A Virtual Blog Posting

A Virtual Blog Posting


We’ve been well served by the term “virtual events” and by its related siblings, “virtual trade shows”, “virtual career fairs”, “virtual sales kick-off meetings” and the like. The industry has been using these terms for the past 5+ years and we’ve seen gains in understanding, recognition and awareness (of the terms).

Time for a New Name?

I was happy to see that Virtual Edge Institute’s new certification is called Digital Event Strategist and not Virtual Event Strategist.  I think it’s time to consider a shift in terminology, away from the adjective “virtual”.

Is this a virtual blog posting?  Well, no, I hope not.  I’d like for it to be real.  According to the “virtual” entry on thesaurus.com, the antonyms for “virtual” include: actual, authentic and real.

Is the event running on a virtual platform?  Well, no – the platform is real, or so I hope.

Need to have the on-site team coordinate with the virtual team?  May not need to, if the virtual team isn’t real.

Want to create virtual experiences?  I hope you’re creating real experiences, experienced digitally.

Practical Limitations

Having made my point, I understand that we can’t simply turn on a dime and change terminology right away. First, it would create confusion among prospects, as well as people who are newly considering “virtual” technologies.  And while the term “digital events” seems on target, “digital trade shows”, “digital career fairs” and “digital sales kick-off meetings” don’t quite do it for me.

Your Thoughts?

Leave a comment below to share your thoughts – should we keep the “virtual” terminology? If not, what new terminology would you suggest?

Related: A posting from Mike McCurry, “Meeting Attendees: It’s About My Experience, Not My Location!

10 Responses to A Virtual Blog Posting

  1. It will require some re-training, and re-branding for those who were in front of it all, but I am in full agreement with you. It simply does not make sense anymore. We are trying to refer to our event as an online extension, or a digital lead-generating opportunity, but all to often find ourselve dropping that “virtual” term into our marketing. We are also trying our best not to use the term virtual booth…anywhere. For two reasons, the aforementioned reasoning that it simply does not make sense to us, and because we think virtual booth conjures up the past and quite possibly negative or unsuccessful experiences. Our event will feature Interactive Showcases, nothing virtual about them, they are real 🙂

    Thanks Dennis. Keep writing and we will keep reading.


    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Thanks, Brad – I agree that like you found, it’s hard to NOT refer back to “virtual” in your marketing, since that’s what we’re all used to using. So yeah, it will take some time if we are to shift the terminology.

  2. Shannon Ryan says:

    I agree that “virtual” is perhaps often taken too literally and “virtual events” have hit some bumps in perception as it matures. The most effective naming comes down to what we are referencing as not all events share the same features so the naming either has to remain broad as a general category or take on naming that is specific to the brand or purpose. For example, many virtual events will transition into perpetual environments in the next year thus, a name that references digital community or forum would be better at reinforcing the features and purpose. Regardless of what we call them, we need to remember that we are creating experiences that connect people and brands and the organizations/brands behind them need to be clearer in communicating the value and relevancy they are offering as that is what will effectively drive recruitment.

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Thanks, Shannon – agree that “events” are increasingly moving towards “community” (that happen to include events). Makes it more challenging for us on the naming 😉

  3. I’m inclined to stick with “virtual” as the descriptive term for now. Since there are still so many folks getting on board with the concept, it seems like a dirty trick to change terminology mid-stream. If it’s a branding issue (virtual booth vs. interactive showcase) as Brad mentioned, changing the name will only work if the products work better after the change. Technology in the event space is moving so quickly that buyers have a hard time absorbing all of the features, benefits, and platforms as it is. Can we just have a little more time with “virtual” before we have to say goodbye?

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Michelle – good points, though I wonder if an alternative to “virtual” better conveys the technology to newbies? I don’t have a great alternative to propose at the moment, but I do know that “virtual” can throw newbies for a loop when they hear it the first time.

      That being said, we’ll extend the term “virtual” for another few months 😉

  4. Paul Salinger says:

    Having never been a big fan of the term “virtual” in the first place, it would not be hard to get me to change terms at this point.

    It was always problematical, in my view, to have “virtual attendees”, which creates a sense of separation and lack of engagement for many people, from the actual remote attendee to the event planner or presenter that has not taken that person into account in their primary planning.

    The primary challenge is not so much terminology as an understanding of what it means to take into account the different quality of attending an event, engaging in a trade show or career fair from a remote location or even building communities of interest and interactive showcases where people are going to engage with each other in an environment where they are not face to face.

    How do we best design all of these environments for a sense of total engagement where we can apply what makes face to face the most relevant way of interacting and start to think about whether this is possible or desirable when people are remote from one another?

    Thanks for starting the conversation Dennis. I also have no good alternatives to the naming issue at present, but am less concerned about names than actual ways of designing the interactions.

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Thanks, Paul – I agree with you on what’s most important (“how we best design these environments”).

      Naming is pretty important, though, as it’s central to any discussion on the topic (i.e. what we call something) – and as such, is also central to educating, driving awareness and marketing.

  5. Scott Lum says:

    I agree that the term “virtual” may be a bit outdated and may potentially limit innovation and perceptions in the online events space. I think it’s a legacy from 3D virtual worlds and having many of the virtual event vendors creating digital events based on the in-person event metaphor. While I still see continued interest in the more elaborate virtual events, I also see companies who want digital user interfaces to be simpler and have more efficient ways to engage their customers that will not resemble the 3D virtual environments we’re familiar with. In the end, we’re creating opportunities for digital or online engagement which may incorporate streaming video, social interactions and experiences between companies and their audience. If we focused on optimizing these experiences in a digital space it may not look like a virtual world.
    Brad Williams uses the example of the term “virtual booth” in his comments above – that’s one of my pet peeve phrases in the industry. The trade show booth is setup the way it is to capture a user’s attention and enhance engagement during a physical event. Many virtual event providers have replicated this in their platform but I see it as a very limiting way to engage your prospects in a digital environment.
    Once we get beyond the thinking that the digital experiences needs to be the same as the in-person experience we can focus on creating compelling ways to engage our audience. Retiring the term “virtual” will help transcend our industry into a much different space.

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Scott – thanks for the comment. You and Paul (above) have similar thoughts – and that is, to keep the focus on designing the right digital experiences and interactions. Good points.

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