As a relatively early adopter, I am always interested in new technology and ideas and I am fascinated by the recent spate of virtual / digital technologies. I do however wonder where the deliverables may lie in the future. As a trainer I recall being asked to give a number of presentations at UK and international industry conferences about the future of events in the light of the digital era. That, as it happens, was back in the early nineties! You may recall a plethora of digital companies showing us a glimpse of how the future will look. Customisable avatars and virtual booths, motorbike style helmets and stereo headsets and wired alien looking gloves to wear. There was even talk of an ‘aroma’ detector so participants would be able to complete the fourth sense whilst interacting in this new future.
A bit like the issues most UK venues experience when they are first built (the NEC and London ExCel both fell foul to this) high expectations were sold in advance of the supporting infrastructure. Until the road and rail links are in place and until the hotels and eateries are open, the fledgling venue will always initially suffer from negative feedback. I think a similar fate befell the virtual world. The ambassadors of software pioneers sold us the dream and sold it very well. Audiences were cooing and gasping at the flexibility, cost effectiveness and sheer strength of this on line offering. They loved the fact that we could recreate a cost effective marketing mechanism that could utilise most of the senses and be interactive and available 24/7 without any of the traditional gripes about contractors, venue owners and transport logistics. Sadly the software developers and the financial investors did not match that early expectation and the initial buzz from the market mellowed to a hum and then a whimper.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for digital events and there are numerous benefits to be derived from using them as an adjunct to more traditional media. As a member of those early audiences I still have a degree of scepticism and a general sense of disappointment that the initial dream was never realised. As business matures and the search is on for something new and different that era may be approaching. But it will not approach with the pizzazz and fireworks of an Olympic opening ceremony – or even a Commonwealth one. The modern pioneers are now faced with selling their new dream to a new audience who have been once bitten and twice as shy to adopt. As a client said to me recently, “I love the idea, I’m just not sure our customers will buy in to it yet.” Powerful word that one – ‘yet’.