Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery

Over the past month, there’s been a huge surge in demand for virtual events, but when it comes to designing them, not many can see beyond the conventions of the convention centre.

In 1985 a new start–up called W Industries was formed, and in 1990 ‘VIRTUALITY’ was launched. If you were around at the time, you’ll remember the big grey headsets appearing at video–game arcades throughout the world. It was meant to herald a new era in gaming but the technology underpinning it wasn’t powerful enough and despite the massive PR machine behind it, the experience was quite simply, a bit pants.

The world of Second Life

In 2003, Linden Labs launched Second Life, a new ‘virtual world’ in which, anyone could create an avatar, and then go about building their own alternate reality, along with interacting with many other online ‘residents’.

It was hailed as the next big thing, and brands flocked to it. In fact, it became so popular that in 2006, U2 even hosted a live concert on the platform.

But as fast as it grew, people lost interest. After all, who wants to play something that quite literally mirrors real life, but without all of the drama, nuance, serendipity, idiosyncrasy and fun that often frequents life in the physical world.

It seems anything that’s ‘virtual’ usually ends up being a less-good version of the real thing.

And so today, with the self-isolation and lockdown implemented as a result of Covid-19, we see events around the world either being postponed, cancelled, or transformed into ‘virtual’ versions of the physical thing.

Welcome to the virtual foyer

Unfortunately, many seem to interpret a virtual event as something that’s a direct translation of a physical one. The welcome foyer. The plenary. Exhibition booths. Conference rooms. Reception desk anyone? And what this approach typically results in, is a crap version of the real thing. Not only is it not as good, it also acts as a stark reminder that once you’ve stared at the virtual lobby, and watched all the talks, you sadly won’t be walking to a bar serving ice cold drinks, or the nice roof terrace to go and network in the evening sun.

Putting a physical event online should never be about trying to replicate the physical world, virtually. It’s a broken formula – proven time and time again, and, as Tom Hanks’ character in BIG famously said: “What’s fun about playing with a building? That’s not any fun.”

When digital offers almost infinite possibilities in terms of the experience you can create for people, it seems crazy that an event would try to imitate the physical world and all of the constraints that come with it.

Think about movies such as Ready Player One, Tron and Inception – immersive, fantasy worlds unconstrained by the physics or realities of the physical world. Think about how these movies play with our minds, stimulate our imagination and helping us to see things in a new light.

A digital blank canvas. Wow.

Now imagine, if you had a blank canvas for your next event, one that was free from the constraints of elements like the location, size and shape of the venue, the colour of the carpet and the paint on the walls, or the distance between the various rooms for the talks, what sort of experience would you want to create?

Digital presents a world of creative potential for events – the only limit is your imagination and ambition.

Podium designed events combine creativity, craft and the very best uses of technology platforms to create events with theatre, quality and excitement that provide attendees with a feel-good experience from beginning to end.

We call it Immersive Digital Event Design.

So when you’re thinking about your next event, ask yourself one question; what sort of experience you want your event to deliver. Then call us.

Oliver Budworth
Head of Strategy at The Crocodile