Conferences, symposiums, and meetings are going virtual for some companies. While it may be tough to wrap your mind around networking with other attendees' avatars, the benefits for the host are clear: virtual events can be less expensive, more customizable, less time-sensitive, and wider-reaching than physical events. Want to see some in action? We've scoped out dozens of virtual events to find the most interesting and innovative ways companies use these virtual worlds and multimedia platforms to create customized cyber-events.
Last year, 3DXplorer CEO Darious Lahoutifard visited the University of Washington, Seattle, to address a class of students studying 3-D space. Lahoutifard surprised the students by inviting them to log into a custom-made virtual classroom, which he had constructed on the spot. Once the students congregated virtually—their avatars perched on virtual chairs—class resumed in the virtual world. Lahoutifard then lectured virtually on the future of virtual worlds and the application for virtual events. How meta.
Scale is super flexible when designing a virtual event. One can create a compact space for an intimate feeling, or create an expansive convention center to accommodate swarms of guests. This example is the latter. In September 2010, ON24, a virtual events provider based in San Francisco, helped AutoWeek magazine host a virtual green car show—an industry first. AutoWeek's virtual show hosted a platform for automakers and consumers to exchange information, demo the latest in green transportation, and network with fellow attendees from around the globe—all without using a drop of gasoline.
Even the most dedicated conference attendees need a chance to relax. Many virtual events include small rooms to allow attendees to interact, chat, and reflect with one another. CA Technologies, an IT software company based in Islandia, New York, hosted its annual CA Mainframe Madness event in 2010, with the help of ON24. Thousands of attendees from nearly 50 countries watched keynotes, sessions, and demonstrations held throughout the month of May. While the event hosted plenty of activities, the plazas, like the one pictured here, allowed guests a reprieve from the speeches—and an extra opportunity to network.
Due to virtual events' ostensibly unlimited customization potential, even the invitations can be made memorable. In 2010, venture capital firm Canaan Partners, based in Menlo Park, California, was tasked with hosting a major party for the Web 2.0 Summit. Rather than sending out traditional RSVPs or Evites for the event—which was called Web After Dark—Canaan Partners worked with ON24 to design and create a custom virtual briefing center, which reflected the party's Wonderland theme, and invited guest down the rabbit hole.
With the help of virtual events providers InXpo and UBM Studios, and Everything Channel, a Web services firm based in Framingham, Massachusetts, the annual Computer Dealer Expo was held in 2010 as a virtual event for the first time. It hosted thousands of live attendees, speakers, and exhibits for an audience of global salespeople, who drive more than $400 billion of technology sales in North America. Unlike past shows, for which attendees flew to Las Vegas, by going virtual, COMDEXvirtual 2010 saved attendees 100 percent of their travel expenses.
Retail Investor Conferences, a virtual event geared toward introducing public companies to active retail investors, was set up by UBM Studios to update monthly live from November 2010 to December 2011. The live presentations were staged in a virtual auditorium and featured audio and slide webcasts of scores of CEOs presentations. With so many presentations, however, no one could possibly catch every speech live. This highlights one of the great features of virtual events: After the event is over, you can go back and watch any session on-demand.
If you were searching for a friend, colleague, or contact at a regular conference, you would have to peek into each individual room. Virtual events, on the other hand, can allow users to see instantly a roster of who's in each room. The Seattle Code Camp, an annual event for local developers, teamed up with Booth Virtual Events to create the 2011 event virtually. Boost provided Rank Panels, which reveal which sessions have the highest ratings and attendance in order to allow attendees to peek inside each room, so they can better decide what to attend. Features like these are particularly useful when a conference has many events occurring simultaneously.
Want to learn more? Meet the experts on their home turf. The Virtual Edge Summit, held this January, was the first virtual event to be livecast across five different major virtual event platforms, including CGS Virtual Events 365, InXpo, Social 27, Unisfair, and UBM Studios. In other words, it was a virtual event about virtual events. This meta-event was the first of its kind to include so many virtual events providers in one event, and it brought together virtual events experts and practitioners, companies looking to utilize and maximize virtual programs, and entrepreneurs looking to learn about how virtual events work.