If you take a look at the current press, there is a central topic of interest: the coronavirus (COVID-19). Not only companies are preparing themselves for the case of an infection in their own company by means of new, virtual working methods, but also events are drawing their consequences from the wave of disease. Whether it is the F8 developer conference of Facebook, the International Trade Fair in Munich or, as currently under discussion, the I/O of Google.
They are all cancelled due to the coronavirus and its worldwide spread. This is an important step to stem the further spread of the virus, but also a hard blow for event planners, exhibitors and service providers. They have all been working towards the event for months, planning stands and spared no expense and effort, as some of the cancelled conferences are among the most important in the industry. Now the speakers are staying at home and the stands and stand personnel are not being used this year.
As a future strategist and innovation profiler, it is also part of my job to regularly organise or participate in events. From smaller innovation events and conferences to events, at which I appear as speaker. Therefore I know which heart and soul goes into event planning and which feeling of happiness arises when the big day is finally over. But now it will not take place this year and many organizers mourn the missed chance. But is it really the case that the entire planning has to fall through?
I believe that the challenge we are currently facing could mean an upswing for immersive technologies. Safe in our own offices and nevertheless inspired by the spirit of months of event planning.
Coronavirus challenges require innovative solutions
In innovation management and futurology it is usually said that the challenges facing society are the ideal foundation for new approaches to solutions. If you look at the schools that are currently closed due to the corona virus and at the events that are cancelled at short notice, you quickly realize that there is an urgent need for new solutions.
In order to approach these, I usually proceed in the consulting or in the workshops in such a way that I defuse the topics. So if we look at the problem of the coronavirus, it quickly becomes clear that the events are not cancelled for reasons of content, but because there is too high a risk of infection with too large a crowd. But here it quickly becomes clear that there is a solution for exactly this problem, which allows people all over the world to gather without being personally present: Virtual Reality.
While some organizers are already switching to “digital-first” formats, immersive media are one way to pick up the conference participants even better. With collocation offers, which many VR providers now have in their portfolio, much of the time already invested can be used. Of course, the large conference halls and halls are not needed, but with a well thought-out storytelling, in which the speakers get their chance on stage despite everything and the spirit of the event is transmitted via visual effects and multimedia content, the longed-for event can still take place, even if in a new and innovative form.
No solution for all event formats
Of course this is not a solution for all event formats. At least not as spontaneously as the current coronavirus-related cancellations in the media. But companies like NVIDIA, Google and Facebook still need to communicate their new products. Even if the wave of illness changes many things, business operations are far from stagnating.
However, a purely online conference is difficult here. It is difficult to convey the emotions that the company normally communicates with such an event. It is too two-dimensional and static. Immersive media offer a remedy here, however. They can provide people with a more visually appealing programme and at the same time make the new products tangible. It should not be forgotten that virtual reality is an emotionally very strongly binding medium, which allows us to access information and sensations more quickly than with new content.
Even though the technologies may not all be fully developed yet, web-based VR, simple and inexpensive headsets and an ever improving quality of the content make it a good alternative to cancel an event completely.
Even though it may be too late for the current coronavirus wave for many, companies will have to prepare for such eventualities in the future. Event agencies, entrepreneurs and VR providers should therefore increasingly evaluate the possibilities of such a virtual conference in the coming months and actively offer it.