At 5:00 AM, on a cold Sunday morning in late March 2012, I stood outside my office building on Fifth Avenue in New York City waiting for a black car to deliver Gary Vaynerchuk. This was our first virtual event together; a virtual wine tasting with a group in Hungary. Little did I know that eight years later, virtual events would be the normal way of life.
Virtual events make up nearly all corporate events and conferences happening today. Zoom has become this generation’s Kleenex or Xerox. The events industry has changed forever and will never be the same. Since this past March, speakers have been beaming into people’s home offices, living rooms, backyards, and vacation homes, swapping out frequent flyer miles for an expertise in countless video platforms.
During the recession of 2008-2009, as corporate boondoggles became a thing of the past and individuals’ financial ability to attend conferences vanished as quickly as the value of their 401k, pundits claimed that in person events would become a thing of the past. They envisioned a world where video would replace conferences saving everyone time and money. Skype was being used around the world, connecting users via video, and FaceTime’s arrival was around the corner. However, for a company to stream a large event in decent quality to their employees, it required significant technology and an AV/IT team on both ends of the stream; not readily available to most companies, let alone the average speaker or small business.
Fast forward to 2020 and virtual events are the new standard, coming together on short notice given the ease of access and limited knowledge of what’s around the corner. Be it a motivational boost for your team, a 50th Anniversary party, a book club, happy hour, or your dog’s birthday party, setting up a video conference takes less time than finding something to watch on Netflix. Even older generations typically slow to adapt to new technology, are extremely active on these new platforms, even if it means some extra family IT help and still staring at Grandma’s forehead for an hour.
While the world has quickly adapted to this new virtual landscape, the competition for eyeballs has never been more intense. Prior to COVID-19 sending the majority of America’s workforce home, there were more events happening than ever before. As virtual events became easier to both host and attend, and regulations made meeting in large groups prohibitive, the number of virtual gatherings has surged.
With this evolution in events came a new battle for our attention, no longer limited to an enticing happy hour at the hotel instead of a main stage session, but rather the many distractions inside our homes. Netflix, virtual learning, childcare, social media, let alone actual work, are all contending for our time. Because of this, events struggle with decisions on how to stand out from the barrage of free workshops, conferences, and infotainment that lands in our inboxes daily.
The technology we have access to and are regularly utilizing to connect with one another provides us a chance to share knowledge and information like never before. The conversation at the water cooler may be gone, but the ability to tune in online to see a bestselling author, pioneering entrepreneur or thought leader, and learn something to improve the way you live and work is now just a click away.
Every event is a chance to brand yourself and your business. I always say, “no two events are the same.” Now, more than ever before, it’s imperative to stand out and show real value to your audience. Be thoughtful with your content decisions knowing people still have to choose to not only sign up, but watch your event and not minimize the video screen to go watch ‘The Tiger King’ of the moment.
Eight and half years and three Patriots Super Bowl victories since our first virtual event together –sorry Gary– and in a matter of days Gary will be streaming live for a group in Romania. This time the black car will stay parked in the garage, I won’t be getting up at 3:30 AM to set up a conference room, and the experience is bookended by two other virtual events mere days apart. When we all figure out how to resume our lives together, and congregate again, I have no doubt that events will return, more frequent than ever, but I assure you one thing, virtual events are here to stay.