This may sound a little like productivity blasphemy but yesterday, I had a great time on Facebook. While I’m not an all-day-long-hardcore user of the site, I appreciate that I can quickly catch up on the lives of my friends and acquaintances. I’ve lived on both coasts, the south and across the midwest. I have precious friendships that have grown from business dealings with people many states apart from where I live. As I cooed over pictures of my friend Ashley’s newest baby in New Orleans, learned that my friends Tom and Gigi are moving into a gorgeous new house in Tennessee, and rejoiced that still another found a new job after a long difficult job search in New York. A deceptively simple thought hit me…..”I feel so much closer and so much more connected to these people because of this technology.”
This got me thinking about a criticism I hear sometimes about integrating technology to events, generally from those whose financial survival depends entirely on in-person events. The claim is that, while virtual events might be great on the wallet, they’re not so great at building or fostering human connection. They argue that perhaps virtual technologies can transfer information, but to reach people emotionally, requires -- even demands face-to-face. In fact, when I looked at the data from my first few virtual event experiences, I saw results that reinforced that notion. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind about the argument. I continually run into science and even just stories from everyday life that directly contradicts this:
There are quite a few other stories that come to mind, but I think the point is made: every day, our emotions are stirred through virtual technologies. Paul Zak, neuroscientist from Claremont Graduate University, has conducted laboratory research about online social media that brings this point home as well. "Your brain interprets [sic] tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for," Zak says. "E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection."
As a final note, it’s important to keep in mind that technology continues to improve. As it improves, we humans continue to adapt to it. There are ideas coming to the marketplace constantly, and many of these new offerings make it even easier to transfer emotion and belief. For example, just a few years ago, no teleconferencing technology existed that made it easy to read the nonverbal communication of the audience. Today, there are offerings like Cisco’s TelePresence that do this effortlessly and cost-effectively. Today’s barriers and limitations may be overcome tomorrow. As such, there’s no place for simplistic thinking such as “face-to-face is good, virtual is bad.” Instead, it’s essential to develop a more sophisticated view. Technology – including virtual technology – offers a variety of solutions to the challenges that all of us face.
By staying on top of the latest developments and understanding the needs of your event stakeholders, every event owner can make informed, optimal decisions about increasing the impact of their events. It’s definitely changing the way we create all of our event experiences. In fact, add it to your standard list of considerations for every single event you run. Decide how and what technology integrates into each event to help your budget, your messaging comprehension, AND the emotional impact of your event.