How do you define a “virtual event?”
Well, the thing is that “virtual events” is hard to define. And I think maybe we should start with understanding that it doesn’t just mean one thing. To some people, a virtual event could be as simple as a video that’s created on demand, that’s accessible on demand, that has some sort of community around it. That can be an event. Some people might think that being in Second Life, entertaining and staging an event in Second Life is a virtual event. And really, when you look at what a virtual event is, it can mean a lot of things for different people. At a minimum, I think it happens online. It involves online components and it stays up for a certain period of time to deliver a certain kind of message. So, what that means is that a virtual event can be as simple as creating a video on demand or creating a podcast, to actually staging an entire event on an island inside Second Life.
What is causing the shift from physical to virtual events?
That pendulum swing [from physical to virtual] is what’s driving the interest in creating virtual events and in virtual meetings. And primarily what that means is using these platforms that help to simulate physical events. Right now, that’s kind of where we’re at. We’re looking at platforms like Unisfair, like InXpo, like ON24, that are going to allow people to come together in one space, listen to presentations, download needed collateral, network with each other and have everything be able to be on demand for a certain amount of time without having to leave their office and at a greatly reduced price. Not free, unlike what some people might think, that it’s incredibly cheap, because you still have to stage an event. There’s still pre-event, where you have to enroll people and there’s still the actual what happens during the event that has to be staffed, and what happens post-event. What are you going to do with all the content? How are you going to continue to support the people? All of that takes resources and time, but is far less than a physical event.
What are some misperceptions about virtual events?
I think one of the misperceptions is that a virtual event is not an event, an event being something that has a lifecycle, that has something that happens before, something that happens during and something that happens afterwards. If you don’t have the assumptions that what you are doing is actually an event, then you start to believe that you don’t have to support it like an event and there doesn’t have to be, in a sense, the infrastructure and a strategy involved in doing it. That’s what I find a lot of our clients are struggling with, because when you shift from a physical event to a virtual event, there are a lot of things to consider or you’re just creating a new virtual event. There has to be an appreciation that you’re still staging this experience. It just happens to be online.
What is the 4D strategy?
When we look at staging an experience there are four different things that can be looked at, and if you can get in the sweet spot of those things, then you really are delivering the most impactful experience, and those four things are: creating an environment of education, creating an environment of entertainment, creating an environment of escapism, and creating an environment of aesthetics. So, when I’m in a general presentation at a physical event, I can have LCD screens from the Beijing Olympics. I can have lights. I can have full control of the environment. I can have amazing sound. I can have Power Point. I can have visuals. Because I am in full control, I can be at the center of…I could deliver an educational experience, an entertainment experience. I can certainly have people feel like they’re escaping and create the kind of architecture and aesthetic feeling that allows people to be relaxed and enjoy the environment. I could hit the sweet spot.
How do you see the future of blended events?
We have a way of thinking called “online”, which is how we integrate the online experience with the live, physical experience. We’re making that distinction now because it’s an important one to make. But, in the future, we won’t be talking about, “Oh, is this going to be a virtual event or a physical event?” It would just be that these are different touch points of an event. It would make clear sense to say, “Yeah, of course we’re going to have some virtual components and of course we’re going to have some physical components.” Or, “We’re going to do what makes sense.” It’s not going to be such a clear deliberate distinction that we’re making right now.
What do you see as the future of virtual worlds?
I also think, to predict in the future, that we’re going to see…I would consider Second Life a pretty deep and heavy client, requiring a lot of plugins, a lot of overhead. You have to build an avatar. You’ve got to be in a place. I think there are some advantages there in terms of the world, because you’re aware of proximity, and there’s movement and it’s much more of an immersive environment instead of one of absorption where it comes into you, but you actually go into that environment.
What we’re going to see, I think, here in the next year or two, especially with some of the open source community, is a movement further down the immersive scale from where we are with some of these other platforms, like Unisfair, InXpo and these tradeshows, where you’re still going to have a lot of the benefits of a world, but it’s going to be browser based with very limited downloads.
What do companies need to consider in order to accommodate mixed environments?
There are really two things that are important. One is a mindset shift, just to appreciate what it means to take the body of knowledge that you have and shift it to the virtual space or to clients that are looking for the virtual space, or partners that play in the virtual space, really appreciating the challenges and their goals and the effort required to do that is the first thing that needs to shift. The second thing is, okay, how do I take my existing resources and be able to remap and retrofit that to be able to support the necessary steps to deliver a live virtual event? And that is not insignificant. That process means a retooling, to going back and looking at how are we doing our processes here? Where does it fit to be able to support this new movement and where doesn’t it fit, and how am I going to change the language to be able to support it and how am I going to change my resource skill set that’s used to, for example, building, fabricating real booths, to fabricating virtual booths?
What are some components of a memorable event?
It’s not just the actual event. It’s everything that happens prior to that. What’s the experience prior to the event? How can we make that amazing? Seth Godin talks about the purple cow? If you see a regular cow you just walk by, but you see a purple one, that’s kind of remarkable. You’ll talk about it.
So, we focus on this sort of staging and experience not just at the physical event, but, in terms of what happens in the enrollment and awareness process, pre-event, and how do you keep that going in your post-event? Again, this is where I go back to “an event is an event is an event.”
So, to make it remarkable, to make it amazing, you really need to think about not just how that booth online is going to look, but how is the whole event going to occur to someone who’s attending? How do we make the whole event amazing? You could have clients with the exact same booth, and have people walk away from one event saying, “That was the most amazing thing. I can’t wait for their next quarter event.” And the other one saying, “That was something that was a waste of my time,” even with some of the same infrastructure and potentially the same content, but, the fact is that they weren’t enrolled properly and they weren’t handled properly afterwards. So, the event as a whole did not occur to them in the way that met their expectations as well as with the client.
We are aware that there is potentially a need to create some very customized approaches, just like we would do at a physical event. And that is why we have an interactive agency that we own, that is very aware of how to stage certain things, how to create certain sorts of experiences and emotions online where we use their talents in alignment with our event expertise to be able to re-skin these environments. Re-skin them not only in the way that visually they look, but also potentially in the kinds of activities that happen within them.
What are some things to consider when extending an event?
These are the things that you need to think about in terms of just purely extending an event. Certainly, 30, 60, 90 days after an event is recommended, but in terms of moving it to 365 and creating fresh content, keeping the collateral active, keeping the communication vibrant and energetic, is challenging and it can be done. But, there needs to be, again, a lot of thought put into that and strategy or else, you’re going to see a community just die on the vine. A community is very much of the “I see you, therefore I exist.” So, after the event when the momentum wanes a little, you start to get people who are coming to the event asking questions of the event space and no one responds. You may have another chance, but maybe not and then over time that will just disappear. This happens when you create a Face Book site for an event, and all of a sudden the event’s over and then no one’s managing the Face Book site. It becomes out of date very quickly.
Will the industry create more of a balance between physical and virtual events?
I think what you’re going to see is that there is going to be a correction. But, the correction is going to be much smaller than the original swing because I think technology’s going to continue to get better. I think that there’s going to be a lot of success with the virtual meetings, more success. Now, you know WebX is doing very well with their online meetings and Citrix as well. What we’re looking at is how to extend that, how to take a meeting and make it like an actual event instead of just a very occasion-based beginning and end and a one-to-many type of communication. So, we are definitely going to see a ratcheting back, because like you said, there are things that happen in a physical meeting, people face to face, that cannot and may not ever be able to be recreated virtually online. In fact, if you see some of the social networking communities that are very strong and very powerful, one of the things they first start to do once they start to organize as a community is decide how to meet face to face.