Come to Think of It...

May 2, 2013

Your colleagues have a few choice words for you!

Lance A. Simon, CGMP, GVEP
VP Client & Government Solutions

logo for Government meetings go virtual website


Over 100 of your peers have completed the Gov Meetings Go Virtual online training course to learn about planning and implementing government webinars and hybrid/virtual meetings. Now they have a few things to tell you —

  • "The course met my learning objectives":  87.5%
  • "I will recommend this course to my colleagues":  90%
  • "The instructor was engaging in his presentation":  95%
  • "The instructor was knowledgeable on the topic": 100%

Summer semester starts May 21 -- sign up today for early bird pricing starting at just $99 for this six week course. Join your colleagues in becoming a Government Virtual Events Producer (GVEP).

Need more encouragement? Here are 43 direct quotes from your colleagues regarding this groundbreaking course:

  1. Packed with good topics making it easy to justify to management that I should spend the time taking the course.
  2. This course takes the mystery out of virtual conferences and lays out a clear path to implementation.
  3. I learned that it takes many people to set these resources up and run them efficiently so people will actually benefit from them.
  4. This course gave me an overview of virtual meetings and the process involved with hosting a successful virtual meeting or conference. The course is very detailed and covers a lot of good information.
  5. Very easy to follow the instructor; information presented in easy to understand language and format; not technical jargon.
  6. I just got out of a meeting discussing Virtual Conference options for our upcoming meetings/conference and I was very prepared thanks to YOU! Thank you so very much.
  7. All the additional resources provided. And, of course, Lance's presentations! :)
  8. Extremely professional, extremely informative, and extremely helpful.
  9. By far, the instructor and the knowledge he brought to the subject was the best thing about this course. Next, was how easy it was to access the content and navigate the website. I really thank you for pulling this altogether in such a thorough, thoughtful and considerate manner for us. I also
  10. Thank you for all the wonderful recipe documents you shared with us and for being so accepting and willing to learn from the students. You created a very affordable, collaborative and creative forum for idea exchange, continued learning and professional development for event managers/producers. My agency often lacks funding to be able to send me to training, but I am truly glad I found your site and could afford to take this training. I am using the knowledge gained during class to help enrich the meeting experience at my agency and to convert face-to-face (F2F) meeting proponents to virtual event hosts and participants and I'm having great success.
  11. I learned in real time and the archives are always there for me to continue learning when my team implements these types of conferences.
  12. The ability to go back and listen...the resources.
  13. All of equal value:
    1. The in-depth discussion about Webinars, hybrid conferences, and all-virtual conferences together.
    2. Recipe documents which serve as very useful templates for planning at my own agency.
    3. Access to a mobile archive. Although I would have preferred to participate in all sessions during the live presentation, I wasn't always available at the right time. I was able to use commute time to great advantage and watched many of the presentations then. Thank you very much!
  14. The networking with others enhanced the course.
  15. The ability to access archived sessions
  16. I learned a lot of very useful information, e.g. differences between all physical, hybrid,and virtual.
  17. I like the option of viewing archives. Work is busy and even the best planned days can be interrupted and throw you off course. Knowing one can still obtain the information and get the "live experience" is great.
  18. The instructor was very knowledgeable
  19. Easy access and stuck to time allotment pretty closely
  20. An increase in my knowledge of webinars and VTCs
  21. I appreciate being given the opportunity to attend the course free of charge initially since this was my agencies first opportunity to explore these topics. I will be back again for the next paid session in order to access the additional resources. With agency budget cutbacks have these free opportunities to learn are refreshing.
  22. The instructor - knowledgeable and a great instruction method.
  23. The experience of the presentation team and the recipe documents.
  24. Lance laid a strong foundation for learning at the very beginning! He provided visuals and support documents to reinforce information covered, and as needs were identified. Loved the mindmapping the content of each workshop.
  25. Great learning, great value! And the recipe documents - much needed for reference and to more knowledgeably and successfully host future virtual events!
  26. Very informative. Hopefully my organization will be able to put this into practice soon. having the handouts & recipe documents before the session so we could follow along
  27. It is not biased. We were given information about various companies who could provide serves to meet our conferencing needs.
  28. The best thing about this course was the highly qualified instructor/presenter and the recipe documents that we are allowed to use and credit the source. weekly presentations; availability to review archived classes; information learned to enhance work my department is do. We are producing five weeks of virtual conference in place of our annual face to face of 1800 - 2000; virtual conference has 6 pre-recorded webcast and 11 live webinars.
  29. I loved the integration of the three types of conferences, and really enjoyed the ease to ask questions to Lance directly.
  30. The speaker’s knowledge. Very Knowledgeable.
  31. It can be used as another tool in meeting your goals.
  32. 3Integrated the limitations/concerns of government agencies in implementing virtual conferences.
  33. I learned that it takes many people to set these resources up and run them efficiently so people will actually benefit from them.
  34. My questions were answered to my satisfaction.
  35. It gave me an overview of virtual meetings and the process involved with hosting a successful virtual meeting or conference. The course is very detailed and covers a lot of good information.
  36. New information I did not hear before/my first course on blended/hybrid courses
  37. Packed with good topics making it easy to justify to management that I should spend the time taking the course.
  38. Very easy to follow the instructor; information presented in easy to understand language and format; not technical jargon
  39. This course takes the mystery out of virtual conferences and lays out a clear path to implementation.
  40. Ability to mix live and archived sessions
  41. I received a insight into setting up virtual meetings and webinars
  42. The times were really convenient.
  43. Ability to access from my desktop.


