6th June 2012
That word is ‘virtual’. We have all used it in many conversations taking no issue with its meaning, however, it becomes quite bewildering when used in conjunction with the word ‘event’.
Having just looked up the numerous definitions of the word ‘virtual’ I see the recurring explanation as “occurring or existing primarily online”. I think we’re fine with that aren’t we, so what is the issue?
The word has caused so much confusion in this sector of events that one of the leading suppliers of ‘virtual’ events has issued a global directive to its staff prohibiting its use. Their marketing collaterals changed almost overnight reflecting this command.
Let me give you a personal example of the confusion. I asked my daughter (11), wife (35) and father (72) to give me their definitions of an event. Their responses chimed with my own loose definition, however, ask them what a virtual event is and I get three different responses. Therein lays the issue.
Recently, we had an enquiry from someone who had been invited to attend a ‘virtual event’ and believed he would still be attending an event in the real world but one with a virtual experience. There is no hope.
Cue the recent conference delivered at International Confex on ‘Developing virtual & hybrid events’, which I was honoured to be asked to chair. IBM, CISCO and eBay were some of the brands who supplied an excellent range of speakers to the day-long event. One of the predominant and recurring issues throughout the conference was how to talk about this space. As we waded further into the toffee-filled mire arguing our various cases for a new vernacular, hopes faded of a single agreed position.
‘We don’t have a virtual marketing strategy, we have an online marketing strategy. That way people understand what we are talking about’, came the fog-lifting statement from the stage. Is it really that simple I thought to myself? It is!
From that moment forth we now deliver ‘online events’. Some of the usual questions still get asked by prospects, but only in terms of wanting to understand how this new space can work for them and not the sort of questions that resulted in a head-in-hands session.
Early online event platform vendors saw an opportunity to recreate a live event as closely as possible using online environments, but felt it was necessary to demonstrate this by recreating visual cues that traditional event visitors would identify with. In their show reels they used realistic animated characters gliding across beautifully rendered conference lobbies, chatting to each other and sporting business attire that only the sartorially savvy would don giving the impression of an advanced, slick and never before seen piece of kit.
Don’t feel too embarrassed if you were hood-winked into believing that this is what you were going to experience when attending the event as I was suckered into this too. The prospect of a ‘virtual reality’ experience was visually promised; the truth is that you would arrive on a flat web page and engage in what appeared to be an 80s style AOL chat room with a bunch of faceless show goers.
It didn’t take long before the growing cognitive dissonance felt by virtual event visitors forced the vendors to rethink their marketing. The legacy of the term ‘virtual event’ lived on for some time however, but value and efficiency became the banner headings for their marketing messages and not the unsuccessful attempts at visually promising to deliver a virtual experience akin to a live event.
I accept that the word virtual was intended to mean remote and online but in my experience having spent three years staring at the motionless, corpse-like expressions of those I was trying to convince about this new space, which is now a distant memory, simply changing one small word has given sanity and closure to us all.
‘Online events’, simple, direct and meaningful.