When asked this question, I have to say there are two elements to how virtual events have changed: 1) Mindset and 2) Technology.
The first thing to note is that the mindset around virtual events has changed. There is now much greater corporate acceptance and appreciation around delivering an entire event or a partial event virtually.
Virtual Events are not new. Since the dawn of the internet, people have been coming together online to consume and interact. Back in the 90s I lead group chats where hundreds of people logged on to a chat interface and interacted with a celebrity. Not only was there one-to-many communication (from celebrity to everyone logged in) but also many-to-many conversations since everyone could see everyone else’s comments. In fact, I would venture to say Tim Berners-Lee and Jarkko Oikarinen were the pioneers of virtual events and virtual event technology. Berners-Lee for inventing the internet and the “WiZ” Oikarinen for creating IRC (Internet Relay Chat) in 1988. IRC was really the first real-time Internet synchronous conferencing technology. It was mainly designed for group communication in discussion forums.
The limiting factor was really Technology—both evolutions into making it readily accessible and easy to use, as well as broadband adoption so the install base for using that technology was significant. Consider the analogy of the first person to have a fax machine who couldn’t do anything until someone else had one to receive the fax. Same is true for common adoption of technology. Even in today’s times, Twitter has become successful because it has reached a threshold of users. If it only had 6 people, Twitter wouldn’t be a growing household name.
Just a few short years ago, no one gave any attention to these Virtual Trade Show Platforms. In fact some had to create their own shows just to demonstrate the ability. As of late last year, things changed and the spotlight was shining brightly on these providers. Why? The Perfect Storm.
The anchor force is the economy: budgets are slashed and business travel put on hold. There are also other forces that play a role. Technology that enables virtual events is here and easy to use. Broadband adoption and maturity levels are there. Business today interacts with a distributed audience all over the globe. As Peter Friedman says, the world is flat. And, of course, the need for companies to be environmentally friendly is still important. You’re reducing the carbon output by not only the fabrication of products, but also the transportation – the cars to get to the airport, the airplanes, and everything that needs to happen within a physical event.
So, those four things taken together (see photo), with the economy being the strongest, is why we’re seeing this pendulum swing from physical events to virtual events.