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Going places, by not going anywhere, with the virtual avatar of corporate events

Put on a nice shirt, wear a tie, a good-looking blazer, and comb the hair. “Heartiest welcome to our keynote speaker, ladies and gentlemen,” the event presenter declares. But this is not your usual event, complete with grandeur and in-person networking. The COVID-19 pandemic has bundled the opulence of events to fit inside your laptop window.

Is this the New Normal? We say, yes. In the last few months events and conferences have taken the biggest hit, with the world coming to a virtual standstill. Several big-ticket events were canceled or postponed, anticipating the situation to be a temporary one. But the pandemic is not receding anytime soon, that much has become clear.

Once the bastion of marketing stalwarts to network and generate leads, the events space is now going through a crucial pivot. Event marketers and brand managers have had to look at alternate ways to host events and maintain visibility in the market. Virtual aspects are being adopted increasingly, as a result. Digitally simulated conferences, summits, and even the in-house meetings have become commonplace.

The Reverse Movement

Virtual events are not new to the industry, by any means. But the virtual type often took a back seat to live events. The pandemic, however, has reversed the flow. With the pandemic pushing up demand, the expected growth rate for virtual events have shot up to 23.2% between 2020 to 2027.

The events industry, which till now has typically relied on live events for the appeal of in-person networking, is now building upon the existing virtual formats through technology such as holographic, virtual reality, live streaming, and simulated conferences. Gradually, a distinction in the forms of virtual events has also emerged:

  • Standard virtual meetings – These can be anything from team meetings to town halls on WebEx or Microsoft Teams.
  • Live streaming – This type of meeting demands higher production value, where multiple content pieces, including videos and graphics, can be stitched together in a single window.
  • Virtual conference – This type enhances experience with interactive tools.

There are multiple virtual conference platforms available that have cashed into this new opportunity, including The Virtual Show, Adobe Connect, Accelevents, and On24. These platforms have transformed overnight from being a webinar platform, to simulating live conferences. This will allow the event industry to monetize virtual events with sponsorships and brand reach, like a live event. A few advantages of a virtual event are clear:

  • Reduced cost. Virtual events can be hosted at a fraction of the cost of a live, physical event, which is a win-win for both the organizers and the sponsors.
  • Virtual events can bring in its fold attendees, who are often constrained to travel.
  • Virtual events can pack in an audience like sardines in a tin, provided the platform can support.
  • Less coordination required in deciding the right location and month for hosting an event.
  • For companies that are ahead of the curve in digital storytelling, virtual events are a good way to showcase their prowess.

Breaking Down the Fourth Wall

The rise of virtual events has also brought the quality of experience in sharp focus. Surely, the impersonal set up of a live event cannot be looked over altogether. But providing an experience emulating live events is still a challenge with virtual events.

However, technology is gradually catching up to this need, without piling up expenses or compromising on health concerns. Events today are being designed with as much precision as a live event, with dedicated sections as the lobby, an auditorium, and a set up that recreate the feel of entering a hotel lobby for a conference.

Going forward, virtual platforms are likely to inhabit a lion’s share in the mix of events, long after the effects of the pandemic have receded, as restrictions on travel and gatherings are expected to continue for a while. When live events do make a comeback, it will merge with the virtual aspects to create a hybrid model, allowing companies and brands to enhance the reach to a wider audience, new ways of monetization, and attendee experience. For now, hope to see you virtually at the next conference.

This article was first published by Business Insider.