The Pros & Cons of Hosting, Exhibiting, Presenting and Attending an Online Event.
With Lockdown easing, things are slowly getting back to normal but some innovations, driven by necessity, may have paved the way for a new, better way of doing things in the future. One example is in the gaming exhibition and conference space – traditionally a mainstay of the gaming deal making, learning, networking and social calendar.
Covid-19 has forced many live event companies in the online gaming industry to rapidly adapt their live offering to adopt a virtual format. ICE North America, SBC’s Digital Summit, BetExpo, EGR’s Power 50, Esports Insider’s Digital Summit and Sigma amongst others all switched codes and for the most part, the content and experience on offer has been well received.
This guide explores the phenomenon of virtual conferences to see if they really could replace the ‘real’ thing, or whether they’re simply a ‘needs must’ solution for these unusual times.
A – Awareness
At a live gaming conference you have to plan ahead, work out your schedule, balance meetings with the presentations you want to watch – it’s a military operation. Attending a virtual conference is, by definition, relatively easy. Sit at your desk, login and present your work. It’s almost too easy…
The mind can wander; distraction is the enemy. At best, you might casually pick your nose whilst hundreds of delegates turn away in disgust. At worst, well – at worst your brain can disengage completely and you’ll pull “a Jennifer”.
Don’t be like Jennifer.
B – Budget
Virtual gambling conferences can improve your golf handicap.
Whether you’re an exhibiting platform company, aggregator, games provider or delegate, a virtual conference is cheaper to exhibit at or attend and less time consuming than a live event. You’ll spend less of your budget, you’ll have more time to concentrate on work, your CFO will praise you, your CEO will reward you, your partner will give you less flack for your frequent absences and reneging on your parental duties.
You’ll look like a hero, freeing up some guilt-free time to hit the course and perfect your long game.
C – Content is, unequivocally, king.
At a live gaming conference, the hit rate of ‘useful’ to ‘turgid’ talks is usually around 60:40 – or worse. Some people insist on flogging their products at all costs, others simply aren’t very engaging presenters. A rare few can take their subject matter and weave it into a fairy tale narrative that takes their audience on a journey and leaves them wanting more. There aren’t many of these folks.
In the virtual conference space, few have realised that technology and distance aren’t hindrances – they’re assets. Take Green Jade Games Chairman Jesper Kärrbrin – at the recent SBC Digital Summit, he reinvented what a virtual presentation would look like in the future. Great preparation? Check. 3D background? Check. Levity? Check. Pro cameraman? Check. Right now, while the rest of us are adding weighty tomes to our bookshelves in order to make ourselves look impressive on Zoom calls, Jesper casually rewrote the future.
G – Gremlins
It’s technology, thus by definition if it can balls up then inevitably, at some point, it will. Tech gremlins are funny creatures – they have a sense of humour, meaning the spanner they throw in the works will likely come at the very moment a speaker’s about to deliver their coup de grace. And there’s nothing they can do about it.
Sure, a good platform and switched on events team helps, but as with cancelled flights, ‘no-show’ speakers and food poisoning, bad things can happen at both live and virtual events.
H – Hard Sell
If I get so much as a sniff that your presentation is just a thinly veiled sales pitch I’m sorry, but I’ll hit the red button faster than Simon Cowell when faced with a troupe of naked Morris dancers.
I – Interaction
It’s far too easy to login to a virtual conference, watch the opening address then gradually unplug your brain and start doing something else instead. Cup of tea? Check emails? Watch the racing? Have a snooze?
Even though they’re less expensive than their land based counterparts, virtual conferences still cost your company a hefty amount for your ‘attendance’. Whilst the sunk cost fallacy dictates you should cut and run if you really feel your time would be better employed elsewhere, that’s why schedule planning is so important. Pre-plan your sessions, avoid wastage and maintain your interest for those panels and speakers you feel would be the most informative. (See T – Time Management)
J – Join In
The one thing in which live events unequivocally beat virtual conferences is interaction. Until Google develops immersive body suits with AR headsets and tactile receptors, we’re stuck firmly in two dimensions, meaning the need to proactively engage with the content and fellow delegates becomes even more essential.
If you’re going to bother showing up, I’d urge you to do so with gusto, welcome strangers and immerse yourself with the giddy enthusiasm of a teenager discovering Pornhub for the first time.
L – Lastminute, innit?
As previously mentioned (See B – Budget), virtual conferences are much better value than their land-based counterparts and don’t require prohibitive flight and hotel bookings. As such, you don’t have to plan your attendance months in advance but, more practically, can sign up in the weeks before (or even during) the event.
N – Networking
The name of the game is, ultimately, new business. Whether it be new games, platform, payment processing, data analytics or a new client/ job for yourself, live events allow for both formal and informal networking over multiple days. At worst, your LinkedIn connection count will swell like a Kardashian TikTok account, at best you’ll bank some serious leads to follow up over the ensuing days and weeks.
In this respect, virtual conferences differ very little – obviously the face to face element is gone, as is the opportunity to bond over cocktails, but the available networking tools online are easy to navigate and your sales funnel should be no less profligate than after a trip to a real show.
The best virtual networking tech I’ve seen in action this year was during the SBC Digital Summit. They provided a plethora of practical tools available via one click navigation, including chat function to connect with other delegates and set up 121 conversations, a virtual ‘Networking Lounge’, the option to email fellow delegates and themed networking sessions featuring a number of C-Suite executives. This kind of setup looks like the benchmark from here on in.
