Amazon Web Services and Convene team up to enhance virtual and hybrid meetings and events
This is a guest blog written by Caroline England, Head of Product at Convene. The content and opinions in this post are those of the third-party author and AWS is not responsible for the content or accuracy of this post.
Convene is a leading provider of premium virtual and hybrid events with a network of meeting, event, and workplace locations. Convene is working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to embed the Amazon Chime voice and video meetings capability into its Convene Studio product using the Amazon Chime SDK. Studio is Convene’s virtual meeting technology and production services platform that launched in June 2021. The Amazon Chime SDK integration creates the ability to bring attendees onto the virtual main stage, connect on-site and remote audiences and add one-on-one video chat amongst participants. The integration also enhances the breakout room functionality during virtual and hybrid meetings and events.
Meeting the needs of a rapidly changing virtual and hybrid meetings landscape
As virtual meeting technology became an immediate need amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and options for a premium solution were limited, Convene saw the need for a new meetings platform. With the launch of the Convene Virtual Meetings product in the spring of 2020, Convene brought a high-touch, customer-centric offering to customers, which emphasizes live human support before, during, and after the event. This, coupled with Convene’s proprietary technology, has addressed a need for a product that creates seamless virtual meetings and events. This product has since evolved into Convene Studio, which re-launched in June 2021 with enhanced production services and improved digital meeting technology to power both virtual and hybrid events.
The Convene engineering and development team pursued options to bolster the platform with two key components: networking and engagement features. Complex tasks like creating one-on-one video chat, effective and highly configurable breakout rooms for large groups of people, and having the ability to bring attendees onto a main stage are difficult to implement at the speed and scale that the company needs. These features are also time-consuming and expensive to create at the level of quality that Convene is known for.
In addition, as Convene is seeing a surge in demand for hybrid events, the team saw a need to connect on-site participants at Convene’s network of locations to remote attendees on Studio. Ultimately, this will help create a seamless physical-digital connection between the in-person and remote audiences.
Simplified, Scalable Video and Engagement Solutions for Virtual and Hybrid Meetings
The Convene team recognized the limitations with the video streaming technology that they were currently integrating into their product and reached out to AWS to explore other options. The discussion focused on Convene’s need for a flexible, scalable solution that would enable their team to focus on the front-end development.
The AWS team recommended that Convene utilize the Amazon Chime SDK to help enhance Studio. The Amazon Chime SDK is designed to help enable Convene to develop features such as the audio and video in Convene’s one-on-one chats amongst attendees on the virtual platform, enhanced breakout rooms and connectivity between on-site attendees and remote attendees. The Amazon Chime SDK will also help enable Convene to build engagement features such as bringing audience members onto the main stage where speakers are. The Amazon Chime SDK gives Convene the power and scale to create high-quality user experiences that minimize the cost and complexity of implementing these features on their own.
Why Amazon Chime SDK?
Convene focuses on creating physical and digital spaces to bring people together and delivering a premium user experience in those spaces, so the team needed a partner to manage the back-end architecture. This includes implementing the technical back-end stack that delivers the reliability, features, and functionality with the desired scalability to free Convene’s engineering team to focus on the end-user experience.
The Amazon Chime SDK is designed to provide the flexibility and support that Convene needs. By providing the structure rather than the final solution to fully functional virtual meetings, it allows utilization in many different use cases. Convene chose the Amazon Chime SDK because it’s a highly flexible, UI un-opinionated SDK that was more customizable than a drop-in option.
The Amazon Chime SDK provides Convene engineers with significant support on the back-end while leaving the user journey up to Convene. This gives Convene total control over the look and feel presented to the user while enabling the team to better meet their product goals in a fraction of the time compared to creating a bespoke product.
How it Works
Convene is leveraging the Amazon Chime SDK’s integration to improve both the virtual and hybrid events that they produce. Here is an architectural overview of how Convene uses the Amazon Chime SDK:
Convene developed a custom event UI leveraging the Amazon Chime SDK for two-way video breakouts. The event UI and breakouts are configurable via Convene’s backend and tie directly into Amazon’s infrastructure, including the Amazon Chime SDK and AWS.
