Virtual Conventions? Ho...Hum

There is a long way to go to create the buzz that we lost when conventions went virtual. | 11/16/2020

This weekend I attended a statewide home improvement convention, wholly virtual. I wondered how well the professional organizer would perform in terms of kindling the excitement, engagement and general buzz of a physical event.

I give the organizer credit for effort, but the event in my opinion, fell flat.

The event opened with a "live" presentation. However, since you could watch it any time after the opening at 10AM including the next day, I was annoyed by this inaccurate label. The main purpose of the opening presentation was not to discuss home improvements as issues that concern my state, but rather just to showcase the main vendors. In the past that would be OK for me but in this virtual event it causes several problems. First, the opening was too long because every vendor was given time to merge their own presentation into the opening. There was no quality control so the impact of the sessions was variable. My favorite was the "communications" company that did such a poor job of mixing that the voices were drowned by the music. Second there was no feeling of a convention. While it was true that every main vendor would have a presentation slot in the afternoon, they had already overexposed themselves with a long segment in the opening presentation. Really, the whole thing just felt like a web shopping page with added complexity.

And what about those vendors. The show was clearly geared to the folks who either had 7-figure incomes or were willing to mortgage themselves to look like the top of the heap. Again I will say, that is OK ... BUT not everyone who attends these events is looking for costly remodeling. Some folks have smaller projects, and some are showing up for the smaller vendors, who where not here, not ready to offer lower cost accessories and decorations.

Each vendor had a home page "tile" to press for a visit. After pressing the tile, you would be offered various items including pictures to scroll and a chat option with the vendor. Some vendors had additional videos.

And so we reach the "so what" point. The convention as an online experience offered nothing new in terms of user experience better that I can get by just visiting a vendor website. There was a promise of show discounts, but no general incentive such as a prize drawing for attendees that visit every vendor and make a connection.

That's the gist. I even went back the next day to have another look. There was no guiding outline or framework that added values that I cold not already get just by surfing the web, including discounts. 

What would I have done if I had created the site?

The landing page would look like a show floor. I would probably include the sounds of a showfloor. I would navigate it like a google map. Available staff would be represented by names, pictures, and qualifications. All of this could have been templated in advance. This is not new stuff, right? You have heard of Second Life? That's been around since 2003?

At times when a talk is about to begin, I would play the meeting chimes and have a floating announcement object crossing the screen. The viewer could cancel the announcement by clicking the object and would also get the link to the talk. (Click to hear meeting chimes. Press the back button to return to this page.)

I would have required vendor booth messages that succinctly identified the vendor's value and purpose for a range pf several economic levels of buyers and levels of projects. I would have provided helper apps to quickly and roughly size projects and asked the vendors to implement these apps consistently. Even if the examples are simply anecdotal, generic. This is how people get interested. 

I would have adjusted the interface to encourage visitors to click to talk with a representative, not to scroll through gallery photos. This means of course that there needs to be a person to talk to. But not just sitting at a screen. If you walk into a store, the staff may not be in front of you. My entry should be through a camera looking into the store or booth, and a chime should announce me. If more than one person enters, the staff member talk talk to us all.

Question submissions would have been a top priority with a commitment to attendees to answer their questions with targeted examples in the afternoon talk tracks.

Where I, as a vendor, saw common question themes, I would have provided updates to indicate when and where the questions would be answered, and that could be a date and time after the event.

I definitely would have included a show store that featured low end accessories, products and tools. Since this is a lot of work I would approach both local and national businesses to fill out this part of the event.

But that's just me. 

If this is the calibre of online conventions, count me out!