Feb 28, 2013

Gov Meetings Go Virtual online course

Learn the answers to these 10 questions!


Is learning the answers to the following 10 questions important to your job and your agency's mission? If "Yes" then I urge you to enroll in our Gov Meetings Go Virtual online course.

  1. What is the difference between a webinar and a virtual meeting/conference?
  2. What are the key differences between a hybrid and pure virtual meetings?
  3. What are the most important factors to consider in choosing a virtual meeting platform?
  4. How do I compare the total costs of an in-person vs. virtual conference?
  5. What people do I need on my project team to implement our first virtual meeting?
  6. How does a virtual meeting impact A/V – does this replace local A/V setup?
  7. How long does it take to plan and implement a hybrid or pure virtual meeting?
  8. How do the K.I.S.S. and S.M.A.R.T. principles apply to webinars and virtual meetings?
  9. What are the top best practices for planning and implementation?
  10. How do I create a checklist covering everything I need to get approved?

You will learn the answers to these questions and much more in our 6-week Gov Meetings Go Virtual course. And you can earn a respected certificate upon completion: Join your colleagues in becoming a Government Virtual Events Producer (GVEP).

There's so much to learn and so much to gain. Let's get there together!


Feb 14, 2013

Why Going Virtual Makes Sense For Your Next Conference

Sitting on my desk is my company's RFI response to a government agency for converting their upcoming 1,500 attendee annual meeting into a 100% online/virtual format. Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, there are more high-level resignations for conference over-expenditures, and reports that "now-looming spending reductions [are] set to hit the Pentagon as well as most domestic programs." Are these things connected? What does all this mean to YOU? How can you get prepared to take advantage of the sea change moving government meetings online? Here are 5 questions & answers to get you started.

  1. What is a virtual conference?

    A virtual conference is an internet-based event, usually several days long, that implements a conference-like experience (presentations, networking, discussions) for online participants using a secure, cloud-hosted web site. Virtual conferences commonly include live, interactive, and facilitated online plenary & breakout sessions; social media networking tools; online discussions; and a virtual tradeshow with sponsors and advertisements.

  2. What is the difference between a webinar and a virtual conference?

    Both formats are valuable, it all depends on your objectives. Think of webinars as conference sessions. Is a conference just a set of sessions? Of course not, a conference includes publications, a tradeshow, places to mingle with peers, and opportunities to meet new colleagues. It's the same with a virtual conference – it creates online settings for professional learning in which attendee experience interactive presentations, socialize, and share insights.

