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Cisco’s Bonny Shapira on rethinking your event objectives in a virtual world 

Bonny Shapira has been working in the world of events for almost a decade, six of those have been spent delivering Cisco Live Europe, one of the technology industry’s biggest and most respected events.

Back in January 2020, Cisco Live Europe was able to go ahead as a fully live event in Barcelona, when the threat of Covid-19 seemed like a distant issue.

After the event concluded, with many happy attendees, Shapira admits he thought he would be able to ignore the virus because the next Cisco Live Europe, due to take place in Amsterdam in 2021, was a whole year away.

Bonny Shapira

“I thought ‘we have 54 weeks until then, no way will this virus stay for so long’, so we can ignore it and continue with our lives, right? Turns out I was wrong, and I very quickly realised the world of events has changed.”

Despite Cisco Live Europe being a year away, Shapira and his team realised they might need to consider going digital. “Even though the event is in February, we can’t wait until January to decide.”

Without a crystal ball, speculating about what the future impact of the virus means for live events is the best Shapira can do. This led him to consider all the viable options for next year’s event: go digital, postpone until later in 2021 or take a risk and plan a fully live event for February 2021.

“I am a risk-taker, but if I look at it broadly from Cisco’s perspective and if I had to put myself in the shoes of the CEO of Cisco, probably the decision would be: let’s go digital.”

However, the final decision on whether Cisco Live Europe 2021 will be live or virtual, is yet to be decided.

But Shapira explains he needed to start thinking of non-live event possibilities, starting with going back to basics.

In order to pull off a great virtual event, Shapira said he asked himself whether his tried and tested formula of ‘education + experience + engagement = loyalty’ can still be applied to a virtual event? No, because “the focus is different,” Shapira says.

“You can’t possibly shift from physical to virtual and just simply keep the objectives the same. If I had to create a new formula, I would say it was ‘I+I+I’ inspiration, information and insight. Virtual events should not simply be a copy of a virtual version of physical events.”

However, no matter the formula, Shapira reiterates the importance of great content at both live and virtual events. “Go on focusing on what you need to still deliver deep and meaningful, technical content or technical education to your core audience.”

Next comes ‘what’ 

“What are the key objectives, what are the reasons you’re doing the event, what is it that you would like to achieve from doing a virtual Cisco Live event.

“You have to make a change; you can no longer keep the format of the sessions the same. You cannot have virtual sessions of two hours like we used to do on-site.

“People will not sit and listen to you for more than 15- or 30-minutes max.”

This means approaching content contributors such as keynote speakers and asking them to rethink their delivery.

“So, I’m now going back to my speakers, and we have hundreds of speakers and saying that if they want to be part of a programme, they have to deliver a session in 30 minutes,” Shapira says.

Next comes the ‘who’

“It’s different when you go virtual because anyone can attend, and you can open it up to audiences that you’ve never reached when you’re doing a physical event.

“These are all things that need to be thought of before planning the event, you need to define it.”

But ultimately, Shapira says, there’s no guarantee that virtual events can recreate the same level of emotions and positive sentiment that can be created in a live environment.

“I think our challenge would be the need to surprise them [delegates] in this virtual environment as well.

“Again, we have not figured it out yet.”

But Shapira and his team aren’t giving up on creating a new formula for successful virtual events.

“Usually when one door closes there’s another door that opens, we’re so busy looking at the closed doors that we missed in the new opportunity.”