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Can Virtual Conferences Be on Par or Even Better Than Their Analogue Predecessors?

Advertising Agency
New York, United States
Asher Wren, VP new business growth at Firstborn, on how and why event hosts and digital agencies should be endeavouring to create something more than a “virtual analogue of a conference” right now and post-Covid
The corporate world is coming to terms with the fact that we can all work from home without compromising on our work, and it is fair to say that our pre-pandemic reliance on travel for pitches, meetings, and conferences was probably a waste of time and an unnecessary impact on our carbon footprint. 

The future of corporate events and conferences is therefore wholly or at least in-part digital, and so it stands to reason that digital agencies are being invited into experiential pitches, competing with predominantly other digital agencies. We, at Firstborn, are seeing a ton of opportunities in this space as event marketers look for innovative new ways to engage their customers in lieu of the traditional live conference set up.
I was in a meeting with a client recently to review a potential technology platform on which we would be building a virtual event. The platform was like some kind of corporate version of ‘The Sims’, you know, without the magnifying-glass-on-an-anthill power trip (or was that just me?).
With this platform, which will remain nameless, you could customise your little virtual booth to engage virtual attendees - how many screens does your booth need? Do you want Ferns or Dragon Trees in the background? You can put your logo on the booth wrap!
This got me thinking - surely we can do better than creating a literal, virtual analog of a conference. I don’t want to direct a little Asher avatar from virtual booth to virtual booth, before spending eight hours in a windowless virtual room, in a virtual hotel, sipping virtual coffee. Do you?
At the core, conferences and industry events are really just groups of like minded people engaging in discourse to affect change and progress, right? Everything else - the day-and-a-half format to allow for travel, the stuffy conference rooms, and yes, the tepid coffee - it’s all entirely par for the course in real-life conferences, but not something that we should aspire to recreate as we look to reimagine events in a post-pandemic world.
With pandemic and post-pandemic events we have an opportunity to completely reimagine what an event can be, to set a new standard for bringing people together to instigate progress.
We can strip out everything that sucks - from the lines and crowds, to having to choose between two equally interesting tracks, to the awkward booth conversations; while elevating everything that is amazing - the serendipity of bumping into a friend or making a new contact, the feeling of being part of a bigger community, the opportunities to learn, collaborate and create.
So when you’re next considering what your virtual event or conference could look like, don’t aim to recreate your event in a digital setting. You have a blank slate. Consider your event objectives, and then build your event from the ground up accordingly, custom-designed for digital.

Does your event need to be constrained to two days, or can you deliver your event content in shorter bursts over a week, a month, a quarter? Can you pre-record some of your content to ensure the polish of a keynote, while leveraging auxiliary channels to provide the serendipity and real-time engagement of a live event? Can you combine volumetric video capture with live CGI to enable speakers to present from responsive and changing, fantastical landscapes and locations? Or could you design experiences for synced, connected devices so that attendees can seamlessly transition from desktop, to tablet, to mobile, to smart speaker and beyond?
These are the questions that we are asking ourselves and our clients as we approach new virtual event briefs, and that’s why traditional event marketing agencies are having a hard time sleeping at night. If you would like to discuss virtual events with us, give us a shout...

Asher Wren is VP new business growth at Firstborn

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