Online platforms. They were going to be the future. Universal bridges over virally troubled waters.
Then came lockdown and soon we were all communicating, organising and collaborating via our screens. Our diaries filled up with virtual catch ups. Zoom logged 100 billion meeting minutes earlier this year: it’s now about 2 trillion. Around the world, presenters are rabbitting on to screens full of boxes, each framing nodding heads – and vacant expressions.
And hey, it’s great! It’s kept us talking. So the future of business – and events in particular – must be virtual, right?
But, here’s the thing. It won’t be. And that’s got nothing to do with the tech, which makes miracles happen brilliantly. And it’s not the agencies and clients: everyone’s adapted at warp speed. The issue is us. People. Human beings simply don’t engage with screens. At least not long term. It’s not how we’ve evolved. It’s tiring. It’s second best.
Usage numbers are huge because they reflect necessity, not choice. Whether we’re on Skype or Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Citrix, Google Duo or WhatsApp, our hearts aren’t being touched. With no personal contact, we’re bounced into stilted conversations (“can you see me/sorry, I didn’t get that”) or forced to listen to monologues. Companies can dress this up with elaborate virtual studios, but there’s no substitute for what we’ve always wanted: face to face communication and human contact.
Now don’t get me wrong: virtual meetings are cool. They’ve given us a lifeline during lockdown. But if they’re how we’re going to float each other’s boats in future, we’re in a heap of trouble. We’ll lose human connectivity – the magic which turns words into inspiration and ideas into opportunities.
So tomorrow won’t be virtual. It’ll be hybrid – an evolution. Live events will be less about formal presentations and more about honesty – speaking from the heart. Content will be curated, not polished, with more of it available on demand, straddling the physical and digital. We will see the rise of ‘experience on demand’, making live content sing, then echo at a time of the viewer’s choosing.
Where screens do replace face to face interactions, imagination and flexibility will be gold dust. Instead of corporate presentations of PPT decks, we’ll see more and more organic content. Films from employees’ homes. Adapted TV formats. Votes and quizzes. Real world snippets to camera. Storytelling, to encourage tuning in to the next episode …
All this will feed into new kinds of live event. Instead of the big cheese posing in front of a huge screen, experiential engagement will be the driving force. We want to be part of the action, not just slack-jawed onlookers. Pre-lockdown, festivals were on the rise: creating experiential villages and multiple choice activities will be a big ‘yes please’ in shaping corporate events.
In a hybrid future, these live events will be digitised and elevated through VR and AR. They’ll be linked across the globe in live virtual collaborations. They’ll feel organic and free-form. Analogue authenticity will bring people together, fuelled by the infinite capabilities of digital.
It’s a formula for energy. You can’t generate much power via a video conference. So as the novelty of the virtual begins to fade, and as we crave inspiration from human contact more than ever, we can bring together the power of the old and new, to create something bigger and better.
The future’s a hybrid. Live + On Demand. Let’s bring it on!