Online/remote/virtual events. Are they even events? Some say yes! Others say yes? I say nope. Let me explain how having events online is exactly like having sex online.
There's really no need for me to state the obvious here. Covid pulled the plug on just about everything we love about conferences and events. The travel, the hotel bars, the spectacle, the lights, the displays. The meeting new people whom you'd otherwise never meet. The catching up with partners, friends, and the like. The business of business that was business, but wasn't quite the standard "day-to-day" business. The Human Element of business.
This simply does not happen in the online event sphere. And it's exactly this format that we are all so desperately missing and craving. Because whether we like it or not, as human beings, we are designed and programmed to be social creatures.
I was having a chat with Till Ohrmann from Pirate Global the other day, and posited that the current state of Tech events are a bubble. And in this bubble, the majority of participants are inclined to believe in an absolute and permanent shift to virtual events. If for no other reason, the tech industry wants to embrace tech. That's that point right? And tech will make the world better, right?
The crisis has accelerated the growth of online events for sure. Growing from less than 10% to 20% of the market share in 2 years is unprecedented. Putting a dollar amount on this, according to Grand View Research, online events could represent $404.45 billion by 2027.
This growth spike is an outlier. An anomaly. A glitch in the matrix. Something none of us could predict, or saw coming.
My prediction, ney, conclusion, is that once a treatment, vaccine, and/or eradication of the virus is widely available, distributed, and administered, the real life, real world, in-person, industry, not solely events, will explode. Concerts, sporting events, cinema, theatre, tradeshows and conferences alike, will all see an unparalleled interest and spike in activity.
The human spirit is not designed to remain in (semi) isolation for this long an amount of time. Yes, I realize that the human race carried on long before the advent of the airplane, train, etc., but the desire to explore new territories, see new worlds, meet new people, drove the invention of these various modes of transportation. Human. Spirit.
This spirit is already beginning to return in Asia. Tradeshows, traditionally the bread and butter of the event industry, are beginning to show up again. And not just one here and one there, they are happening at scale. The Chinese market is no longer investing in virtual events; their outlier happened between March and June of this year.
Will the event industry be the same as it used to be? Fuck I hope not. Let's call it like it really is - the market was oversaturated. Everyone and their brother had a summit, and if you really paid attention, after a while, you didn't. Because you were hearing the exact same speaker giving the exact same talk. The only thing that changed was the stage, the city, and the time of the day.
Too much of a good thing, is exactly that. Too much.
Enter Covid. End Scene.
Then came the rise of the online/remote/virtual (whatever you want to call it) event series. And if you thought there were too many events prior, well I don't know about you, but my inbox, and especially LinkedIn (and I know I'm not alone on this one), became the main conduit for blasting my eardrums with Zoom this, Zoom that, Zoom here, Zoom there.
Wanting to embrace the new format, I Zoomed. Man, did I ever. I Zoomed here. I Zoomed there. I Zoomed in. I Zoomed out. And sure enough, pretty soon, I was developing a pretty severe case of Zoomitis.
Now, I don't want to be all doom and gloom here. I have attended a few online events where I walked away with some true value added. However, the vast majority were ones where I didn't really get much out of it, but I wasn't put off by using my time to attend. And then there were the occasional where I just kept shaking my head and thinking, "I have other things to do."
Outside of the value add (or not), I did join some meet and greet rooms, and those that I spoke to, while we had some shared business interests and friends and/or connections, I think the word awkward doesn't even come close. At a physical event there are so many ways to work your way into a conversation, and, admittedly, if something's just not jiving, there are 1001 ways to gracefully exit this conversation. Online? Not so much.
Here's a challenge: name me, better yet, show me, an online event you attended where you took a selfie with a group of your friends, work colleagues, or even someone you just met. Go check your photo album. I'll wait.
Right. Me neither.
Virtual gatherings have very little impact on industries and social networks, because the Human Element of Business is removed. These are not events. In their current form, they are a threat to entrepreneurship.
Don't believe me? You don't have to, but I would encourage you to read this ultra nerdy paper from the Journal of Management Studies: Field‐Configuring Events as Structuring Mechanisms: How Conferences, Ceremonies, and Trade Shows Constitute New Technologies, Industries, and Markets.
With no doctor in the house, and until the freedom of movement is returned to humanity, we're going to either have to deal with Zoomitis or find a solution for it. In my case, I was fortunate enough to recognize that I had all the tools I needed. I simply needed to assemble them in the right order, test it, refine it, and then test it again.
I want to leave you with a quote. One from a dear friend that made me laugh, but more importantly, contemplate the true meaning behind her words.
I hate the concept of online events. It’s like online sex. Chatting with someone and calling it sex doesn’t work. You still need actual, real-live sex. You can’t replace social interactions with something else, and for now, it's just wanking. - Anna Pelova
We're debating this question with Pirate Global co-founder Manuel Koelman on October 8th at 5pm CEST. You can register here.