Picture this. You are “walking” the exhibitor floor. You stop to chat with fellow attendees along the way while “live” entertainment delights everyone around. The emcee for the conference calls everyone to the main stage to take their “seats” for the day’s keynote presentation. After popping around the conference for nearly two hours, it is time to head up to the roof for an after-party complete with stunning vistas, a dance floor, and a bar.
This may seem like the traditional formula for any conference (even The Special Event happening this July) but, this setup is anything but traditional. It is, in this example, the virtual conference software from AllSeated: exVo (allseated.com/exvo) where attendees can be immersed in a virtual world as an alternative to sitting on a Zoom meeting.
This is just one example of how technology will dramatically shift in 2021 as we continue to navigate COVID-19 and how live events will be conducted moving forward.
It is staying virtual for a while
Live events will continue to look different for the foreseeable future, which is why virtual software will remain the hottest trend in tech for the short term and beyond.
With these virtual conference platforms, event professionals can bring many of the elements of a traditional conference together in a virtual format, including keynote mainstage presentations, breakout meeting rooms, networking, tradeshows and, in some cases, event after-parties.
The Special Event, co-located with The Catersource Conference & Tradeshow, is heading to Miami July 19 – 22, 2021. Immerse yourself in an inspiring and safe event focused on the new trends and opportunities in events and catering. Learn more
With so many different options available, it can be difficult to determine which one is best suited for your needs. Frankel, whose company Animatic Media launched a virtual conference platform, Conference-On Demand + Live (conferenceondemand.net/home) in response to the pandemic, said the first step in finding the right solution is to ask every question you can possibly imagine.
“If someone tells you they have a virtual event platform, ask every question about what features they have,” he said, “because you don’t know what you don’t know.”
For example, not all platforms can accommodate breakout rooms, or perhaps they cannot accommodate registration within the same system. It is truly imperative to do your research before selecting a platform. If you are looking for something that has chat and screen sharing capabilities, be sure to ask those questions.
“People take it for granted because they’ve seen it on other platforms,” Frankel said. “No two platforms work the same.”
In-person will be back
Even though virtual conferences will continue to be the norm for quite a while yet, in-person events will be back.
“Everything associated with in-person events is going to change,” Frankel said, “but they will be back.”
In-person events will see the emergence of cutting age technology to ensure the health and safety of attendees, Frankel said. He anticipates devices for touchless registration that incorporate temperature checks and automated printing of event badges, and the use of specialized cameras that can automatically sense crowding in areas to ensure attendees are remaining socially distanced.
“It has to all be so integrated now,” he said.
And of course, expect automated sanitizing stations and the like to pop up at in-person events.
Additionally, expect to see a greater reliance on A/V as we get back to gathering, Frankel said, as another way to ensure safety and social distancing.
“Everyone is expecting in-person events to have less attendees who are more spread out,” Frankel said, “so expect to see more screens, and more video and audio coverage because people are going to be physically distant in those rooms.”
Another option that has been growing in popularity is noise cancelling headphones, such as those from Silent Conference (silentconference.com/us) which can broadcast multiple channels without any interference from outside factors. Sit anywhere within the room and hear the session clearly.
“You’ll have the ability to space out your booth, space out your audience,” HUSHconcerts, which is the parent company of Silent Conference, Owner & Operator Robbie Kowal said. “Additionally, people put those headphones on, and they get fully immersed in what they are hearing, which leads to a much more meaningful experience. People seem to put down their phones when they put on their headphones.”
There will also be more incorporation of interactive apps at in-person events for such things as food ordering, conference programs, and handouts.
How to handle certain pieces of technology will prove to be challenging as events come back, Frankel said, because of the sanitary and safety precautions. Are handheld microphones outdated? Will presenters be required to bring their own laptops and presentation clickers? So many of the things that we took for granted in the past during an event will require creativity and additional care.
“You can’t be too careful is the thing,” Frankel said. “It’s a double-edged sword because you want to show all of your attendees, all of your speakers, and all of your staff that you’re completely on top of safety here, but you also don’t want to scare somebody. You do not want to overdo it. There’s a very fine line there.”
And do not expect virtual platforms to go anywhere anytime soon. Even once in-person events resume, there will still be a virtual component in some capacity, Frankel said, which will lead to an entirely new world of hybrid events.
We will “meet” again
The past year has given rise to myriad new, exciting technologies. Everything from online ordering to virtual event platforms to unusual ways to “meet” and “hangout” in the inter-webs. One of those new pieces of tech that has been generating a lot of buzz is Clubhouse, a new(-ish) audio-only app that can best be described as a live-interactive-podcasting-experience. Clubhouse’s profile rose in the wedding industry in the winter of 2020, in reaction to the ongoing pandemic and social isolation.
Renée Dalo, of Moxie Bright Events, gives the rundown: “Imagine this: You are on your lunch break and honestly, you’re a bit bored. You don’t remember the last time you spoke to someone outside of your home that wasn’t a client. You’re in the mood to chat. Or maybe just hear people chat? You could put on your favorite podcast, but you’ve listened to all of those already. Then you remember you signed up for that new app, Clubhouse. So you click in, and, well, there’s a LOT of cool conversation happening right now. Literally, right now. You heard that they don’t record, so if you want in, you have to dive in now—in the moment. Do you want to listen to ‘Photographers/Videographers Relationship: The Truth!” or ‘Limitless You: Learn How to Learn and Accomplish Anything Faster’ or even ‘Wedding Pros Mindset Reboot’? Those are three of the roughly 20 different options that are available right now. So, listen in and not only learn something, but you can even raise your hand and contribute to the conversation. Suddenly, you don’t feel so alone. This is the magic of Clubhouse.”
Once you know your way around the app, you can contribute with confidence, and over time, it can become not only a community-builder but also a lead generation tool.
Technology is always changing. More innovative solutions are coming out every day, and this is only going to become even more important as we navigate the lasting effects of the pandemic. Be on the forefront of what events will look like as we move forward by getting in on the conversation and talk tech.
“It’s a chance to really blend fantasy and reality in a successful way,” said Kristin Banta, Creative Director for Kristin Banta Events Inc.