Virtual events: is this new digital trend a viable alternative?

03/18/2019  |  EVENTS, News | Trends, Startups

Digital technologies are reshaping the way we communicate, live and work. There’s no doubt that automation, online platforms and other digital-related trends are transforming every industry today. The boundaries between the digital and physical world continue to blur and this has a direct impact on the way we conduct business with one another. As a significant amount of people and businesses are moving online thanks to a whole new world of possibilities for interaction opened by the internet, the event industry is also following the trend, exploring the value of online conferences and virtual meetups.

Designed as an alternative to physical face-to-face events, online conferences and virtual trade shows are still in the beginning phase. Could a virtual summit or trade fair be a good investment for your company, personal brand or simply your career? There’s no easy answer to this question as it all depends on which angle you look at it from. We took a deeper look and summarized the main pros and cons for you.

Main advantages:

  • Saving money and time – attending or hosting an online event will, without any doubt, turn out to be less costly, as there is no need to rent any special venue, meeting space or booth. You’ll also end up saving money as no one needs to travel to and from the event. Furthermore, no matter how much one might enjoy traveling, it is sometimes inconvenient and tiring to go on business trips and many of us would actually prefer meeting the right people at the click of a button. Not to mention that setting up a physical booth at a conference takes a lot of time and effort. No need to take care of putting up and taking it down when attending a virtual event.
  • No dress code – as an attendee, organizer, speaker or moderator, you don’t need to stress about the dress code anymore. No one will see you, so you don’t have to swap your usual pants for a fashionable suit or dress.
  • Wider reach – everyone can attend an online event, irrespective of their location as long as they have a good internet connection. It is a great opportunity to connect with a wider, international audience and meet experts, you wouldn’t have had the chance to cross paths with at a physical event.

But there are also some downsides to consider:

  • Lack of face-to-face communication – as humans we are wired to connect with each other. Most of us want to experience personal connections with our customers, potential investors or work colleagues. That sense of community is arguably more difficult to grasp in an online environment. Socializing with industry peers and face-to-face networking are still an important part in building trust in business relationships.
  • Distractions – attending online events requires more self-control and focus as it may be very easy to get distracted, especially if you are in an office at work, sitting with your colleagues and there are other urgent tasks to be taken care of at the same time.
  • Potential low turnouts – people are usually more inclined to spontaneous networking when they attend an event in person and show interest in new trends or new companies simply by bumping into someone they found interesting. This is especially the case of smaller companies that sometimes compete with well-known brands at an online trade show.

Our CODE_n resident, startup aucobo recently took part in NEXCON, the first virtual congress on smart manufacturing and we didn’t want to miss out on the chance to find out about their experience. Thea Meyer (Sales Department, aucobo) shared with us her opinion on the pros and cons of attending online events from the perspective of a startup company.

How did you experience the first international virtual congress on smart manufacturing?
Thea: I was really excited to take part in NEXCON as it was the first time I was attending such an event. And indeed, it turned out to be a very interesting experience. The speakers at the event did a great job. It was a little weird at the beginning, but also really impressive and innovative to explore the digital booths of the exhibitors. At the end, my general impression was that the era of online events has just started and the functionalities at these events have a long way to go before reaching their full potential. With time, people who attend virtual events will also get more accustomed to the evolving technologies. I’m excited about what’s ahead.

What are, in your opinion, the main pros and cons in attending an online tech event?
Thea: The main pro of the event, for me as an exhibitor, was the easy preparation. Setting up the digital booth was a lot easier than preparing for a traditional fair. Additionally, I could work on my daily tasks while I was manning the booth. The biggest con about this was that a lot of attendees seemed to have done the same. As a result, people didn’t really check out thoroughly the exhibition hall as they would normally do at a physical trade show.
I’d say that these online events are very practical for conferences and keynote speeches on various topics, but when attending a fair I’d prefer the traditional one where I have the chance to talk to people face-to-face and demonstrate the benefits of our product.

Did you get the same level of networking and interaction that you’d normally expect in a face-to-face event?
Thea: As mentioned above, it was a lot harder to network with the attendees. Especially for us as a startup, it was difficult to attract visitors to our booth. At traditional fairs, people would normally walk around the halls and stop at any booth that interests them. In the digital world that happened a lot less.

What impressed you most at NEXCON?
Thea: I was very impressed by the variety of speakers and exhibitors that attended the event. The mixture between well-established corporations, smaller companies and startups was great as well.

What does the future have in store?

All in all, it is not easy to draw people into your booth, in a crowded venue, irrespective of whether we’re speaking about an online event or a physical conference. Making your booth a popular stopping point is definitely a challenge and the competition is fierce. When it comes to online events in general, the industry is just starting to scratch the surface in terms of adoption and technology development. At some point, emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality will probably come more into play in an attempt to create an even more immersive experience and capture the attention of attendees, keeping them more involved through engaging content and transporting them to a shop floor or production facility.

Still, virtual events aren’t probably for everyone, but that might change in the future with the advancement of technology and a shift in people’s perception. One thing is sure: they can be a great alternative in an increasingly digital world where everyone is trying to be faster, more agile and maximize time and resources.



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