Key Use Cases
By utilizing the Amazon Chime SDK, Convene is able to creatively and independently own the user interface that the virtual and hybrid meetings platform depends on for breakout sessions. Breakout sessions occur during the entire life cycle of the event: pre-event, day-of event, and post-event. This allows Convene to control and fully own the entire experience. Convene can control how they plan and configure the event (pre-event), how they execute and moderate the break-out sessions (day-of), and how they track user behavior in the breakout sessions and deliver analytics and recorded sessions to our meeting planners (post-event).
In a typical meeting or event program, breakout sessions are concurrent tracks at defined times where attendees are invited to collaborate or view specific themed material in smaller settings. Breakout sessions are generally moderated or “hosted” by an event sponsor or event coordinator. Convene’s Virtual Event Managers work with clients to get a deep understanding of the intended outcome of the breakout session.
The breakout sessions that Convene clients hold fall into one of two groups — either the breakout is meant to be a networking session like a VIP lounge or themed discussion or it’s an information-sharing or learning opportunity. If the intended outcome is networking, then little pre-planning is needed. If the intended outcome is for information-sharing, then it’s important to plan with and train the client on how to moderate the breakout session.
Convene is able to moderate a breakout session on behalf of a client, which is determined in the planning stages. Prior to the day of the event, Convene will help identify which participants will be doing the information sharing (the panelists) and establish who the moderator is. The panelists and the moderator participate in a tech check with Convene’s support team to ensure technical success.
The flexibility of the Amazon Chime SDK helps make it easy to create meetings within Convene’s infrastructure for tech checks prior to the actual event. The team then trains the moderator to use the unique moderation tools that Convene has designed to work with the Amazon Chime SDK. This allows the moderator to mute attendees and spotlight panelists to create a seamless flow for the attendees and ensure the post-event recording is high quality.
Convene has approached its breakout session technology in an anticipatory way, which means that the team has complete control over the user interface. The team can create new, unique breakout views depending on the use case and provide great moderator tools.
While most people expect a standard gallery view during breakout sessions and a significant number of breakouts are one or a few speakers presenting to a large audience, Convene has created different views that will increase attendee engagement. These unique breakout views allow for varied networking opportunities.
For example, Convene designed a panel view to showcase the speakers. The team envisions building upon this view to support more concepts typically found in higher productions such as lower thirds, backgrounds, and overlays.
Pictured: A mockup of the panel view that will be available in the breakout sessions.
Additionally, Convene is adding educational views similar to a classroom setting, round table experiences and fireside chats. On the day-of the event, they can track usage within the breakout sessions as they’re happening. They will know how many people are within the session and how engaged they are.
Owning the user interface also allows Convene to own the data inputs that affect the analytics reported upon after the meeting or event program. Convene clients want to know basic information like how well attended breakout sessions are and how engaged the attendees were.
For more complex programs where their clients are working with event sponsors, it’s important to report on how the in-session engagement can assist in the process for actioning leads. It’s equally important to show a return on the investment for the overall program and provide metrics on how a session performed.
This allows Convene clients and sponsors to iteratively approve their tactics from event to event based on quantitative information. Additionally, Convene provides a recorded version of the breakout session.
“Virtual meetings have rapidly improved, hybrid meetings are quickly evolving, and audience expectations are increasing every day,” said Ryan Simonetti, CEO and co-founder of Convene. “Amazon Web Services gives us the power to create more exciting, engaging virtual and hybrid experiences that help our planners achieve their goals. Choosing to integrate with AWS was a simple decision for us because of the flexibility, premium video quality, and global scalability that they provide.”
He further said, “The level of developer experience that Amazon Web Services provides immediately enhances the ability of our team to quickly deliver vast enhancements to the platform. The Amazon Chime SDK gives us flexibility in delivering a highly configurable user experience that’s fully integrated with Convene Studio and improves both our virtual and hybrid event products.”
Leveraging the Amazon Chime SDK in the development and enhancement of Convene Studio has helped give Studio clients and their event attendees a more engaging event experience.
With the flexibility and support that the Amazon Chime SDK provides, the Convene team is able to create a premium user experience while quickly making improvements to the platform. It minimizes the cost and complexity that the team was absorbing on their own.
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