The merging of live events with digital content and remote attendees was bound to happen. When the Internet poked her head through the ceiling of the convention center, the industry expected something interesting to follow. The divide between face-to-face and virtual experiences has already been narrowed by hybrid events, but the convergence won’t stop there.
There is another side to opening up the Pandora’s box of digital and pouring the contents out onto the trade show and conference room floors.
Hybrid event producers and platform providers have done a fabulous job of providing remote attendees with access to the live event environment. Live presentations are streamed out, while virtual “visitors” chat, tweet and Skype their thoughts and images back into the physical event. Everyone is happy; the “outsiders” are rewarded with great content and some engagement and the “insiders” reap the benefits of increased visibility and net-new live attendees.
But, what happens when live attendees are given access to the digital environment, all of it, even exhibitors, presenters, and content that isn’t physically there?
When we can harness the universe
Imagine a time in the future when a face-to-face event attendee will be able to visit a physical trade show, come upon an interesting booth, engage the exhibitor in conversation and collect product information, BUT instead of moving on, he will linger in the aisle to learn about all of the other companies that offer similar products and services—even the ones that aren’t at the show.
Also in the future, a live conference attendee will be able to sit in a presentation, hear something compelling, life-changing, even transformative and afterward learn about other presentations, companies, ideas, books, white papers, movies and Ted Talks related to the session topic—even those not featured at the conference.
This blending of live and digital is a game changer. Where before, the remote attendees extracted value from the live environment (and craved to experience it), in this new scenario—the next logical phase of event hybridization—live attendees will be able to obtain value from the virtual environment (and they will crave the live experience even more). Going forward, the blending of the real and digital worlds will come full circle.
Mobile will bring it all together
We have all of the tools now to make the convergence happen. Using mobile devices and specially designed applications, live event attendees can scan barcodes, QR codes and augmented reality symbols or tap NFC-enabled phones on posters, columns and signs to access new content, be “transported” into another realm or simply direct the information they desire to a central database for later review.
I haven’t even mentioned Google Goggles.
Before the riot starts
What live event organizer in their right minds would agree to flinging open the digital doors and exposing their existing customers to the competition of companies that aren’t even there? What exhibitor or sponsor would pay to exhibit in or sponsor a live event that supports their competitors? ALL OF THEM. Here’s why:
- Some time soon, fewer attendees will use live events to initiate buying decisions or learn new information because the events won’t be representative of all of the products, topics and solutions that exist. They will only come if and when they are ready to buy, choosing instead to collect digital information to narrow down the field.
- Blended (phase-two hybrid) events will be more compelling than stand-alone events. Live attendees will have (and want) the best of both worlds to experience and reach their goals.
- Exhibitors and sponsors that participate in the live event are automatically privileged over companies that only participate digitally.
- Organizers are paying much more attention to the attendee experience. What could be more fulfilling for conference-goers than to be able to compare, contrast and continue the learning from a single location?
- Additional content (from digital participants) represents potential revenue streams for the organizers and introduces a type of tiered participation scheme.
- Nothing replaces the face-to-face event (so it’s been said a million times) and if the convergence is inevitable, live events will be the only environment where live and digital can exist together.
- A certain percentage of the companies that participate digitally at first may one day exhibit in and sponsor the live event. It is a brilliant onboarding strategy.
As the next phase of hybridization emerges, event organizers will have to rethink the value proposition of stand-alone events. They will have to become curators as well as planners and use technology to make sense of the digital landscape as an extension the physical floor plan. More than anything, they will have to understand that hybridization will eventually become a two-way street—remote attendees looking in and live attendees looking out—and it will change the live event game for good.