Nothing to it
Is there something missing from virtual events?
Blogs | 11 Jul 2012 :
Long ago but not too far away, I remember writing an article about the prospect of virtual exhibitions taking over from the traditional shows and events that so many people in the IT industry enjoyed or endured (or both) in a normal calendar year.
Some enterprising individual had just launched a virtual expo (sorry, but I can't remember who it was or what the company was called) and spiced up the launch with predictions of a future where people would not gather together in vast aircraft hangar type environments in Birmingham or Hannover or hotel convention centres in Las Vegas to see the wondrous technological marvels due to be unleashed on a unsuspecting but eagerly anticipating world.
Okay, so I'm overdoing it a bit here but the point is that the future was viewed as a place where people would no longer gather together physically in the same space at events, shows or exhibitions.
Some of that vision has come true. Some of the exhibitions that used to be held in aircraft hangars have disappeared never to be replaced. The need for people to meet together has also been reduced to a significant extent with the advent of e-mail, IM, chat and video conferencing. We're also seeing the rise of mobile working although I sometimes wonder if this is a bit of a misnomer because, as far as I can tell, it also refers to people who will be less mobile than they are now as they won't have to leave home to go to work.
Nevertheless, there are still quite a lot of shows or events, many of them vendor-specific, where people gather together in the same place to be told stuff about forthcoming products or strategies, to ask questions about them and where they also have a chance to catch up with their peers. And despite all the talk of ‘Virtualageddon', they are still very popular.
We all know the reason why this is so. People, especially Irish people, are sociable animals that like to meet up, have a chat and enjoy the craic. And there are no advances in technology that will ever be able to replicate that experience.
I would also suggest that in many instances it suits the vendors to have events or shows with real, physical people walking about or going to conference halls to listen to keynote addresses. First off, you know that if someone has taken the time to physically turn up to an event, they are going to try and make the most of it, which means they will attend speeches, workshops and breakout sessions. They will also try to meet up with vendor representatives and with their peers in the industry. After two or three days of this, they will leave the event with a renewed sense of community and belonging to the cause.
Now, let's suppose those same people were "invited" to watch live video of those speeches or workshops sitting in front of their PC or laptop at work. Do you really believe the experience will be the same? Hardly. For instance, how do you know any of them will actually bother to "attend"? What would motivate them to click on a link and sit and watch a stream of an event when there is no community of people around them doing the same thing at the same time as there would be in a hall? How do you remotely get a sense of how the speech is being received by the audience? I concede that it might be easier for people to ask questions from their desk than to put their arm up in front of hundreds of other people but that's not a facility you get an opportunity to use very often, if ever.
Also, you lose that bit at the end, where everybody's filing out of the hall and the person next to you says how poor or good the speech/session was and you get a chance to agree or disagree. In short, the opportunity, in the immediate aftermath, to have a discussion based on first impressions. Immediacy is the word I'm looking for.
And as for the people making the speech or conducting the session, how difficult must it be for them to try and "perform" for an audience that isn't physically there? Where do they get the energy from if there's no atmosphere in the room? All of these issues lead me to believe that the grand vision of a future of virtual events outlined to me long ago but not too far away is still a lot further away than people thought. Also, it may well be that the need for these types of events increases as people spend more of their working life isolated from work colleagues (or anyone else for that matter). When it comes right down to it, no matter how much IT changes our world, it's still personal.