  3. What is the difference between a "hybrid" and "100% virtual" conferences?

    A hybrid conference extends a physical conference for access to online participants over the Internet (or a secure network if required). A 100% virtual conference has no physical meeting location.

  4. What are the costs involved with a virtual conference?

    My recent analysis that compared a 3-day, 250-person physical conference to a 1-week virtual conference shows that "direct" meeting expenses are equivalent; but when one bundles in room charges, per-diem expenses, and air travel virtual alternatives cost 57% less than physical meetings -- $295 per participant for virtual attendees versus $680 for those attending the physical meeting.

  5. Why consider a virtual conference?

    The first reason is to save on costs, especially travel. Simply put, a 100% virtual conference, or smaller meeting extended virtually, has a better chance of approval. Second, if you find yourself struggling to pull your physical meeting together, you can quickly and efficiently switch to a virtual format while still meeting your objectives.

Questions? Comments? Contact .


Jan 28, 2013

Want to use a government facility for your next meeting?

Here's a new tool that helps (a little).


The SGMP National Chapert (NATCAP) monthly meetings are always interesting, but yesterday's session was particularly interactive, even raucous. The discussion was about the use of government facilities as meeting spaces. The star panel presenter was Ms. Pathina Fitzgerald, Project Manager for GSA's fledgling Federal Meeting Facilities Tool (FMFT) (

Yesterday's discussion took me all the way back to my first technology job. It was 1984 and as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts computer science department, I was thrilled to get a summer internship with one of the titans in technology at that time, the #2 company to IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation or "DEC" as it was popularly known.

I received a very focused assignment to design, build and implement an application in 2 months. And I did it. And it was never used. Here's why, and what it tells us about the GSA's FMFT efforts.

The application concept was quite simple. DEC at that time had facilities all across New England and dozens of conference rooms throughout those buildings that were underutilized, while others were always booked. Using a new product called "DECtalk" which provided voice recognition and simulated speech output over the phone, my project was to build a database of all of the conference rooms across all the facilities, then implement a phone-based system that would allow people to select the facility where they needed to meet, enter the number of people for the meeting, and automatically get a meeting room reserved that met their specifications. It was a fantastic idea that could save people many hours of searching for rooms, and save administrative workers many hours in managing reservations.

The only problem with the solution was -- people. I quickly realized that senior managers and vice presidents had taken control of the conference rooms that were near their teams as "their turf" and they would be damned if a computer program would override their control. They simply disallowed many rooms from being included in my system, so it ended up as a failed, very partial solution that no one could use. (The good news for me was that this project led to a successful, exciting decade of working at DEC, but that's another story.)

At yesterday's NATCAP meeting, a top government meeting planner said virtually the exact same thing about room reservations at government facilities. Agency directors and deputy directors maintain various "bumping" levels for meeting space. That means that, even if you go through the entire process to get a meeting space reserved, your meeting may be bumped at the last minute by anyone from the President to an agency Deputy Director. And if that happens then all of a sudden what looked like a cost-saving measure turns into a last-minute, pay-at-commercial-rates search for meeting space at local hotels or other facilities. Given the risk, few meeting planners will go this route.

Also, there needs to be away for meeting planners and meeting technology platform vendors, to link into such a system. We were told that very soon, due to various security concerns, this new FMFT system will not be accessible to anyone outside the government! That makes no sense. I have a business digital certificate published by ACES ORC that allows me to handle many secure transactions with GSA already – why can't that same digital certificate be used to validate my access to the FMFT?

Third, if our government is serious about digital government in the 21st century then we need secure standardized access via Web services to FMFT so that virtual meeting systems can link into this new valuable government resources for planning hybrid meetings.

