Exhibition World Issue 2 — 2020 - Page 24

Tech Silver linings Could the Covid-19 lockdown lead to a surge of digital events? Stuart Wood investigates he events industry is facing an unprecedented challenge. Never before have we seen a crisis on this scale – and the extent of it is just coming into focus. Countries all around the world are in lockdown, enforcing social distancing and quarantines in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19. The worldwide event calendar has been put almost entirely on hold, and there’s no way of knowing when normality will resume. Our industry is still in the ‘shock’ phase of this pandemic. But once the dust settles and we have all begun to adapt to life under the coronavirus, there are many ways we can make ourselves useful. UFI’s Kai Hattendorf rightly points out (p10) that events will be one of 24 Issue 2 2020 the key drivers in rebuilding the economy in the aftermath – but what about right now? Streaming and virtual events offer one answer to that question. During an extended period where many of us are working from home, and communicating with friends and colleagues through video chat, could our industry see a permanent shift towards digital? Jason Anderson, Digital Director at agency Avantgarde, thinks so. “There is an appetite for people to be involved in virtual spaces, but connecting to real people,” he says. “Covid-19 has the potential to shift the whole market in this direction: it might make exhibitors more comfortable with a purely online offering.” It’s a tantalising prospect. Up to now, virtual events and streaming have served as more of an add-on than a replacement. But in this age of necessity, where businesses are trying to retain and provide as much value as possible, it would only take one big player to turn the tide. If IMEX Frankfurt went purely digital, how many imitators would spring up in its wake? “Moving an exhibition online is a real alternative to cancelling,” Anderson adds. “There’s more opportunity for the pre- and post-event communications. Some virtual event technology now has the capacity for users to show off virtual stands. This means exhibitors, as well as visitors, can try and replicate the value of a face- to-face event.” The decision to move online shouldn’t be made lightly, however. Anderson is keen to stress that streaming your event, or staging it in a virtual space, requires a different set of skills: “You need to be more skilled at telling your story in a virtual event, because its so much easier to jump between Virtual Exhibition Booth 1 and Virtual Exhibition Booth 12. You’d better be sure you’re saying something interesting.” Looking to the future It might be difficult for some event businesses to look to the future at the moment, given the dire straits caused by high-profile cancellations w w w.exhibitionworld.co.uk