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Consider these facts: Cisco Systems canceled its sales training this year. Apple is pulling out of future Macworlds. Among companies I work with: A Global 500 high-tech outfit known for its extravagant physical events is going from holding eight in 2008 to one in 2009. Instead of spending $1 million for sales training as it did in 2008, a billion-dollar company will hold its July training virtually. Last November an event and meeting department for a billion-dollar B2B company went from a staff of five to one.
In these tough economic times, advancing technologies are making virtual events not only a less expensive replacement for physical meetings but also a superior one. Why do we have meetings and events? 1) to exchange information; and 2) to network. Virtual meeting and event technology can facilitate these two objectives easily.
The technology allows the virtual attendees to “enter” a building that can look like any convention center or meeting place. With a click of a button they can enter the conference hall, with a podium and audience, and choose which conference sessions they want to see and participate in. From there they can go to the exhibition floor and enter a booth with reps, signage, collateral demos, and giveaways and prize drawings. There is even a networking lounge where attendees can meet.
This means saving 50% to 80% by wiping out the costs of venue rental, hotel rooms, transportation, and packing and shipping displays. Generating a lead could cost just $20 virtually, while the same lead from a physical event could mean an investment of $200 to $1,000.
The convenience, increased productivity, and cost savings of hosting virtual events make them an inevitable replacement for physical events.
Asking if virtual meetings will replace live meetings is like asking if singles’ chat rooms will replace real dating. Human face-to-face interaction is, and will continue to be, the most effective form of communication. It’s simple. Live meetings deliver the rich, potent experiences that virtual meetings can’t. They deliver motivation along with messaging, and inspiration with information.
That’s why corporations that want to inspire a salesforce to perform or build confidence with customers are continuing to rely on the punch that live events deliver. My company, InVision Communications, produces 200 live meetings per year, many for clients who say that audiences’ desire for live face time with executives is a major driver of attendance. Corporate event attendees, like concertgoers, like their experiences real, not “pay-per-view.”
Still, while virtual meetings will never entirely replace live ones, the technology has a place within physical events. The shortfalls of the traditional meeting model, with an on-stage presenter talking to a passive audience, have become clear with the rise of interactive and social networking tools. These advances have driven live meetings to incorporate better peer-to-peer and audience-to-presenter interaction. Today almost all live meetings use significant on-site and Web-based technologies. For example, some meetings invite attendees to use their laptops to participate in live blogging and Q&A during presentations. Others give participants proprietary PDA-sized devices to allow them to find peers with similar interests, and get electronic copies of presentations. Even cell phones have become interactive tools for sending text messages to presenters or to the large screen.
These technologies allow attendees to get information without paper, interact real-time with presenters and one another, and build a community based on shared knowledge and interests—all while enjoying actual live contact with other human beings.
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