Beyond the live-stream or webinar
There was a time when truly engaging virtual conferences were considered to be the realm of science fiction. And there are some promising technologies that may in the near future bring your Star Wars-style holographic presenter into your kitchen or living room in real-time.
However, the reality has been the more mundane live-stream or webinar: a ‘drop in or out’ coffee break. Often with a Zombie-audience – who may be logged-in but not tuned in – distracted by the day job, or simply waiting for a recording, they’ll never make time to watch. The poor-cousin to live events, with only a few players in the market trying to drive innovation. And, most of the innovation has been in simplifying the user interface (think Zoom) rather than transform the experience, interaction or creative collaboration.
After all, with a plethora of live, face-to-face interactions there wasn’t that much need for online engagements. The live-streams and archived webinars lack the very reason we attend live events: to build relationships, socialise, discover new ideas, and thrash them out over banter in a tapas bar or café.
Sure, there were sensible arguments in favour – virtual events can save money, increase the reach, they may even help to save the planet. Not many listened to them. Now the landscape has changed. The rebound from COVID-19 may be more protracted and a new normal may emerge from remote-working.
COVID-19 has turned the world of events upside down. Society is at war with the virus, and, as we know, adversity is very often the mother of invention. Innovation thrives.
That’s the case here too. While, according to our recent study, 89% of Britons are currently concerned about contracting coronavirus at a large indoor event, 60% believe that people will be less likely to attend large events even after the peak of the outbreak. But at the same time 76% of respondents believe virtual online events are a good alternative to live events, during a pandemic, with 77% of senior executives and middle-managers agreeing with that statement. It’s a no-brainer, virtual events and the digital customer ecosystem are on the rise. Along with smaller, localised, connected events, the virtual engagement will become a new normal. They won’t necessarily replace face to face, but they may well re-shape events, as we know them.
Rethinking virtual engagements
Up until now, the majority of virtual events have been passive experiences, based on the “watch and comment” model. Occasionally there’s some polling. There’s a next generation coming, representing the “watch and participate” approach.
It’s more than a platform: it’s a virtual event ecosystem that integrates digital services, interactive and live broadcast tech, cloud-based ideation and multi-channel experiences, like AR and 360 VR. Algorithms create teams. Tasks, master-classes and workshops drive engagement. On the flip side of this model is a customer ecosystem that integrates community-based discussion groups that are moderated by topic-experts, soundings and conversations in social media, along with virtual and hybrid events. The relationship with the customer becomes more holistic and can evolve over time.