2020 has turned into a very different kind of year for us all. With events and conferences cancelled across the world, our usual habit of getting face-to-face with our existing and prospective clients, partners and associates in busy venues across the Americas, Europe and Asia has been, well, a little curtailed.
The near-global lockdown has necessitated different thinking, and one of the first to rise to the challenge was Triangle, with their virtual conference and exhibition, Post & Parcel Live 2020, in June. The venue?… Online.
CCL signed up on an exhibitors package and created our virtual booth. And when the day arrived, we logged-in.
Was it just like the real thing?
In many aspects, the virtual exhibition was very much like the real thing. Visually speaking, the virtual exhibition hall mirrored the feeling of walking into an actual exhibition hall. Our booth looked much as it would look in physical form and there were many functions available which allowed us to have live interractions, leave messages for people and open discussions on webchat. For a debut virtual exhibition, Post & Parcel Live 2020 really delivered.
How well did the presentations and seminars work?
Beyond the exhibition hall, Triangle events are based around knowledge sharing, offering informative seminars and opportunities to debate issues facing the global postal industry. The virtual event worked well in this context too, enabling the sort of classic experience we have come to expect, with presentations and plenty of opportunity to interract.
The big issue in a virtual environment is that as a presenter or workshop leader, you don’t know how effectively you are holding people’s attention. Has your session slipped into the background on their laptop? Have they wandered off to get a cup of tea? You have no such problems in the real-world setting!
It’s not enough just to have a good number of delegates online. We need to create an environment that encourages active participation. The challenge for presenters and workshop leaders alike is to be attractiveand engaging in the virtual environment. This means doing something different, perhaps by utilising video over traditional slide presentations. It might mean shorter, punchier or more challenging presentations, or the use of bold, attention-grabbing techniques. It definitely calls for that cliché: Thinking outside-the-box.
Were there challenges?
There were a few challenges and learning experiences for the next time. Most notabe was the way a virtual global event stays open across multiple time-zones for upwards of 18-20 hours a day. That’s unlike physical events, where everyone gathers in a single location, within a single time-zone. Whilst there were over 900 people registered to the event, each participant would sign in during their own working hours and there were sessions scheduled to cover each region’s working hours. The opportunities to make connections were extensive, but smaller numbers attend each session. We realised quickly that to make the most of a global virtual gathering, we needed to have people available to participate in sessions and service our booth right around the clock.
There were also one or two issues with the way the virtual event software worked. In particular, we found that notifications and messages weren’t always visible, resulting in scheduled calls or sessions being missed. Hopefully this issue will be resolved for next time.
Is there a future for virtual events beyond the pandemic?
Triangle had been looking at setting up a virtual event for some time, but the pandemic brought everything forward. In a short timescale, they did a great job. They delivered on the fundamentals of a good exhibition and conference and generated an audience of good C-level delegates. So we do feel that events like this do have a future beyond the current global pandemic.
Both Triangle and CCL as an exhibitor have learned a great deal from this inaugural virtual event. We’ve shared our experience as well as a few ideas on how future events might evolve, with the emphasis being on specificity, and the ability to easily identify the people you want to meet.
For example, we felt it would be worthwhile to create touch-points (seminars and online meeting rooms for example) for people with very specific interests or needs. A version of business ‘speed dating’ could also work, particularly if it were possible to register to meet delegates around detailed criteria (‘agency in USA’ or ‘handling dangerous goods’ for example).
We also felt it would be valuable for each delegate to register with a really detailed profile, making it possible for everyone to identify quickly and easily the people they would particularly like to connect with.
When people gather in a physical venue, they tend to participate in the whole event, all day and in the evenings too. In a virtual event, delegates tend to come and go, perhaps dipping in for an hour or two, here and there. The challenge for event organiser and participants alike is maximising the time each delegate remains present and active within a virtual setting.
That’s where they will build value, and drive up attendance in these innovative events.