In my last blog post I discussed how the 1-to-1 experience of music lessons translated into the online space. I also touched upon the efforts of orchestras that are trying to synchronize and create music together remotely. But how do these experiences scale when dealing with events like Amsterdam’s International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), which every year entices nearly 60,000 industry professionals to convene and schmooze and network together in a closed space? How can something as organic and hairy as an industry convention translate into the aseptic and isolated status quo?

Now that events like the IBC or the NAB or MWC have been cancelled all over the world, the response of many event organizers has been to transition quickly to virtual events — meeting online is still better than not meeting at all, isn’t it?

In this post I will share my personal experience — this is not intended to be an intensive analysis or a deep technological overview.

The disappearing divide between the personal and the professional

Since the beginning of the COVID crisis I have taken part in several events on the Brella platform, and I must admit that the experience was unexpectedly much better than I would have imagined.

During the events I met people who connected from their homes all over the world. It gave me a sense of just how small our planet actually is and how everyone is in the same boat right now. It was comforting to realize that people all over the world found themselves struggling with the new normal, and this made us feel connected despite the actual distance between us.

What I found really interesting was how what used to be our private space — the nook under the basement window, that old writing desk that used to hold just papers and books, a corner of the living room or the bedroom — have now become professional / public spaces, as most people are now dialing in from home. Our work spaces have invaded our private spaces, which makes it impossible to keep our private lives from seeping into our work lives.

I remember once, before COVID made video conferencing so mainstream, a professor went viral when his son crawled into the room during a BBC interview. He was an instant, worldwide sensation due to that one little slip up. 

In contrast, during a meeting I recently had with the CEO of a small Dutch start-up, I got the chance to wave “hello” to his kids and observe parts of their everyday routine as it unfolded live in the background of the call. It didn’t even register to me that something was abnormal about any of it — it’s become mundane.

Family and homelife are just becoming another part of our business lives.

Virtual conventions: Pros

The advantages of virtual conventions are numerous. For example, companies save huge amounts of time and money on travel expenses.

Additionally, whereas during live events one is often frantically running around from meeting to meeting, presentation to presentation, many of which inconveniently overlap, virtual conventions are much more structured and premeditated. There are time slots for each meeting and most of the time people do show up / keep their appointments — there are fewer excuses for no-shows.

Virtual conventions: Cons

One drawback is bandwidth. Latency issues, or other problems with the event coordinator’s technology can make an organic, private conversation seem stilted and artificial.

Brella has its own video chat but in my experience it did not always work as well as it should have. 

But to my eyes the real disaster was the confusion between different time zones which made it difficult to set up and keep appointments. I feel like this fundamental detail could have been handled better.

Too many tools in the toolbox

Beyond just virtual convention software, in general there are also so many different ways to connect on so many different platforms nowadays that people often feel confused and overwhelmed by too many choices or by the different ways the various tools can be used. From zoom to Skype, Slack to WhatsApp, Messenger to Meet, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and absolutely none are one-size-fits-all.

But whichever tool you choose to use for a particular purpose, just as in any profession, be it carpentry or long-haul trucking, you depend almost entirely on the quality of the tools you use in order to be able to effectively do your job. Unfortunately, too often the failings of these tools make our work in Sales that much harder, as they hinder many of our greatest assets: intuition, tone of voice, body language, affinity, eye contact, etc.

In general, throughout the two events I attended, most of the people I spoke with had positive impressions of virtual events in general and felt good about the connections they had made in the virtual space.

Improving what we can

In any case, I think that it’s pretty safe to say that there is no end in sight to the increase of global virtual event traffic which means a lot more work for developers. The increasing demand and the widening playing field should motivate all of the players at every level to push the envelope of what our tools for virtual communication can provide us.

For our part, Ceeblue offers its solution in addressing the latency issue. We are happy to collaborate with companies working to create virtual event spaces with the most effective, organic means of communication possible—instantaneous face-to-face, high-quality video from anywhere in the world using bleeding-edge technology with the least lag possible.

What will the industry do if and when the COVID threat hopefully abates? Are we going to maintain some kind of hybrid work from home / office paradigm with a mix of live / virtual events?

Whatever the future has in store, we at Ceeblue are confident that our technology will help make the transition as smooth as possible.

One last reflection

After preparing all of my notes about virtual conventions, I had an actual in-person meeting where both parties were wearing protective masks. And to be honest, I am not sure which mode actually makes communication more difficult in the end — meeting online or meeting face-to-face but with half of your face obscured by a mask. 

If you feel strongly either way, please don’t hesitate to share your opinion in the comments section.

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