There’s no such thing as a ‘virtual’ event

Our Managing Director, Patrick Donovan, considers the drawbacks of ‘virtual’ events and announces how we have worked to find a solution.

Since the penny dropped and all of us in the events and meetings industry realised the impact that the current crisis was to have on our lives and businesses, there has been increasing talk about ‘virtual events’ and the opportunity they represent. In my view – there is no such thing as a virtual event. There are virtual meetings, where colleagues, friends or families can exchange ideas, quiz questions or jokes ‘face to face’ via the web, using Skype or Zoom or Hangouts or Teams – but these are not events.

Let’s remind ourselves about the origins of the modern corporate events industry – we called it ‘business theatre’ then – perhaps we should bear that soubriquet in mind when we think about how to react to the current world situation. We must never think that the fact that we can’t, for the time being, put a large audience in the same room as the show means that we can’t create any ‘theatre’. Indeed, if we give up on the power of theatrical presentation we really will be wasting the learnings that the events industry has accumulated over the last 30 years. Do we really think that a mosaic of faces on a Zoom call, or a succession of webinar talking heads adds up to a high impact event?

Think about Television. Anyone who’s watched the stripped back Graham Norton Show, has seen the host do his best to keep the energy levels up while a series of celebrities, in their minimalist living spaces, in front of their carefully curated library shelves, work hard to sell their latest ‘lockdown project’. It’s incredibly difficult to engage an audience when there is no sense of occasion. We are not joining a party, at best we’re looking in on an awkward conversation.

It’s no surprise that the most successful entertainment shows on TV are ‘live’ and staged in front of a studio audience. In fact, in the case of Ant & Dec’s Saturday night show, the audience don’t even need to be there, but the show has got to feel real and…well…theatrical.

It’s not the event that’s virtual, it’s just that the majority of the audience are taking part from a distance. The show itself needs to have all the ambition, production values and high-quality content that the best conferences, exhibitions, presentations and awards ceremonies have always had. And the audience needs to feel just as excited to be a part of it all.

What if an events venue was able to create a series of ‘shows’ in separate spaces, that could be shot professionally and connected into a coherent and engaging strand of communication, peopled by real presenters, performers, exhibitors, keynote speakers and workshop facilitators? What if we could create events that were every bit as exciting and stimulating as the last Apple product launch or innovation festival, except with an on-site audience safely in the dozens, while many thousands tune in to see the show.

That would really be an event worth taking part in.

Here at Tobacco Dock, in partnership with TDAV, we’re working on it.