. The other thing though, is technology where, you know, if you look at like a webinar, which is the, I guess you could say the 1.0 of a virtual event, right? Yeah. It's been going on for a long time. Oh, I used

John Jantsch (05:39): To do, I used to do, I used to do tele seminars over the phone. okay. That's how long I've been doing this.

Mark Kilens (05:45): So yeah. You know, you know, again, my first webinar that I hosted was like right around 2010. And so yeah, I mean you're better than me at this and know more about it. It's to me it's a bad experience, right? Yeah. It's like the experience. And this is, you know, when you think about generational, when you think about millennials, excuse me, versus gen Z versus older generations, you know, this is gonna quickly catch up where the new buyers, especially in a B2B context are gonna be anticipating and expecting a very different experience than what you know has happened the last 10 years. So again, all of this is coming to a head, but I really think that technology is some of it is there. Like at Airbnb, we really pride ourselves in creating as an engaging event as possible. It's not so much the content, it's how you help design the event and how you engage the audience and get them to engage with one another. But still that requires education and skill sets that maybe marketers don't have today. John,

John Jantsch (06:40): You know, I had a speaker on this show articulate the something that, that I think a lot of people really underestimate, he, you know, was used to talking on stages to 10,000 people. And he said, when I was on stage to 10,000 people, I was, it, I was the spotlight. Everyone was looking at me. He said, but now when I go and I could be speaking to 10,000 people virtually, nobody's looking at me, in fact, you know, that's not the point of it at all. And that I have to change. I had to change everything about the way I was about the way I engaged about what I even spoke about it. And I think that's where a lot of people make mistakes is they think that these virtual events are just taking an event and putting it online. And there's really a difference. Isn't there.

Mark Kilens (07:20): Oh, huge difference. I think most virtual events and you're hinting at this feel empty cuz you can't see anyone and the speaker can't see anyone and it's hard to interact with people if it's not designed properly, not using the right technology. And they all feel the same. Yeah. And when you think about an in person event, it's almost never the case. They feel anti big problem. Right, right. they almost never feel the same. So, and one of the most important things from an in person event is the wow moment of when you first get to the event, like when you first walk into that physical space and that event space, it has to really like impress you. It's like, whoa, first impressions matter. When you enter into these virtual experiences in virtual meetings, the experience is not wow. It's like, oh my God, another zoom, another team, what? This is not good.

John Jantsch (08:03): Yeah. Right, right. Right. So, so I'll tee this one up for you. Are you, is air meat doing something to address that problem?

Mark Kilens (08:11): Yeah. I mean, we definitely are. I'll give you some tips that you can do with without even air meat. Right. The first thing I would do is really focus on creating shorter, more dynamic virtual events. So what I mean by that is think of like a TV show. That's 30 minutes an hour long and think about how much, how fast those cameras are changing angles, but specifically how long different scenes are. And then when do commercials happen and how that's chopped up. Right. If you actually look at like how a TV show is edited and produced over the course of say 60 minutes, that's how you can emulate a virtual event. So when you think about it, it's less about having 20, 30 minutes of like long content. It's about having five, 10, maybe 15 minutes at the most different segments. Yeah. That you're stitching together to tell a story to the audience. That's again, harder than what people are used to. And a lot of marketers again, need, are gonna need to learn how to do this, but it's gonna be a lot better for the audience, John.

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John Jantsch (09:45): Yeah. So talk a little bit about engagement. I know that one of the cha you know, I was the, I was guilty, you know, one to many, just listen to me, talk for an hour. Then you can ask questions at the end. I mean, we all did that, you know, for many years, and certainly people are not gonna tolerate that anymore because they partly, because you've got some really professional people that are producing some amazing, you know, virtual content.

John Jantsch (10:06): Right. And so I think it's made us all up our game. And so, you know, one of the things that, to your point, you know, I'm on camera all the time. Now when I'm presenting, you know, even if I'm just like in a corner of my slides, I'm asking questions all the time, stopping, you know, there's no, like I gotta get through this it's you know, how can we make that? Which is probably what I should have been doing all along. Right. But, but my, my question in this is, you know, what are some best practices, some tips for getting that engagement, getting people to talk, getting people to raise their hands.

