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Are Virtual Events The Answer?

I have been working in the events and media space for close to 15 years and would consider myself a “hard-core” face-to-face events supporter but over the past two years I have had to acknowledge that virtual events are a platform that I need to embrace and learn about. So I get asked question all the time by experts in the events industry: “Do you think virtual events are the answer? Are they going to replace face-to-face events?” (no way–never), “Are they going to add excitement back to the events space?” (maybe), “Are they going to a major part of advertisers budgets? (maybe).

Obviously, no one knows the answer to those questions except for the first one. It is evident that in-person events will never go away. Yes, they will go through cycles and events that don’t remain relevant will struggle or go away but nothing can replace the handshake and the in-person relationship building–not the online communication and interaction of a virtual event, not the virtual business card exchange (who made that up?), not the online chat room networking, nothing–it is just not personal enough and does not build a relationship in the same way.

In my opinion virtual events are great lead generation tools for sponsors and great educational programs for people who can’t attend in-person events, but I see them as really just the next generation of webcasting. So, if they have the opportunity to replace anything it will be the traditional webcast and not the in-person event. I can be contacted at [email protected].


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  1. March 19th, 2009 at 00:35 | #1

    Hi Derek:

    I just had dinner with a friend who is a meeting planner for a bank that recently had to cancel all their meetings due to “image.” She said they have presented the virtual meetings and training instead of a face to face meeting and said they failed. The attendees were multi-tasking and not giving undivided attention to the presentation. Most of them did not fill out the evaluations and behind closed doors admitted that they only paid partial attention.

    I agree to offer virtual meetings to those who can not attend but they should not replace face to face meetings.

  2. March 19th, 2009 at 09:03 | #2

    EventVie2009 press release summary and what this means for marketers/event planners by @InXpoLive:

    Hi Derek,

    When discussing virtual events, the point about face-to-face contact consistently comes up. You’re right that a virtual event cannot replace the human connection; however, I disagree that virtual events is a “next generation of webcasting.” When done well, virtual events can drive real business value while enabling an organization to truly connect, educate and engage with its audience. How?

    First, webcasting is really a one-way broadcast of information to a group of people. While one can interact through Q&A, the intent is mainly to communicate versus engage in a conversation. Also, creating a webcast is not as complicated – a few speakers, a presentation, some training on the software and there you go, whereas a virtual event is an event, which takes me to:

    Second, no matter if it’s in the physical or virtual worlds, an event is like an event. Simply, with an event, you have to plan a theme, consider the brand experience, make sure that the content will be educational and provide ways to engage your audience. The only difference with a virtual event is the venue. As such, you have to plan appropriately with a virtual event as you do with a physical one.

    Third, while virtual events are mainly seen as a lead generation tool due to the amount of rich data one can gather from a virtual event, this again isn’t the only reason for a virtual event. In my company, we are seeing companies do virtual events for sales kick off meetings, partner relationships, and job fairs. What makes these good events? It’s how a virtual event fosters the connection, education and engagement I mentioned earlier.

    These are just a few points and would love to chat with you offline about this and virtual events in general. In the end, I, and my company, believes that virtual events is an important component of a strategic events/conference strategy.

    Best regards,
    Cece Salomon-Lee
    Director of Marketing, InXpo

  3. March 20th, 2009 at 09:53 | #3

    Hi Marjorie and Cece, thank you both for your input.

    Marjorie as you I know I do agree that they will never replace in-person events but I also strongly believe that having someone participate that is not completely focused is still better than not having that person involved in your event at all. Also, for a sponsor driven virtual event the lead generation opportunity is still there as that person most likely logged in for some reason of interest and they could still be a good prospect.

    Cece, it was tough to fully describe all the benefits of virtual events in a short blog post but if I was to correct one thing I would say that I do think that they are more of a cross between next generation webcasting and in-person events as they do offer some interaction and communication benefits along with the lead generation. But there is something about close contact relationship building that is achieved at in-person events that virtual events will never duplicate but again the online interaction is better than none at all – especially in this economy when travel is way down.

    The ultimate event in my opinion is one that happens in-person so the people that are still traveling to events and your core audience can attend in-person but then extending of the lead generation, interaction, and education online with a virtual event for all the people that couldn’t attend. Global sharing, re-purposing content, and extending lead generation all have great benefits.

