Do virtual conferences make more sense today?

Coronavirus disruption is making virtual conferences more viable for producers — but could 5G and VR make this the status quo?
3 March 2020

We won’t be rubbing shoulders for a while. Source: Shutterstock

The Geneva Motor Show has been canceled for the first time in decades, thanks to the guidance issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) following the global coronavirus outbreak.

WHO’s guidance was also followed by a host of other events such as Mobile World Congress, Google News Initiative Summit, Facebook Global Marketing Summit as well as the developer event F8.

Today (March 3), Google, Microsoft, and Adobe have announced that they’re canceling all of the “in-person” portions of their upcoming developer and director conferences.

What’s interesting to note, however, is that as a result of these prominent conferences being canceled, some producers have decided to turn the events into online-only festivals.

The Salesforce World Tour and the Shopify Unite 2020 Developers Conferences are great examples of this. Both are doing this for the first time ever and expect hundreds of thousands of customers, partners, and employees to tune in from around the world.

While conference producers are excited about the opportunity, they’re also admittedly anxious about the potential of hosting a virtual event and getting the same (or better results).

“Our conference is called Unite for a reason, and we’ll remain united from our respective corners of the world. Let’s be creative, friends — share your ideas for virtual ways we can show you all the new, cool things we have coming,” Shopify CTO, Jean-Michel Lemieux, said in a letter to all partners expecting to meet at the upcoming conference.

Back to the Geneva Motor Show, while the organizers have decided to take a back seat, it seems as though companies are keen to deliver on their promise and meet customers’ (and fans’) expectations through virtual events of their own.

Bloomberg, for example, said that BMW will be live-streaming the debut of its i4 battery-car concept along with Mercedes-Benz, who will showcase its E-Class sedan and Audi, its A3 Sportback and all-electric E-Tron S.

While experts and market observers believe that the virtual shows will be exciting in their own ways, technologies on the horizon such as 5G and virtual reality will provide an exciting opportunity to conference producers as well as businesses.

Make online conferences spectacular and (also) save the planet

Conference producers at just the top ten conferences and trade shows welcome more than 10 million delegates, all put together. These delegates travel hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles to attend the event.

The Geneva Motor Show alone, for example, attracted more than 600,000 delegates last year, most of whom flew into the country from overseas. A large percentage of that delegate pool came from the US (New York is 3,860 miles away from Geneva and a return-trip as an economy class air traveler produces 1.72 metric tonnes of carbon).

True, the experience offered by some of the leading conferences is not only excellent but also truly immersive.

The conferences and trade shows provide opportunities to learn, meet, and even make new connections, all of which directly leads to revenue growth for delegates. It’s why TechHQ is a leading media partner to events such as eCommerce Expo and the Bett Show.

There’s no doubt that conferences and trade shows are really important. However, with the use of virtual reality and 5G, businesses might be able to re-imagine these conferences to get more out of their investment while also reducing their carbon footprint and take a step in the right direction towards saving the planet.

The virtual world has its own benefits

There are three distinct elements that make up the modern-day conference, seminar, or trade show: the ability to showcase new and upgraded products and services, the opportunity to find new customers among delegates, and the chance to reach a wider audience through media, partners, and so on.

In the traditional world of conferencing, all of these elements have been refined to ensure that organizers and their sponsors/partners get the most out of the event.

However, in the virtual world, if care is taken to design better experiences, improvements on all fronts can be seen.

Obviously, 5G and virtual reality will be the foundation of tomorrow’s events, but showcases can be brought to life and each attendee can be provided with a personalized experience that matches his or her specific needs.

Further, in the digital world, interactions with customers can not only be more interactive but also more engaging, allowing sponsors, partners, or vendors to really hand-hold delegates and transport them from one world to the next, demonstrating features, use cases, and more, in real-time.

Since all this is happening in the virtual world, both parties can quickly and seamlessly bring other decision-makers on board for introductions and negotiations.

Finally, in the first few months, such events are guaranteed to get lots of attention from media organizations, fans, and partners just because of the novelty involved. Once the novelty wears off, the fact is, the better experience offered overall will ensure word about new releases and upgrades, in the world of automobiles, technology, or anything else, spreads far and wide.

All of this can be achieved while helping to reduce carbon footprints — an agenda that is quickly gathering momentum in boardroom discussions across the globe.