Mark Kilens (10:34): Yeah, that's a good question. So it's either like every five minutes, seven minutes, 10 minutes at most, you need to do something to engage the audience deeper than just asking them a question. So for one example that you like we do a lot is you can play a game with the audience. This is not a game with a poll or the chap, but it it's a native embedded game into the event experience. And they can play that for, you know, one to two or three minutes and they get real time feedback with that game. You know, this is all set up beforehand. It's built into the run of show. It's built into the content. But if you're tr if you're engaging the audience every again, somewhere between five and 10 minutes, it's, you're just always pulling them back into it. Right? Yeah. Even if they're passively listening and then if you put some types of, you know, not all the time, but again, lightweight incentives, they could even be heavy handed incentives, right.

Mark Kilens (11:19): things that are not even just worth money, but time. Right. If they got you for you, for example, John, like 30 minutes of your time, right. Someone who's gonna wanna take advantage of that, but again, that's gonna require them to participate. Right? It's the give get. I think it's all about designing different give gets it's things that you can do with different technology, as well as that you could set up five minutes of speed networking. Mm-hmm so automatically everyone in the event can be doing speed networking for say two minutes at a time. And they do that for six minutes or three sessions, right after those six minutes, it's back to maybe some content, maybe another six minutes. You pull people onto the stage kind of like you do in clubhouse. You know, you can do that with airme, right? So you're always trying to find ways to engage the audience. And one of the key things to a good event, no matter if it's 30 minutes, 60 minutes, three hours is the host. John, I cannot overstate this enough. You need to find someone doesn't have to be in the marketing team, could be anyone at the company. Who's a dynamic host who can keep the energy and the momentum of the experience going throughout that time.

John Jantsch (12:20): So, so I, everything you said, spot on. Totally agree. But then the reality comes, it's like, I've got this meeting. I just need to present this stuff to this group because we said we were going to, I mean, how do you take that kind of thing? And I mean, do you think people, do you think people are going to, that's just gonna be a better meeting if you use some of these ideas, as opposed to just kind of, I mean, cuz they're all meetings, you know, even in person meetings, you know, I shouldn't say all most, you know, are really painful. So are these practices that we should be doing in meetings? No matter what I

Mark Kilens (12:52): Mean the short answer is yes, most of the time I don't wanna speak in absolutes, but to me why meetings don't go off pretty successfully or don't meet expectations is there's not enough planning done on the meetings host.

John Jantsch (13:06): Right?

Mark Kilens (13:06): You just gotta plan John. And I think that's the issue. If you look at how much time is planned for an in-person event versus a virtual event, I guarantee the virtual event has less planning.

John Jantsch (13:16): Totally. totally I've 100% agree. I mean, first of all, there's less logistics. You don't, there's no food involved. There's, you know, no contract with a place involved. So I mean there's obvious reasons, but you're right. That probably then translates into, I don't put as much time into the programming either.

Mark Kilens (13:31): You don't put as much time into the programming, the experience, right? Like even if it's like, yeah, take away those things that are like, of course only in person, but say you would even say like, look, I'm doing a hundred person virtual event that it could also do in person. But to do that a hundred person virtual event, I wanna have the cost per 10 D be about $500 in person be a thousand because of the actual physical space. Yeah. 500 is going to sending them food, sending them unique, experiential type things. If you thought about it like that, it's actually a similar game. Yeah. But again, like it requires a different mindset and a different like kind of skillset to some degree.

John Jantsch (14:07): Yeah. And you know, what's interesting is if I go to a, an in-person event, I kind of expect all that stuff. If I'm attending a virtual event and somebody did that, I, you know, you blow me away. Right. Cuz I didn't expect all that. So I think you actually have an opportunity there to really, really shine. You do. I know this is a, like a totally, it depends question, but is there a sweet spot for virtual events? Like 10 people is nice. A thousand people is ridiculous. I mean it, and again, I'll give you the permission to say it depends, but I'm just curious what your thoughts are on that.

