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Will Virtual Events Survive the Post-Vaccination Era?

Most of the industry is waiting for in-person events to return and, while improvements are promised, many event industry people I speak with are looking for an updated, but not revolutionary, shift from the 2019 version of the conferences and trade shows that we all remember.

I say it’s time to challenge our thinking about a full return to the status quo of past event planning and delivery. Every one of us must resist the temptation to return to the era of better sameness. The opportunity to blend the best of what used to be, what is, and what can be is what makes 2022 look so promising.

Going forward we need to think digital AND analog. Hub AND spoke. Primary interaction AND secondary interaction. In-person AND in-network.

Let me explain. Think about how you toggle everyday between multiple domains. You shop on e-commerce sites and visit a mall to be in the company of other people. We watch instant replays on our phones while we are at a stadium watching a live football game. We play video games while we chat, interact, and talk to people around the world. Consider a truly new and immersive digital/physical environment by checking out Nintendo World that just opened in Japan. And who doesn’t compare online prices on items at Best Buy using their phone while in the store. And of course, Peloton owners know what a truly physical and digital experience is all about. Digital and analog behavior is well embedded into our daily lives.

Here’s what’s at the root of why this blended digital/analog behavior is so compelling and will become so imbedded in events going forward. Human beings, like all living organisms, follow a pattern of least resistance. The path of least resistance can be most easily explained by how water will always seek the lowest point. It will always flow down a mountain, pulled by gravity around rocks, trees and other obstacles to reach the bottom. So do we as humans seek the path of least resistance. We behave according to our own best interests and will adopt behaviors that reduce friction, avoid discomfort, and allow us to achieve our goals with the least amount of energy expended.

The path of least resistance means I will do whatever is easiest and leads to the best outcome at the lowest investment of time or money (depends which we have more of). We buy groceries, order-in, eat out, and we might even get pre-planned ingredients delivered so we can cook them ourselves...all based on what’s easiest, least expensive, or most enjoyable based on our individual criteria at the time.  

Now, with the rewiring of our brains and behavior this past year, expect a settling of digital and analog options into a blended conference and trade show environment that is more personalized, easier to navigate, more networked, and ideal for being with someone on a screen or four feet away in person throughout the event as well as before and after.

Virtual events as we know them today will be unrecognizable in a year. But the capabilities they offer, how they deliver value, and the ROI potential has made so much of what they do critical to the omnichannel, “meet-the-audience-where-they-are” requirements essential going forward.

Navigation, individualized meetings, new affinity groups, gamification, way-finding, app based interactions, match-making, and socially augmenting the user experience are perfect applications of the technology we’ve all become so familiar with.

The new event “tech-stack” has much to offer but it must be reimagined, repackaged, and tailored to meet the brave new world we are all entering.

Embrace this digital/analog future. The path of least resistance will prevail and now is the time to design an “elastic event” that lets you flex resources, space, budgets, and technology to meet your audience where they are in the months to come. It’s not as hard as it sounds.

Let’s get started.

Don Neal
Founder & CEO

360 Live Media

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