How many of you have attended a virtual event recently? Let's rephrase. How many virtual events have you attended this past year?
Recently, I did the math - and the ratio of in person to virtual events (including annual conferences and large company gatherings) for me personally went from 90% in person in 2019, to 95% virtual in 2020. This doesn’t count virtual meetings, which shifted from 80% in person to almost 100% virtual. This see-saw effect is creating mass disruption across most industries.
Pre-pandemic, there were many basic options for virtual meetings, in the form of web conference solutions that offer both dial in and video capabilities. We used them - but did not rely on them as we do in the pandemic and post-new normal world.
While virtual capabilities have certainly grown throughout 2020, we are looking ahead to understand how this technology should continue to advance in order to provide the most optimal individual and community experience.
Because use cases should always drive technology, let's highlight some of the industries and groups most affected by the restrictions on in-person gatherings and events.
When was the last time you attended a concert? When was the last time you were able to see a local artist perform?
The impact on music as both an individual and communal experience does not just affect the artists and those that support them - but all of us in a community, as we struggle to connect in an increasingly isolated world.
One event (Tableau Conference-ish 2020) did an unexpected job of incorporating music by inviting John Legend to perform an exclusive 30 minute acoustic session. It was a simple live stream execution - John playing his piano and singing. There was no audience in his room; his audience was scattered around the world, hunkered down in front of digital screens. As he sang, I imagined hundreds of us distanced but connected, sharing an experience.
Local musicians, singers, and songwriters accustomed to playing in smaller venues are most impacted, finding themselves suddenly without venue or audience for an extended period. There are a few pay-per-view platforms emerging in this space, with Zoom announcing a new offering called OnZoom.
Will live stream be able to connect us with the music and musicians that we love? Will consumers pay for it?
We can all admit that 2020 is a major disappointment when it comes to our love for competitive sports.
Personally, I had purchased (really good) MLB tickets for select games (mostly Cards v. Cubs, and if you are a Cubs fan, you can stop reading here). When baseball did start up again, it was unnerving to watch a game with no fans in the stadium. The recorded crowd noises and life-sized cardboard cut-outs placed in the stands felt synthesized rather than reassuring. Though without them, the post-apocalyptic vibe would have been overwhelming. Because in the end, isn't it about the experience?
Similarly, gyms faced almost immediate irrelevance. If we could not gather indoors in large numbers, we almost certainly could not over-exert and breathe heavily around each other. Home gym solutions like Peloton that offer an on-demand experience continue to increase in popularity, while yoga and group exercise instructors take their offerings to YouTube.
The common thread is that we crave experiences in these areas and are willing to pay for it, whether it's virtual or not.
What happens when you take our education systems and throw them into an endless snow day?
The answer is: many different approaches with varying degrees of confusion and success. My partner is a middle school teacher, so I'm here to say: the struggle is real.
It started in late March 2020, with the end of the school year reverting to 100% virtual (and school became optional) in a matter of days. We, as parents and teachers, rounded out the school year in a flurry of shrugs and despair.
In August 2020, my partner began the school year with a week of in-person training for teachers to be 100% virtual. Let me repeat: teachers received in-person instruction to learn how to teach virtually. Ironic?
Most elementary, middle, and high schools now have hybrid options - 100% virtual, 50% virtual, 100% in-person, in-person 3 days a week with 2 virtual days, and every other combination in between. This is wreaking havoc on teachers, students, and parents alike. Teachers struggle to work across online and in-person forums to deliver meaningful instruction, create connections with students, and monitor effectiveness and retention. Students either struggle to keep up or are so far ahead they are not being challenged. Parents struggle to make sure their child(ren) don't fall through the cracks.
Let's be honest. Adults can hardly pay attention on web conferences - and we expect our students to engage 6-8 hours a day in this type of virtual setting?
Not to mention college! Can you imagine the struggle for professors and students alike as we do a sideways dance around communal experience, higher education, and social distancing?
In speaking with a former colleague and friend, he posited that we need to completely re-imagine education in light of virtual options and how we leverage technology more effectively. We completely agree.
When we cannot connect in person, how do we form and maintain meaningful connections to work that serves a defined need?
Organizations, including many non-profits, that depend on philanthropic efforts are facing a two-fold issue in this time - in-person restrictions which limit fundraising events, and a higher demand on less available dollars for charity from individuals and corporations. Let's face it - there are more needs, and fewer donors available to support those needs.
The increase in charitable giving that has been reported is mostly in response to new needs specific to the pandemic, leaving less dollars for existing causes that have also grown in need with the burden of giving on a younger audience. Additionally, the needs from the pandemic are and will be on-going - how will we continue to prioritize charitable giving?
One of the primary issues is engagement - with so much noise created by so many needs, how does an organization stand out in a virtual crowd? When the results are real, how do we create real connections to it?
Our professional networks and events are impacted by the virtual shift, but it might not be a bad thing.
Like many professionals, I keep a set of annual conferences and professional events that I like to attend if and when I can. Some are local, while some are in exciting places all over the world. But alas, not in 2020. And likely not in 2021 either. Now, most of these conferences are shifting to 100% virtual. In the future, these events will likely retain the virtual offering.
And it's not all bad news. In person conferences have a greater demand on our schedules. These events require travel, which is expensive and takes time from our personal and professional lives.
Virtual events are an increasingly viable option. However, in order for these types of events to be effective, we need to find the right blend of technology and interactivity.
Where do we go from here?
While this list is not exhaustive of all groups affected by the shift to virtual, it is meant to illustrate some of the key needs and use cases that exist. While virtual events will always be different from in-person ones, they can be just as effective. We simply need to find the blend of creative and informative, communal and self-directed, immersive and reflective.
We continue to dive into the various types of virtual capabilities with an eye toward what's evolving (exists today) versus emerging (new).
Stay tuned. Or contact us at Master Key Interactive to continue the discussion.