Mark Kilens (14:38): You think it depends on the outcome that you're trying to leave the audience with. Right. And the outcome you're trying to generate for the business. Yeah.

Mark Kilens (14:48): So, so one of my favorite frameworks that could probably be applied to more than just virtual events or events in general is this who, why, how and what framework. So first off with any good event, we did a lot of in-person events at drift before the pandemic, we did a ton of virtual events. We started to do in-person again. Before I joined air meet, we always deeply thought about the, we planned the who many times with another team like the sales team, the customer success team, the product team to get a really good idea of who right. Any good marketer, John. Right. Does the, who thoroughly then though what you have to think about is like, you know, who's gonna register, who's gonna attend. Who's gonna engage. Who's gonna recommend this event. That's all about like, why would they register, attend, engage and recommend. So most people forget to ask themselves, why would this audience do these things? And they just skip to, why are we doing this event for the business? Yeah. So I think there's a disconnect there. Yeah. Yeah.

John Jantsch (15:40): Totally. Totally. Yeah. No, it's very common to think about what's in this for us as opposed to why would people be doing this? Yeah.

Mark Kilens (15:47): It's a complete mind set shift. And then the last, the, the two last things we think of deeply about is how do you craft an event experience? All the stuff we were just talking about. So like the run of show, the agenda. Yeah. So that it tells a story and keeps people captivated. I think a keyword when it comes to especially online meetings, virtual events is captivating, right? Like attention grabbing, right? Like cuz at the end of the day, if it's not that it's just like, you can watch the recording of the video, right. It's just, it's glorified content, it's glorified content and no one wants that at all. So you have to really think about how you design that. And then lastly, the last thing you do is what is the best type of event format you could use to achieve this great story that you're trying to tell with these experiences, for the specific goal, for the specific audience, a lot of people just jump to the fact that, Hey, we just need to do a webinar in this. And that's it when they think like actually, you know what? You don't need to do a webinar. You just need to do a round table discussion with some awesome experts and you know, introduce a few engaging elements and that's gonna be way better than that webinar.

John Jantsch (16:52): You, you know, what's interesting. Um, because a lot of events have gone, you know, in person events have gone by the wayside. You know, people are looking for different formats and we're finding that bringing like 15 people together, small cohorts is, you know, of like-minded, you know, peers, whatever they are, you know, has really been very effective. And I think it's because we're not getting the in person, you know, a lot of times people go to a conference, really just a network. And so, you know, by we've been providing more, what I would call networking, you know, as, as big a part, as any of the programming,

Mark Kilens (17:22): Love that I've been hearing that a lot. I've also been hearing that, yes, you'll have a flagship event. Yeah. That's maybe both like customer user, you know, centric and maybe prospect centric maybe to one or the other. And you'll do smaller in-person events around, you know, your, the key locations around the country or globe. But then you have to augment that with additional places that people can join together online because you are missing out in an audience. If you don't do that, you are also missing out on a chance to engage them throughout the year to then get them to one of those bigger events. Right? Yeah. It's like the Salesforce strategy, which is anyone can do now. You just can't do it all in person cuz it's not cost effective. It's not logistically, you know, possible. Yeah. But the, if you think about your events as like an annual kind of calendar and you're creating a wave, you're creating all this event momentum and at the end of the year, Q3 or Q4, you do the big event like Salesforce, don't Dreamforce like hub bugs done with inbound. That's a much more interesting model because by the time they get to those events, to your point, the relationships have been built a little bit. They're excited. They're gonna be super pumped and they're gonna leave feeling super amped up to continue on, you know, with that brand in whatever capacity they want to. So to me you can't think of an event as a point in time, it's gotta be a holistic strategy.