Other important suggestions include:

  • Standardizing the way in which "sponsors" are required at various agencies in order to make reservations for meeting spaces at their facilities;
  • Managing the updating of this new database as agency contacts change;
  • Extending the scheduling boundary so that meeting spaces can be reserved multiple years in advance as is required for some meeting plans;
  • Integrating a standardized process for requesting booking of a government facility space, rather than just providing a directory of who to contact at each facility.
  • Intelligently interpolating the location of the nearby hotels so that meeting planners can efficiently view potential facilities with nearby per-diem based lodging options.
  • Listing and updating important qualifications for each facility such as A/V, Internet access, printing and attendee expansion options

Congratulations GSA, for taking this important step towards modernizing the use of government facilities for meetings. But as I can tell you from personal experience, this puzzle will not be solved with technology alone.

–And thank you, SGMP NATCAP Board, for awarding iCohere "Supplier of the Month" for December 2012!

Questions? Comments?


July 18, 2012

What happened in 1974? Where does a hybrid conference occur?

And why should you care about avatars?

Never have meeting planners needed to know more about virtual meetings. Costs for in-person conferences are rising, but attendance isn't. Both the media and legislators are scrutinizing government meeting expenditures. The White House has directed agencies to cut that spending! Budgets are shrinking and in some cases, requests for meetings are being denied altogether. The time to go virtual is now, and more and more meeting planners know it. But there's a problem and the problem is what they don't yet know.

Back in May, I had the pleasure of attending and exhibiting at the SGMP National Conference in New Orleans. I came away from that meeting both inspired and a bit aghast. Inspired by the number of people who talked with me about their plans for virtual-enabled meetings in the coming year. And a bit aghast at the lack of understanding of the basic principles of virtual meetings.

Some planners aren't even sure what "virtual" really means – just that the word makes them nervous. Others admit they don't know any of the virtual language, including the maze of cryptic acronyms like SaaS, RTMP or ADA 508. Still others get the terms and the theory, but have no idea how to put it into practice – how do you actually plan, create, and conduct a virtual meeting? Even though half of planners surveyed say they want to implement a virtual event soon, more than half say they have no experience and aren't even sure where to begin. My conversations with meeting planners have emphasized over and over that what's really needed now isn't just finding ways to cut budgets – it's education.

So we sent out a survey to government meeting planners and associated professionals to get a more evidence-based view of this apparent need for education and tools. More than 60 government professionals responded and the results were striking:

  • 84% of the respondents had no or only basic experience with planning and implementing virtual meetings.
  • But, at the same time, nearly 60% reported being responsible for planning a virtual meeting or conference within the next 12 months!

Based on the results our next step was clear: to launch an objective, peer-reviewed, ad-free education series on virtual meetings and conferences, open to all government professionals and to others in the meetings industry.

To help meet this critical need, we've created a series of interactive workshops through iCohere that covers the fundamentals on webinars, online workshops, web meetings and virtual conferences, both 100% virtual and hybrid. It starts Thursday, July 26 with our introductory webinar:

A Little History and the ABCs of Virtual Meetings

Here's what that first workshop offers:

A review of how online meetings began and where they are today, including a short history of the Internet and online meetings, the evolution of government meetings, and current trends in virtual events. The meaning of must know terms like Chat, Virtual Tradeshow, and Web Team Meetings versus Webinars. And how to use social media like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Skype to help build and promote your meetings.

The workshops are only the beginning. We've created an entire web site dedicated to providing you with the ongoing learning resources you need to become virtual event savvy and to share your learning with colleagues. Take a look at:

Because it's all about the learning, every webinar in the series is FREE to government employees, no matter what virtual technology vendor you use. We promise no ads and no promotions (though maybe an occasional pop quiz to help you check what you have been learning).

Join us now and become part of the world's first learning community dedicated to government virtual meetings.

Lance A. Simon, CGMP
VP Client & Government Solutions
iCohere, Inc.

P.S.—And, oh yes:

  • In 1974, the term Internet first came into use.
  • A hybrid conference occurs both online and in a physical setting at the same time.
  • In online communities, an avatar is the stand-in for the user(s) – a visual character created by graphics.

May 24, 2012

An important survey for government meeting professionals

(and a dinner offer!).

Does this sound like you?

