Solving The Conference Conundrum: Best Practices For Hosting A Conference In VR
By Marshall Mosher, founder & CEO of Vestigo | Leveling up remote teams via VR adventure
More than 200 years ago, the world’s first conference took place in Vienna, Austria, when the Congress of Vienna gathered to establish the territorial divisions following the Napoleonic Wars.
Modern conferences may be less focused on gathering people to settle territorial disputes, but the collective, collaborative spirit is the same, attracting large audiences that come together to hear from leading brands, thought leaders and trendsetters. These conferences are at once a professional development opportunity, a social gathering and an entertainment medium.
Conference attendance became an annual tradition for many professionals. It’s an annual tradition for people looking to break out of their daily routines while learning the latest best practices, networking with industry peers and encountering fresh ideas and perspectives.
This all came to a dramatic stop in March 2022 when the Covid-19 pandemic canceled in-person events across the world. More than two years later, things still aren’t the same—and they may never be.
In response, companies have pivoted to digital offerings. One survey found that 41% of B2B exhibitions introduced full virtual offerings in response to the pandemic. The experience hasn’t translated well. Over 70% of Americans say they prefer in-person conferences, a sentiment shared by many companies eager to connect with their customers and B2B counterparts.
This poses a unique challenge for companies looking to offer team conferences in 2022. If in-person conventions are not ready to return to prime time and Zoom conferences can’t provide a compelling alternative, businesses will need to innovate.
The metaverse provides the perfect opportunity to reimagine the conference experience for 2022 and beyond. Hosting a conference using virtual reality combines the cost-effective and efficient qualities of a digital gathering while incorporating the human elements that often make the in-person experience so compelling. Providing an incredible team conference using VR can be a game-changer, especially when hosts account for the unique experience, technology and content that collectively create an unforgettable experience.
Here are three ways hosts can achieve these outcomes at their next VR conference.
1. Build a VR-specific experience.
Most VR conference events are happening within certain apps that are considered metaverse companies. Using these platforms, companies can bring disparate attendees together in virtual reality.
AltspaceVR is the most popular platform. Available on HTC Vive, Oculus, Windows Mixed Reality and Apple or Microsoft desktop mode, attendees can easily download AltspaceVR. By entering a code, they can be teleported to the meet-up, allowing everyone to listen to a speaker in a group setting, socialize together or navigate an expo.
What’s more, hosts can create portals that teleport people to the next environment so that attendees can travel between different worlds, experiences and conference events.
In many ways, VR is elevating the traditional conference experience. For example, if the speaker is an astronaut, the attendees can gather in a space station to hear the presentation.
VR conferences redefine what’s possible, expanding the available experiences for attendees. Simply put, a VR gathering doesn’t have to involve a conference center, chairs in rows and a stage. It can take place on the side of a mountain, the shore of a beautiful beach, the crater of a volcano or any number of compelling spaces.
2. Provide the right technology.
Companies can host VR conferences using any readily-available VR hardware as long as it supports their chosen conferencing software.
The Oculus Quest is the most popular and available hardware, and the Meta Quest 2 has been described as “the most popular and accessible VR headset on the market today,” making it a compelling recommendation for attendees.
Most importantly, hosts should consider choosing software with the broadest adoption, allowing as many people as possible to attend and engage, regardless of hardware selections.
3. Develop compelling content.
Ultimately, a VR experience is only as effective as its impact after removing the headset and closing the conference.
Recreating the existing conference structure is a reflexive option for hosts. However, this approach has a limited impact. VR lets hosts do more by connecting experience to content.
Team conferences can be paired with a breakout session where everyone goes for a hike for an hour, expanding the scope and scale of the encounter. Similarly, in between speeches, teams can make time for VR mini golf, teamwork games like defusing a virtual time bomb and even climbing Mt. Everest, creating new opportunities for connection and team building within the conference environment.
In addition, hosts can leverage the technology to facilitate powerful conversations about diversity, inclusion and more. By asking participants to change their avatar’s appearance so it doesn’t resemble themselves, facilitators can connect impactful visuals with important, challenging ideas defining today’s workplace.
Team conferences and gatherings have been a part of our culture for hundreds of years. The recent pandemic may have forced us to change our approach, but it doesn’t have to diminish the outcomes.
Rather, this can be an opportunity to refine and enhance the conference experience, making it more accessible and impactful for everyone. This is a chance to innovate, so don’t be afraid to try something new by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible while challenging attendees to do the same thing.