Posted by: Dennis Shiao | April 22, 2010

Volcano Ash – Virtual Events And Meetings In Times Of Crisis, Closings And Chaos

Source: flickr (User: iboogaloo)

With ash from an Icelandic volcano significantly disrupting air travel throughout the globe, providers of audio conferencing, web conferencing, video conferencing, webinars, virtual meetings and virtual events reported large increases in volume this week.  In one stark example, a couple got stranded in Dubai, not able to make it to their own wedding in England.  In response, the bride and groom exchanged wedding vows over Skype, allowing guests gathered for the wedding to see the ceremony virtually (source: New York Times article).

While audio conferencing and web conferencing provide effective solutions for stranded travelers, I believe video is essential for creating a suitable “stop gap” solution in place of gathering and meeting in person.  After all, folks were driving to the airport and embarking on flights for a reason – whether it was to close a sales deal with a handshake, brainstorm the next great product (with the team gathered around a table) or attend the Facebook Developers Conference – there was a clear value in handling “business” face to face.

Take the example of the Skype wedding – without video, the exchange of wedding vows (via audio only) misses the expression on the bride’s face, the nervous look on the groom and the fumbling of the ring by the best man (not to say this happened with the couple in Dubai, of course!).  While audio-based meetings are quicker to set up and involve less hardware and coordination, I believe video is a necessity for “re-creating” the experience of meeting in person.

What does this mean for virtual event platforms?

“Entry Level” Video Integration

Virtual Event platforms ought to integrate with consumer grade webcam technologies – either by building the capability natively or by integrating with third party technology (e.g. Skype, UStream, etc.).  By leveraging webcams connected to end-user PC’s or laptops, attendees will be able to interact with one another (1:1) or with multiple parties in a group video chat room.

While the perspective of each participant is limited with today’s webcam technology (i.e. a view from the neck up, typically), you are able to see facial expression, body language and mood, which only video can provide. For large gatherings (e.g. events, conferences, etc.), services like UStream can provide cost effective and “easy set-up” solutions that allow you to provide a live broadcast from a physical venue out to a virtual (and global) audience.

High-End Video Integration

Now we’re talking.  With high-end video solutions such as Cisco’s Telepresence, users can be made to feel like they’re truly in the same room with other participants.  Virtual event platforms, which often serve as “replacement solutions” for the face-to-face meeting or conference, should integrate with high end video conferencing solutions (such as Telepresence), to seamlessly bridge virtual attendees into scheduled video conference sessions.

A blog posting from Cisco provides details on an offering from Marriott called GoThere Virtual Meetings, which leverages Cisco Telepresence and AT&T’s transit services.


In times of crisis, airport closings and chaos, important business meetings (and weddings, too!) still need to take place.  Online technologies are a natural solution for stranded travelers to turn to – the online experience is best achieved by the use of live video.  Providers who package up a video-based solution stand to receive even more business when the next volcano erupts.

Related Links

  1. “Volcanic ash cancels two-thirds of events” (Event Magazine):
  2. “Web Conferencing Booms As Volcanic Ash Fills The Sky” (Social Times):
  3. “USTA: Iceland Volcano Costs U.S. Economy $650 Million” (Successful Meetings):

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