Concerns have been lifted in the show organizer community that new technology – particularly surrounding virtual events – could replace or devalue face-to-face interactions. Whether we like it or not, the attendee culture has evolved and is going to utilize technology when it’s more convenient or cost-conscious for them to do so. But, I think we will see that the most successful shows are the ones that are able to embrace the shift and adapt to include virtual and online aspects.
The recent International CES is a fine example of why even the technology industry knows it needs in-person interactions to put more meaning behind products and services. More than 150,000 attendees entered the Las Vegas Convention Center for the event from January 7-14, 2014. But, the reach of the show extended into the online world as well, as consumers who couldn’t be there in person engaged in conversations under the event hashtag, viewed videos, and streamed live footage from the event.
The exponential value of technology in the events space
CES is owned and produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). In the official CES press release, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA, declared, “One-third of the world’s population interacted with CES in some way this week as we experienced the future.”
Let’s stay there for a moment: One-third of the world’s population interacted with this show in some way that week! That’s the exponential value of technology.
Granted, this is a consumer electronics show and there are a lot of consumers out there who are interested in electronics. Your show could be niche. Perhaps the expectations of reaching one-third of the world’s population during the week of your event is a bit unrealistic. So set your goals in reality. Without embracing social media, virtual meetings, or any technology that can expand your reach, the bigger question becomes – who are you missing out on the chance to reach?
Technology augments but does not replace face-to-face
In a recent article titled Never Mind the Technology: Pros Say Face-to-Face Interaction Keeps C.E.S. Relevant, Biz Bash talks about the opportunities face-to-face offers that can’t be achieved online.
As the article states, “…part of live-event interaction is getting inspired, feeding off others’ energy, and encountering surprises that might jump-start an idea in unexpected ways—and those face-to-face synergies aren’t likely to happen via email or seated in a chair for a one-off presentation without time for networking.”
Connections are best made when people are present, in the same geographic location, sitting or standing across from one another, reading body language, benefiting from true human, psychologically proven, scientifically substantiated emotional connection.
As CES and the myriad of other trade shows exemplify, an event isn’t just about what’s on the show floor. At many shows, major value comes in the way of spin-off activity that occurs during show week. Attendees capitalize on the opportunity to have strategic partners and prospects all in one place and schedule off-site meetings.
Evolve with your audience's culture
A meaningful show evolves with the culture of the attendees and exhibitors. With the prevalence of technology and continuing desire to maximize connections, integrating technology into the event strategy – whether through social media, live streaming, or formalizing a virtual strategy – might be what it takes to remain relevant with your audience. Rather than fear the disruption or extinction of shows as we know them, perhaps that emotional energy should be put into embracing the ways technology can help advance exhibitions instead.