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VEI Interview with Microsoft’s Travis Petershagen

Travis Petershagen, director of Digital Venue and Broadcast Operations at Microsoft Events & Production Studios, on how the “era of all-digital delivery” will shape the future of events

Petershagen leads the Digital Venue and Broadcast Operations Team within the Events, Studios and Marketing Communities organization at Microsoft, which is responsible for delivering the company's largest events, both internal and external facing. Highlights in the events programme include Microsoft Build, an annual developer-focused skilling event, and Microsoft Ignite for technology leaders and practitioners.

How has your event programme evolved this year?

Microsoft made the decision very early-on to transition our events to all-digital deliveries. However, the first events we delivered were already pretty far along in their execution cycles before we made the call to transition them to digital.

As a result, our early content was delivered in a presentation style more conducive to in-person events, and it just wasn't very effective in the online environment. We quickly learned our content needed to be designed for the medium to shorter duration, more like television, yet still authentic, educational and inspiring.

Additionally, many of the events we deliver are designed to enable skilling, training and learning. As we transitioned to digital, we wanted to be very cautious not to just recreate learning opportunities that already existed online.

It was important for us to determine just what an event aims to do in an all-digital delivery and, in our case, we wanted to create a moment in time to be inspired, to come together with your community, and to gain exposure to further opportunities to learn and grow.

What have been the biggest challenges in shifting to digital delivery?

We've had many challenges and learnings on this journey, but one that still stands out is related to helping people navigate the digital venue. We refer to the online event site as a digital venue, because the event experience unfolds within it, much like it does in the physical venue of an in-person event.

Our events provide a lot of opportunities for the attendees to engage with the content, with presenters, with our partners, and with each other. Providing clarity around how, when and where to engage in those opportunities is hard to get just right.

What are your future event plans?

One thing is certain, we definitely see the value in virtual events and this era of all-digital delivery has helped us refine our event objectives and approach. Taking our events virtual dramatically expanded our reach and enabled us to make quality connections with hundreds of thousands of attendees over the last several months.

Likewise, eliminating the friction and costs associated with travel has opened up opportunities for many new people to attend our events. Clearly, there are some characteristics of events that are hard to reproduce digitally, such as the chance encounters with a peer in a hotel lobby or the creation and strengthening of relationships over a coffee or beer.

Humans are social beings and there will always be value in making in-person connections but, in the future I believe the digital experience and the opportunity for broad audience inclusion will sit at the core of our events. And the in-person aspects of an event may more explicitly focus on augmenting that digital core with those unique or regionalized experiences that are more challenging to reproduce effectively online.


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