    I should also say that I was only referencing conference type virtual events and not internal company events or job fairs as not every event has the goal of lead generation.

    Now I must disagree with you on one your comments as well, you even admit that virtual events can’t provide the same human connection but in your next paragraph you say the only difference is the venue? Well, the difference in the venue is what drastically changes the human connection from in-person interaction to one that happens online and that in my opinion is the major difference that makes virtual events more like webcasts than in-person events. You can’t shake hands and experience the true human interaction online…gestures, tone, expression, body language, attitude, and even looks are a major component of how humans building trusting relationships (and make sales)and none of that happens online.

    I also never said that webcasts don’t deliver great business value as they have proven to be widely successful and popular marketing tools and I only hope the same for virtual events.

    One final point, “Content is always King” whether we are talking about a webcast, a virtual event, or an in-person event the most important component is building the right content to attract the right audience and that goes with all of these platforms and I am beliver in all three.

  4. Richard Kidd
    March 21st, 2009 at 04:35 | #4

    Every new media creates a ripple which impacts all other forms of communication. Just look back at the introduction of radio on newspapers, the introduction of Tv on radio, the introduction of the internet on all of these. Virtual events are here to stay but they are just one more tool. I don’t for one minute they will replace all face to face meetings but there are a number of pressures building up which will force their progress. The cost of holding face to face events is increasing both in monetary terms but also in carbon impact and time invested when you include travel. Will the quality and facilities at virtual events improve over time yes of course as the technology develops and as the value they generate increases so it will prompt investors to get involved and drive the quality forward. I am implying that I am not convinced that the virtual world conference experience we have at the moment is the best it can be. Face to face will still have its place but there will be things we can achieve better more effectively with a virtual event that would not be possible in a face to face situation. In summary I think both types will retain their niche.

    Does this change concern me? Not at all. We all have to recognise change is inevitable it never stops happening its just that recession can be a big catalyst for greater step changes than we see in more stable times. There’s no going back once new ideas are tried and adopted they become part of the scene in the future.

  5. March 29th, 2009 at 20:08 | #5


    I don’t think there is any one answer to your first question. There are some cases where online events should and will replace face-to-face events. There are many more where using online events can be utilized as a brand extension of physical events. There is real value and tremendous ROI in each instance. In your world, I believe the latter is most important. Like you, I come from the world of physical events. I have been doing it for 25 years now. That’s long enough to have seen several boom and bust cycles for established event brands that have since faded into obscurity. I have been augmenting my events with online components since 1996 because it gives the physical event producer continuous touch points with your attendees throughout the year. That helps protect your brand by allowing you to present fresh content and foster attendee loyalty. Another important aspect of virtual events which is often overlooked is the amazing networking potential that is often ignored.

    I have now moved completely into the virtual space and formed a company called EventPlanet. What makes us unique is that we focus on virtual event strategy and not the platform. That strategy really needs to be everyone’s first consideration.

    Richard Feldman, CEO

  6. March 31st, 2009 at 18:31 | #6

    Virtual events work to convey information; I doubt they can convey the sheer emotion of big room event, no matter extraordinary the theme and media. The electricity of groups– temperature, buzz, applause, surprise– is an irreplaceable benefit of the real thing.

  7. May 14th, 2009 at 10:53 | #7

    I don’t think that any technology, no matter how advanced it is, will replace the benefits of a face to face meeting. The important thing to remember is that not all meetings require face to face interaction. A trade show, for example, requires personal interaction to be successful. Sure, they have virtual tradeshows, but everyone can agree that its just not the same thing!

    I think the thing that virtual technology is best suited for is training. Using a platform that combines video and audio components, as well as monitoring technology provides a solution that has been proven to be even better than F2F. The success draws from making sure the attendees are actually watching the training by monitoring their participation. Its superiority comes from the ability for the participant to return to the training and review at a later time, which is impossible with a traditional F2F meeting. The only review material you would usually get is a binder, which costs too much to make, wastes environmental resources, and that will in the end, probably be misplaced or thrown out.

    Virtual training is the next big thing in business because it is cost effective, flexible, easy to use, fast, and better for the environment than traditional face to face meetings. And once you find a company that can meet the criteria for a successful virtual platform, you will immediately see the benefits of this cutting edge technology.

    - Ashley Claire

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