A look at the evolution of virtual events by Gavin Newman

A little longer than a decade ago, virtual events were set to revolutionise the event industry. Event industry professionals and experts were, on the whole, alarmed, cynical and dismissive of the new technology as a rival to tangible, engaging and measurable physical events.

As the owner of a business focused entirely on virtual events, I can honestly say I was undeterred by the lacklustre response on what was then, a rather novel, but fairly basic idea. Having worked in the events industry for years, I was confident virtual events could be created to match, complement and, in some cases, compete with live counterparts.

What we’ve seen since those early days of ‘walking’ round branded tradeshows from the comfort of home is the impact of new technology, major shifts in who and how virtual events are used but perhaps, most groundbreakingly of all, the recognition from naysayers that virtual events have earned their place in the communications toolkit.

Perhaps, the type of ways in which virtual events are used is different from what was expected a decade ago and whilst some might yet need persuading as to the revolutionising of events, it’s difficult to dispute that virtual events, estimated to be worth billions, aren’t here to stay.

When technology caught up…
..even greater things happened. It sounds simple, but you simply could not run a virtual event with that irritating ‘page loading’ message on screen. Thankfully, resolution of bandwidth issues led to increased usability and in turn, enhanced functionality. The use of video, not just for presentations but for live chat and live-streaming is perhaps the closest you could get to having a live event. And the data retrievable from a virtual event is practically incomparable to a live event. Now we can tell you where your attendees are, what questions they asked, how long they stayed in a booth or auditorium, what presentations they listened to, what collateral they downloaded etc.

Plus mobile technology and the advent of smartphones has increased usability no end! One of my favourite sayings is that virtual events are simple to access, all you need is your chosen device and an internet connection.

The demise of the passive attendee
Sure, you still encounter some misconceptions about virtual events primarily being just a basic webinar or webcast sometimes combined with clunky virtual tour. A virtual event is so much more with social media integration, App tools, live, audio and video chat mean those attending the events are more actively participating and engaging than ever before, particularly the ‘keyboard warrior’ generation for whom virtual is the norm.

Virtual event attendees seek out information about their event, before, during and after the event. Furthermore, they share it amongst their own online community.

Attitudes and applications
The biggest evolution of all though, is most definitely a shift in attitude about how and when to ‘go virtual’. Initially there seemed to be a small market where virtual events seemed an obvious fit, and at Ivent, the education sector has proved the most receptive to the concept. But with indisputable success, we’ve seen a huge diversification in clients with organisations in both the public and private sector making use of a virtual event for their own unique purpose.

We’ve delivered charity events for Help for Heroes, held engaging conferences for big and lesser known brands, we’ve recruited students, we’ve filled job positions, we’ve rolled out new product launches globally and we’ve connected colleagues from all over the world in training events and company conferences. And that list is far from exhaustive.

What next?

So virtual events have proved they are cost and time effective as well as extremely versatile. I believe virtual events, whether used as an extension to a live event or as an alternative, have yet even more to give.

I’m excited about the creation of more personal event experiences through data usage and audience segmentation and I’m genuinely interested to see new sectors using virtual events. Ultimately, the past decade+ has shown us that any business with the need to share information, to recruit, to train, to sell, can and should incorporate virtual events in their events and marketing strategy.

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