Photo credit: FINALMETAL on flickr.
Recently, I had time to spare before a flight home and decided to grab a bite and a drink at a restaurant’s bar at the airport. While enjoying my food and beverage, I met two traveling salesmen in their 50’s.
We got to talking about our jobs and when it came my turn, I described virtual events. Neither of the gentlemen had heard of virtual events before and their reactions led me to think more about virtual events and mainstream adoption.
We’re Far From “There”
For those of us working in the industry day in and day out, it feels like we’re undergoing rapid growth and increasing adoption – and we are. But for mainstream adoption, “there” is more like the 600MM users on Facebook, not the few million people who have attended a virtual event (my very rough approximation).
In addition, my definition of “mainstream adoption” includes regular use of the technology (by the mainstream). While there are plenty of “repeat users” across virtual events today, I believe the average user is one who attended a single virtual event and has not yet returned to a subsequent event.
Perception: The Technology is Complicated
Mainstream adoption means traveling salesmen. It means the postal carrier, the hair stylist and Mom and Dad. It doesn’t refer to early adopter, technology-savvy power users. The reaction of the first traveling salesmen at the bar was, “that sounds complicated.”
Now consider the typical, mid-50’s traveling salesman – and for the sake of this example, one who does not sell technology products. The salesman criss-crosses the country every other week and is more proud of his frequent flyer miles than his virtual crops in FarmVille. He uses a laptop for email, but isn’t particularly tech savvy.
To gain mainstream adoption, the user experience for a virtual event needs to be simple and easy. A grandmother who can create a Facebook account and modify her Facebook profile ought to be able to do the same sort of activity in a virtual event. This would be an interesting scenario to study – could grandma modify her profile on today’s virtual event platforms?
Technology Displaces the Human Connection and … It’s Not Fun
The second traveling salesman conveyed his concern that today’s technologies can disrupt and displace face-to-face connections and interactions. Earlier in the day, he had lunch at a bar at another airport and arrived to find five other bar customers, each immersed in their smartphone. He commented, “I guess I’ll have to get out my device,” got everyone to chuckle and engaged with all of them, to the point where they put down their phones.
When this salesman heard about virtual events, he responded, “that doesn’t sound like fun.” And to a large degree, he’s right. Virtual trade shows will never replace the handshake or the night out on the town. This salesman will always choose the physical trade show. But what about his daughter’s college graduation? A virtual option can come in handy then.
Gaining adoption from this salesman will be less about any technology hurdle and more about finding him the right scenario and then making sure he has expectations set properly about what he’ll get out of the experience. Virtual attendance will allow him to experience the content (sessions, speakers, exhibitors, peers) in a convenient fashion, while skipping the cocktails and dinner.
Related: Introducing Virtual Trade Show 2.0
I love to describe virtual events to folks who have never heard of them. The reactions are varied and they tell me a lot about where our market is today and what hurdles we need to address to gain further adoption. Leave a comment below to share your thoughts on how virtual events can reach mainstream adoption.