John Jantsch (18:40): Yeah. Yeah. So, so let's talk a little bit about that and this will just get your opinion on this idea. What do you think the future of big events you mentioned? You know, inbound. I, last time I spoke at inbound, there were like 30,000 people there. I don't think they're, I'm speaking again this year at inbound. I can't imagine that they'll have more than 10. Just, you know, I could be totally wrong on that. Sorry, a HubSpot, if you're listening, I hope you get 30,000 people if that's what you want. But my point is, do you think that big giant, you know, kind of event that companies would do is really never gonna happen again, people are spread out, they're not as willing to travel. Uh, they're not going into offices, you know? I mean, is that, is, are we gonna be in this hybrid land, do you think for the rest of the foreseeable future

Mark Kilens (19:25): For big flagship events? Yes. And that's been backed up by Forrester. I've been speaking to Forrester on a pretty regular basis about these things. They've done a lot of research over the last two, three years pre pandemic. And then now after the pandemic and now after the pandemic has kind of ended ish and they think all they've seen flagship events, like basically say, yes, it's gonna be in person most will have hybrid, you know, inbound. I'm pretty sure you're right. They expect about 10,000 people in person, but they expect 60,000 people online.

John Jantsch (19:52): Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Mark Kilens (19:53): So that's bigger than any of their in person events ever before. Right? Their biggest in person event was about 30,000 to your point. So now you're talking over two X, what they could have done. Right. It goes back to the point of like inclusivity. Yeah. And getting people to come join together no matter where they are, cuz people want choice, convenience as much as ever before. So to, to me and for me, I wanna be able to experience that even if I don't feel comfortable, have the money, have the time to go do that. And you're just missing out if you don't do that. So either John is a hybrid type format, which is even more difficult to pull off and more expensive. So we could talk about that or something we did at drift is we did an in-person event, recorded all the content and reused half of it into a slightly different format on a virtual event standpoint, a few weeks later with a live host with a lot of engaging elements, but it wasn't a Simi. Right. It was like, we took it, we edited it. We created a different runner show and then did it virtually.

John Jantsch (20:48): Yeah. That's really a great format too. Cuz it gives you so much more control. I mean, one of the challenges with trying to do the hybrid thing live is that you've got so many things out of your control and logistics that are an issue that , that really kind of maybe take your eye, make you take your eye off the ball of the live audience. You know? So I think that makes a ton of sense.

Mark Kilens (21:09): Well, you're doing two events. In my opinion, if you do hybrid, you need to have a run show for the live event, right. That's very much planned out and you need to have a run show for the virtual event that's planned out. And to me, what I'm seeing is best practice is I would wanna have a, a host for the virtual live audience that's different than the host for the in person audience. Right. So it's almost two events.

John Jantsch (21:28): Yeah. Cuz they've gotta be engaging them in different way. You think about all the breaks, like what happens now and stuff like that. So yeah, absolutely. Well, mark, I really appreciate you taking some time, stop by the duct tape marketing podcast and talk a bit about the state of virtual events. So you wanna share where people can connect with you.

Mark Kilens (21:45): Yeah. Sure. Thank you for having me, John, find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, search my name on Google. I'll I'll connect with you and if you have any questions, I will definitely respond. And again, thanks for having me on the show.

John Jantsch (21:55): You bet we'll have all that in the show notes, but if you're just one of those listeners trying to do it, it's mark Killens K I L E N S. All right, mark. Thanks. Hopefully we're into one of these days in Boston.

Mark Kilens (22:06): Yeah, I hope so too.

John Jantsch (22:07): Hey, and one final thing before you go, you know how I talk about marketing strategy strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the marketing strategy assessment. You can find it @ marketingassessment dot co not .com .co check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketingassessment.co I'd. Love to chat with you about the results that you get.

This Duct Tape Marketing Podcast episode is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network and Semrush.


HubSpot Podcast Network is the audio destination for business professionals seeking the best education and inspiration to grow a business.


Everybody’s online, but are they finding your website? Grab the online spotlight and your customers’ attention with Semrush. From Content and SEO to ads and social media, Semrush is your one-stop shop for online marketing. Build, manage, and measure campaigns —across all channels — faster and easier. Are you ready to take your business to the next level? Get seen. Get Semrush. Visit semrush.com/go to try it free for 7 days.


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