Turning the digital dial

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Turning the digital dial

Paul Cook, organiser of MPI’s upcoming EMEC 2021 virtual conference, says tech companies need to invest in bridging the gap in understanding.


The digital dial has been cranked up to stratospheric levels and shows no signs of stopping. Since Covid-19 adversely impacted the in-person events space, virtual events have been the only game in town in many countries across the globe. 

While some event professionals wait for the return of in-person events, others have gone full steam ahead exploring digital options and making them work. 

One thing is clear: virtual events are no longer a placeholder in the events calendar. They are an integral part of communications and marketing strategies. 

Over at MPI, Annette Gregg, senior vice-president, experience, has this to say: “One of the best outcomes of the pandemic is that we’ve been forced to adopt virtual engagement options. As a global association, adding a digital component to our conferences has allowed us to increase attendance across our 70+ chapters. For example, our annual Chapter Business Summit, usually held live at our annual conference in the US, saw double the attendance when it went 100% digital in 2020. And with the scalability of a virtual platform, we were able to extend the learning opportunity to many more levels of leadership.” 

That is clearly a good outcome and MPI have plans to extend their digital footprint in 2021.

David Thompson of Reed Travel Exhibitions also reflects on the impact of digital: “As our industry undergoes significant changes as a result of the pandemic and consequently is more open to learning, it is clear that there are significant opportunities for many areas of event tech over the coming 12 months and beyond. It is essential that, as event organisers, we continue to embrace these opportunities and drive them forward.”

Event tech is clearly an integral part of an event experience and this has been amplified in recent months. I worry that some event tech companies are investing considerably in product development at the expense of providing on-boarding help. The best tech can never be properly used or maximised unless its capabilities and quirks are thoroughly understood. And that is where there are still gaps. However, the tech companies that minimise those gaps are seeing good results. 

David Merrell of AOO Events has good things to say about his experience of using avatars for client events. He used the exVo product. “Because it is an entirely immersive experience, much like a video game, it compels guests to stay involved. It’s a virtual world that runs completely parallel to the real world. The big difference is that it legitimately satisfies all the goals of a live event. It can be impactful, engaging, memorable, and can completely represent your brand, products, and messaging. Every opportunity that a sponsor or stakeholder needs to be involved in exists within the platform.”

From avatars we switch to holograms. These have long been hailed as the next big thing. But are we now ready for them? I think we could be, especially if the tech companies want to make it easier for people to understand and use. Liz Berry at Hologramica has a personal mission to make holograms ‘normal’, so maybe we can expect to see a lot more of them in the not-too-distant future. 

Whatever technology we use, Tahira Endean, SITE Global Conference head of events, reminds us of the need to consider two things: the need to over plan and the fact that you can never over test when it comes to digital events. Wise words, indeed, but I also like her advice when she says: “Think outside the device. How are you making your experience more interesting, inciting curiosity and movement and ensuring people want to stick with you? Take lessons from e-sports and music and non-meeting engagements and keep us edu-tained.”

It is a good reminder that even as we keep turning the digital dial, we need to have a clear vision of what we are seeking to achieve with our events. The events landscape continues to change, and every event has to deliver and has to stand out. Make sure that the tech helps you do that.

Stuart Wood is a news reporter across the Mash Media editorial portfolio. He writes for CMW alongside sister publications Conference News, Exhibition News, Access All Areas and Exhibition World.

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