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360 Live Media is an event strategy and digital marketing agency in Washington, D.C. serving association, professional society, and not-for-profit conferences.
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Stop Calling it a Virtual Event!

We all know that words matter. Language matters, and what we call things matters.

Which sounds better: a death tax or an estate tax? Is it global warming or climate change? Is it better to be a disruptor or an innovator?

The science behind word choice and perception tells us that what we call something influences how we see it, react to it, and act upon it.

So, I propose we stop calling events that don’t occur in person “virtual” events. Amazon doesn’t call its movies virtual entertainment. Universities aren’t calling distance learning virtual education, and pictures snapped on your mobile phone aren’t called virtual photography.

So, let’s stop calling events that currently aren’t happening in person virtual events.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. Events being delivered electronically are still events and must still do the job of an in-person event. They must educate, connect, inspire, and advance the interest of the audience they attract. Event designers limit their options and default to the limitations and requirements imposed by technology when they see the event as anything less than an experience that must do the job the audience hires the event to do.
  2. An event organizer starting to plan an event based on the technology tool used to deliver the event is equivalent to a carpenter deciding what to build by first looking in the tool box to see what they can build with just a hammer and a saw. Design first, tool selection second.
  3. The definition of virtual should be enough for us not to call it a virtual event: “not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.” The event does exist, is real, and must work harder as a result of being delivered via a screen rather than a stage.

 

Just as a film must do a different job than a live Broadway performance, so must an event delivered electronically. It must work harder to come through the screen, capture the audience, and hold them for the duration of the “performance.”

Weak actors (event speakers), poor production values (bad lighting, cameras, and backgrounds), and a sub-par script (content that lacks a wow factor, audience engagement, and powerful relevance) would never be “certified fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes.

Your next event has to be better than your first “virtual” event, and the best way to do this is to stop thinking about the medium (a screen) and focus more on  experience design – the navigation, the interaction, the intimacy, the relevance, and the production.

Sure, virtual event tech platforms are necessary, but they have limitations and will never replace an in-person experience. This isn’t the problem. Great artists, designers, UX creators, and performers know that limitations present opportunities for innovation, creativity, and imagination that spark a better way.

So, stop thinking virtual, stop thinking about what can’t be done, and stop trying to make an event delivered through a screen do the job of an event delivered from a stage.

Start thinking inside the box. Embrace the limitations of your current delivery medium (the tech platform).

Think about your audience. Think about the experience. Think about the outcomes.

Think like Steven Spielberg would if he was in charge of your next event.

What an exciting time to be in the event and experience business! This is the time that will separate the great events from all the rest.

Make your next event the E.T. of this transitional period we are all living through.

 

Don Neal
Founder & CEO
360 Live Media

Don Neal Headshot

A marketing thought leader, speaker, teacher, and advisor, Don Neal brings his Madison Avenue experience to help organizations see their opportunities in a new light. He is passionate about helping organizations accelerate the trajectory of their success.

Don Neal
Founder & CEO
360 Live Media

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