Go digital? Hold-up – hybrid events will be the future

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In recent years, much of the tech-savvy business world has withdrawn to the windowless, air-conditioned rooms of Las Vegas for the annual consumer electronics show. While it’s the showcase for everything digital – from autonomous vehicles to smart refrigerators – it has always been a downright physical event.

And while many complained about being dragged from booth to booth, from show to show, many enjoyed the camaraderie of a once-a-year jamborees – and the casino bars that come with it.

This year, however, there was no slot machine in sight...

CES made history last week when it became the largest digital event ever.

Such rapid change has always been a challenge and the organizers – and exhibitors – did a fantastic job in every way to ensure that guests were not disappointed.

The increased emphasis on keynotes this year did not go unnoticed, however.

Given the high level of interactivity of CES, this is not surprising. One of the biggest hurdles in the virtual events space is making sure those attending from home value the experience as much as they would if they were visiting in person.

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Necessity is the mother of invention, however, and the virtual events sector is leaning on the gaming universe to quickly innovate in that direction.

AR and VR technology are at the forefront of this by helping bring products and experiences to life for people at home.

However, we are also increasingly able to use personal devices to improve interaction in other ways, such as through surveys and questionnaires. By having access to live event data, we can improve the experience through personalized services such as customized schedules and network events.

Before we know it, we might be able to send people prototype products through their 3D printers and recreate those random and career-defining network moments that normally happen over the buffet table – all thanks to the power of virtual social engineering.

The extended shelf life of virtual events also means that it is possible to manage and measure engagement long after it is completed.

CES took a step in the right direction when it decided to host its content online for 30 days. But why stop here when you have the power to create thriving virtual communities that existed ago, during and long ago? It is this kind of thinking – where consumers are put in the driver’s seat – that event organizations need to focus on. With hybrid events growing in popularity, I expect organizers to add niche online communities to the virtual event experience that are becoming a place for networking and learning.

CES had a small window in which to host one of the largest interactive events on the calendar, and while it did a great job it will undoubtedly be even better prepared to provide a top notch experience for all delegates next year. Because that is the reality, virtual events are not going to go anywhere anytime soon.

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Old habits die hard, and even if social distancing restrictions are lifted, chances are many of us don’t want to spend three days in confined spaces with strangers. At the same time, businesses are awakened to the harmful effects of international travel on the environment and their wallets.

I am not suggesting that personal events be scrapped in 2021. We’re all fed up with sitting inside.

However, what we will see over the course of this year and beyond is an increase in “hybrid” events where companies encourage smaller groups to meet in person while sharing content with larger audiences via digital platforms.

That might sound like double the job. To make events more accessible, a large global network of people needs to be able to connect with your company.

This also means better access to thought leaders and companies around the world for guests, enriches their experiences and makes events appear more attractive.

Of course, this twofold approach means that it is even more important for businesses to ensure that those who come out of the safety of their sofas are not treated as second class citizens.

Because while it is easier for people to attend events online, it is now just as easy for them to close their browsers and walk away.

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