  • You have almost no experience with planning and implementing virtual meetings, but you're considering offering one in the next 12 months.
  • You're not particularly concerned about security issues for virtual meetings.
  • You know you want your training scheduled between 2-4pm Eastern.

Based on the first responses to a survey I sent out two weeks ago, this is the typical profile of the government meeting planner. But is it accurate? To answer this question, I need your feedback, so that we can offer you information and training that truly meets your needs. iCohere is currently designing a course for government meeting professionals who want to learn how to plan and implement successful virtual meetings – either "hybrid" meeting extensions or 100% virtual.

The curriculum will depend on what you tell us, so please tell us now!

A SPECIAL INVITATION -- Join our education advisory team (see survey question #8) and be my guest at the SGMP NATCAP Dinner Gala on Thursday evening, June 21, at the Westin Alexandria. You do not have to be an SGMP member in order to attend. I have reserved a table for 10 and it would be a pleasure to have you join me at this festive dinner event. Deadline for signup: Thursday, May 31. First come, first served (literally!).

This survey will take you just 5 minutes -- 5 minutes to help us transform and modernize our nation's government meeting strategies.

Lance A. Simon, CGMP
iCohere, Inc.
(202) 870-6146
GSA Contract No. GS-35F-0490U


Apr 19, 2012

Keen on Green

The US Forest Service holds a model sustainability conference

  US Forest Service

It was a conference with a conscience. The title: The Sustainable Operations Summit. The objectives: Highlight sustainable operations occurring throughout the Agency, integrate more of them into existing programs, and dialogue with other agencies about how to collectively further sustainability goals. The topics: Biodiesel Infrastructures, the woody biomass, and the Industrial Ecology life cycle, to name just a few.

And with objectives and topics like that there had better be one more item on your agenda – make the conference itself green.

The United States Forest Service did just that. Although it had been offering environmentally-friendly conferences for four years, this year conference coordinator Jim McGinnis said they wanted "to walk the talk even more." In the end, they not only walked the talk, they jogged it.

They did that by creating a hybrid conference – a combination on-site and remote meeting with presenters and attendees from all over the country. With help from the virtual learning technology company, iCohere, the USFS produced three days of plenary and concurrent sessions they hoped would not only save them money, but would help save the planet. First, however, came the technical challenges.

"We were limited to just 25 sites without crashing our internal network systems," said McGinnis. "So iCohere provided us with internet connectivity, on-demand viewing, all kinds of things." What made McGinnis happiest was the USFS was also using its own internal technology capabilities to the fullest, while iCohere augmented them – an admitted "sweet spot" for the waste conscious Forest Service.

The next challenge was to get the employees there – there being their computers. Even though it might seem the Forest Service was preaching to the greenest choir in government, it wanted the biggest numbers possible for the conference, and that meant incentives. So it offered prizes - one to the unit with the largest number of remote participants and one to the unit with the largest percentage of remote attendees.

It worked. There was 96% virtual attendance and more than double the attendance of its previous conferences.

The conference saved the USFS almost a million dollars in costs, counting travel and accommodations, facility, and other non-expenses. But that's just the financial ROI. Perhaps most importantly, it saved emissions of 607 metric tons of C02 in air and ground travel, electricity and natural gas. And that's a low estimate. Factor in more details like types of food, hotel type, waste disposal, and the figure would likely go up.

Organizers said the conference "served as a model of how the USFS can use technology to reduce our footprint. Moreover, the Summit has been an example for others, both within and outside the Agency."

They're right. Inspired by the success of the conference, the GovEnergy organizing committee began considering a simulcast component to their 2012 workshop.

Says Celisa Steele of online strategy firm Tagoras, "Down the road, USFS might not need connection with a place-based conference for legitimacy or appeal and might be able to realize an even more dramatic environmental benefit through a standalone virtual conference."

"The above blog is produced and funded by iCohere, Inc. The Sustainable Operations Summit conference is funded by the U.S. Forest Service. Any views expressed in the blog are for general educational purposes only and do not represent any official views or positions of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Government, nor the Sustainable Operations Summit Core Team."

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