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May 8th, 2012

The National Real Estate On­Line Convention and Exposition in April 2002 is typically cited as the world’s first “virtual conference.” Produced by the Real Estate CyberSpace Society, it attracted 10,000 pre-registered real estate professionals from 28 countries and drew another 15,000 “online walk-ins” over the event’s five days.

In 2009, one Microsoft division made its annual industry analyst event a virtual one. Sessions streamed over the web, meetings between executives and customers took place via tablet PC rentals, and the keynote featured slides with LiveMeeting. Surely one of the premier tech firms of all time would revolutionize the virtual conference, right? Wrong. Seven years after the first one, virtual conferences just weren’t catching on, although they’re starting to now.

Video Conference

Psychology, not video conferencing technology

After a decade of declining prices for videoconferencing technology – plasma display rentals, wall-sized screens and media-friendly computers – it turns out that it’s not technology, but psychology, that is holding up progress. User forums and corporate networks have their share of rants, raves and predictions (“Real-time 3D full-wall HD surround-sound conferencing coming soon!”) but much of the talk is about “intangibles.”

A common refrain is that there is “no substitute for personal interaction,” and that talking is still more efficient than iMessaging with an iPad rental. People pay attention to much more than the words they’re hearing, too, reading body language, interpreting “vibes” and observing how folks relate to one another. If you reflect on the number of intriguing conversations you’ve had in hallways, elevators and lunch lines, you know the intrinsic value of informal conversations.

Characteristics of virtual conferences

Virtual conferences save on obvious costs like air fare, hotels, dining and so forth, but you will still need event production rentals – just different ones than usual. Still, before there can be successful, smooth-running virtual conferences, they have to evolve the following characteristics:

• Excellent planning and execution. A virtual conference is a big, complicated production. Don’t underestimate the effort.

• Fail-safe technology. Streaming media is great, but everything needs to work regardless of what the attendees bring to the event (MacBook, PC laptop, smart phone).

• New model. There is still no consensus on the best model for virtual conferencing, although “informative” and “interactive” are two buzzwords that echo across the Internet. (Ideas, anyone?)

Perhaps in 2012 we will finally see the emergence of a workable virtual conferencing model. Most people need to be engaged and drawn into the action, but how this will get done virtually is still a mystery. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted as “virtual” turns into “reality” in the conference industry.

Here’s a dose of reality for you: CRE is your one-stop shop for trade show convention rentals, high-tech and high-powered post-production gear, potent laptops and desktop PCs, Macs, mass storage and more. A single call or e-mail, or a trip to our Quick Rental Quote page, puts an expert Account Executive to work solving your problem. Call now!

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