What Virtual Reality Means for Conferences and Events Today

Here is the straight-up truth. Virtual Reality is not going to be a thing for most conferences and events for a long, long time. Really, it isn’t. This is not something your attendees are going to be screaming for in the foreseeable future, and it is not something that is going to make or break a conference or event. Don’t worry, you can chill.

I can hear you. Yes, you. The meeting or event planner that is overworked, overtired, and over-all-this-crazy-tech-talk.  I can hear you breathe a sigh of relief. That being said… We should take a minute to look at how Virtual Reality can enhance your conference or event in the now and how you can use it to be more successful without adding to your stress level. For the non-VR savvy in the crowd, some of the videos below are shot in 360. You can use your mouse to turn the video around, look up, or down. If you were viewing these videos with a Samsung VR Gear, HTC Vive, or other VR headset, you could simply turn your head to see the action. Note… to know if a video is 360, look for the circle with the 4 arrows in the upper left of the video window. You will notice that the first video does not have that so don’t go getting all sad when it doesn’t work on that one…

Virtual Site Visits

Nothing, not a freaking thing, will ever, ever take the place of a boots-on-the-ground site inspection. You need to see the sites, smell the smells, and experience a destination or hotel firsthand to understand how your attendees will live your event. What VR can do to help you now is narrow the field quickly so that you can make the most of your resources and actually spend some time at home with the kids and the dog.

Google Earth VR is just one of the ways you can visit a destination without leaving your office. You can strap on the Oculus Rift, plug in a destination, and go. Fly right down to the city streets or soar above like an eagle, or like Underdog, I was always partial to being Underdog. Underdog is cool. But you be you.

Beyond the Googleverse, many of our favorite hotels and resorts are jumping into the VR pool, posting videos of their properties to YouTube and other channels. Planners can get a feel for the property before they ever get on the plane. Hell, you can even go look at the hotel before you get on the phone with a salesperson and If you find the hotel is not good for your group, you save the poor salesperson heartache because we all know that you screen their calls and ignore their emails… Just sayin.

Here is a look at just one of many YouTube 360 videos that Shangri-La Hotels have created. Totally awesome right? You can really get an idea of what you can expect to find. Now you can decide if you want to take it to the next level or put it on the back burner.

Heck, even Best Western is getting in on the action launching VR Experiences for all 2,200 of its North American properties. Best Western. Has. VR. Let that sink in for a minute because that says volumes about where this technology is going and how it will impact how we look for properties and destinations in the future.

Exhibitors, Sponsors, Demos, and Activations

Another way that events and conferences are seeing VR in use today is through the exhibitors and sponsors. These wonderful folks that we treat like virtual cash machines are bringing their own virtual madness to demo their wares and entertain the masses in the hope of making a buck. Companies like Samsung, Bacardi, and even McDonald’s are getting in on the action. Should you have a sponsor that sends and email and asks for extra space so they can set up a cool VR area, just say yes. Attendees are totally going to dig it.

Here is a look at McD’s at SXSW with their artist experience. Yes. That McDonald’s. You see those smiles, those crowds. All those super happy peeps are not happy because someone slapped egg and ham on an English Muffin or plopped Thousand Island on the burger version of a club sandwich, they are happy because they are trying something unique and cool and interesting, and fun, and wild, and exciting. Perhaps they will supersize that order now.

Check out the Jim Beam Double Oak VR Experience, this is obviously in Russian, but you can more than get the idea of what is going on and can see why attendees absolutely go bonkers for this type of brand interaction. When attendees have fun with the exhibitors and sponsors at your event… They are having fun at your event. That is a good thing… and good things that cost you nothing are few and far between.

MasterCard is in the game with “A 360º Golf Experience: Graeme McDowell on TPC® Sawgrass 17th Hole” as part of their sponsorship of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. I know this is really cool but I am not sure I know what to think of it but I am sure that golfers get a huge kick out of it.

Virtual Attendees for Live Events

Another way that VR is having an impact today is the event itself. Nothing says being there like a 360-degree view of the general session like this little snip from the 2016 CAHPERD Conference (the video was removed – Sad Face). We do this for some clients, and it is actually not as difficult as you might think and a setup like this does not cost what your A/V company wants to charge you… Just throwin’ that out there too.

For me, the people at home watching your event via VR/360 Video come in one of two flavors, the person that wanted to be there and can’t and the person that you are trying to reel in for next year. With either, you can see how this would totally get people pumped to never miss another conference.

What VR Means for Conference and Event Planners Today

Yes, VR is a thing. Yes, someday, it will play a much more significant role in our live meetings and events. No, you don’t have to jump through hoops and spend a crap-ton of cash if you don’t have the bandwidth or the pocket change.

Take it slow, dip your toe in the water, and actually enjoy what VR can do for you, your sponsors, and your attendees in the now. Understand that someday it will (may) be a necessity but at this stage of the game do not fret that you are missing the boat because that sucker is a long way from sailing into the sunset; it hasn’t even left the dock.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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