The Good (and Bad) of Virtual Events

2020 is the year of remote everything. It has been a work from home, webinar heavy, travel light year for the whole country and, of course, for us in the AV industry as well. As such, our biggest events of the year have all been canceled or shifted into the ether.

Many have been clamoring for more virtual access to our trade shows for years. In an industry, like AV, that innovates and sells remote tools, it always seemed we were a little behind the curve in offering digital access to our events for those who couldn’t make the physical, analog journey to the venue itself.

This year forced our hand, and we had to make a decision as to whether to bolster our digital capabilities and forge new ground or wait out the storm and reconvene next year. Fortunately, we chose the former, and events like LAVNCH WEEK from rAVe, VCX from WolfVision and InfoComm 2020 Connected from AVIXA have all been happening with fairly good success over the last few weeks, with LAVNCH WEEK 2.0 coming up next week and the AV/IT Summit from SCN coming in August.

virtual vs in person

Now that we’ve had these shows virtually, the question is: how were they? What are the pros and cons of doing events virtually versus in person, and what is the most valuable hybrid model to pursue in the future?

The Bad

Screens, Screens and MORE Screens.

The downside of virtual events debuting this year is that this was also the year that we were also all forced home for the last three months to work. This means most of us have already been sitting through numerous videoconferencing meetings every week. We have also been attending all sorts of free training and webinars from manufacturers, and Fridays have been for virtual Zoom-based happy hours.

The end result? Screen burnout for many. Screen fatigue is real, and the virtual events, even when packaged in some slightly different wrapping paper, really just seem like an extension of the web-based monotony of our current lives.

Ever-Present Distraction.

When you go to an event in person, it’s pretty easy to “dial in.” Your Out of Office is on, you’ve prepped your team and customers on the upcoming travel plans, and, once on site, the environment itself causes a shift in mindset. Heck, given the quality of the cell and Wi-Fi service in most convention centers, you couldn’t take a business call even if you wanted to. For these reasons, an in-person show almost demands attention. A virtual show is NOT the same. Even if you’ve changed your voicemail and turned on Out of Office, the very fact that you’re in the same chair that you typically work from is problematic.

As creatures of habit and products of our environment, we will inevitably be tempted to revert to working while sitting at that desk and continually be distracted and cognizant of the time we’re spending on the virtual event.

The Reduced Power of Chance.

At a trade show, walking the floor and talking to people, we greatly increase our chances of discovering something new. We go into the show in discovery mode, at least part of the time. The opportunity to learn something new, meet an important colleague or trip over some product, service or information that may change the course or success of our business increases.

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At a virtual event, there is far too much structure and scheduling for this to happen in the same fashion. We have to decide ahead of time what we want to learn, what is important, and then schedule the times those events happen. This approach to “discovery” just doesn’t work as well, as AHA! moments are seldom scheduled.

The Good

More Access for More People.

The most apparent value proposition of virtual events is increased access. There are no financial or geographical barriers to getting to the show. This means that the staff rotations we often see at big events aren’t as necessary, and that access to the large shows isn’t just reserved for the C-Suite and the top-tier salespeople and engineers. Open access allows those who are hungry to learn the ability to do so and helps break down the hierarchy of title and tenure. Given a rising tide raises all boats, then open access raises the potential level of knowledge in our industry as a whole. That’s a good thing.

Less FOMO.

Any time I attend an event, I get my share of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I typically get invited to several events, and it’s one of the few times a year I may get to connect with industry peers from other states and countries. As such, I’m always afraid that I’m going to miss out on something when I have to choose one event, booth or course over another.

Virtual shows, due to the digital nature, erase a lot of this. The connecting events are scheduled where everyone can attend, and the courses, panels and talks are recorded for consumption later if you miss them live. The booths are “open” throughout the show, and you don’t waste time walking the halls to find #5231.

Post-Show Buzz.

Because of the digital nature of the show above, there is another advantage: You can capitalize on the post-show buzz. It’s always the worst feeling when you return from a show or event and realize you missed the one thing that everyone is talking about. (There’s that FOMO again.) In the past, I would have to get the download from a friend or call the manufacturer and ask them to come pay us a visit to show us what everyone is talking about.

A virtual show allows you to listen for the post-show buzz from your peers around courses, panels and products and then curate your digital content consumption so that you’re consuming all the best parts.

With that, I am excited for the future hybrid shows where a parallel digital experience is available. It’s not only great for those who can’t travel to the show, but it also helps those who are physically there have peace of mind that, even if they miss something, they will always have digital access to it later.

I believe that we’ll evolve out of the one-way webinar with a chat format and come up with new and unique ways to network, learn and share. I’m also hopeful that, in the future, as the world reopens, we won’t be burnt out on virtual meetings before the events even start.

What are your pros and cons of virtual shows? Leave a comment below.