P – Platform
If you’re planning to host a virtual expo, conference or large internal workshop, your options are many and varied. As with buying a car, you’ll make your final decision based on cost, quality, reliability and pizzazz (the glitzy ‘wow factor’ that gets people excited). Spend more, get more remains a pretty reliable rule.
On the bottom rung you can lump for Skype, but that’s so last year. With Zoom as the new VC wunderkind you can welcome up to 1,000 participants and as many as 49 on-screen videos. Your potential shopping list for this lowish level of viewer engagement could also include ClickMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Blue Jeans.
On the next rung, incorporating some quite natty networking gizmos and widgets are the likes of Brella, Livestorm and GoToMeeting. Esports data provider PandaScore chose Livestorm for their forthcoming esports data webinar due to the availability of audience engagement tools (such as polls), competitive pricing and integrations with CRM, Slack and other tools.
Finally, for ‘the next best thing to real life’ virtual exhibition experience, you might want to have a look at Podium, Inxpo and 6Connex which allow you to have virtual stand presence manned by team members, just like the real thing.
Q – Q&A
One area in which virtual events are much easier than live events are the Q&A sessions. Sidebars await your queries eagerly and for the most part, conference organisers ensure there’ll be plenty of time at the end of each session for two-way engagement.
Arguably this is the most valuable part of any panel or individual speaker slot and as such, it’s worth having a think about what you’d really like to know. Most gaming folk are pretty open when it comes to sharing (if they’re allowed to be) and if you don’t ask, you don’t get…
R – Reputation Management
Lots of industry types have frequented virtual conferences over the past three months, some of them quite important. It’s not only those on ‘stage’ who get noticed. Astute questions, keen interaction and friendly (not overbearing) networking are all legitimate ways in which you can boost your profile, cachet and perception amongst your peers and potential future clients and employers.
Post-event, building out your network on LinkedIn is significantly more achievable if A/ you’ve actually interacted with the object of your desires B/ you paid attention to their needs and wants and C/ you haven’t acted like a dick.
T – Time Management
You might perceive the true value in watching a conference online as being the cash your business will save in not flying you and your team to an event, ponying up for hotel rooms and signing off a bundle of expenses receipts but the hidden saving is something more ethereal – time.
No travel, no time away from your office. You can dip in and out of panels and presentations with the carefree joie de vivre of a pretty girl dodging thirsty suitors in a crowded bar.
Nobody needs nor wants to see everything – not every session will be useful to you – so you can cherry pick to your heart’s content then get back to your day job in the down time.
U – Update Your Profile
Many of the high-end virtual conferencing tools allow you to create a profile in advance of the event. Most people put this on their ‘to do’ list somewhere between filing expenses and booking a hygienist appointment.
Add your company website, links to your sales video, a few bullets on who you’d most like to connect with and your LinkedIn profile. It might not do much, but even one new lead or useful connection will ensure that half hour was time well spent.
V – Virtual Exhibitors
When Covid hit, every conference organiser in the gaming industry had to make some rapid and unforeseeable decisions. With significant money on the line, how the hell do you keep exhibitors vested in your event when the very thing they’re paying for, namely a stand space with guaranteed executive traffic, simply can’t exist? Once again, technology came to the rescue. Despite initial reticence, virtual exhibition stands actually worked quite well, as demonstrated by the SBC team at their Digital Summit back in April.
They come in at a fraction of the cost of building a new stand from scratch and flying in your whole team, there’s every chance that we’ve seen one of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic.
W – The World
Our natural environment is at risk – no news there – so many of us are getting quite good at recycling, avoiding needless wastage and considering EV’s as our next car purchase. But then I remember ICE – a three-day orgy of disposable consumption with enough throwaway stands, ad boards and plastic freebies to raise the sea level over the ExCeL Centre.
Not so with a virtual conference, during which you can sip Camomile tea with a near zero carbon footprint whilst smugly polishing your ethical halo.
X – X Factor
In the virtual conferencing world (see ‘Content’ above) you can polish your presentation with technology but it’s the meat of what you say that’ll get you remembered.
Be honest, be passionate and be brave – nobody is going to haul you over the coals if your predictions fall short, but those very same forecasts might be the fuel that fires up a delegate’s imagination, so don’t hold back.
Y – You
I’m guilty of apathy when it comes to conferences. I’ve attended too many bad ones in which I learned nothing new and felt like I’d been pitched to by a series of apathetic double-glazing salesmen for two days.
No fun – no fun at all.
Now, I scrutinise the conference schedule, dip in and out to watch only the sessions that feel like a good fit and take part in the interactive sessions wholeheartedly.
Z – Zoom
Virtual conferences are here to stay – that, in my mind, is unequivocal. They may generate less gross revenue for the conference organisers but with fractional comparative overheads, the net return probably evens out. They’re easier, cheaper and with the abundance of new technology, very nearly as engaging as live events.
Zoom’s ascendance during Lockdown has shown all but the most old-school firms that working from home is far from the death knell of productivity.
We’re looking at a paradigm shift in how we work moving forward. Exhibiting products online, networking and engaging with your peers on virtual platforms is, to borrow the cliché of the year, the new normal. It won’t replace live events entirely but from next year onwards, I’d anticipate a new hybrid way of life in which real world events and virtual conferences will happily co-exist.
About the author:
Harry is the founder of Brand Architects, a brand and marketing consultancy. Currently bunkered down like everyone else, he’s available to take on brand, marketing strategy, copywriting and PR briefs.