CyberEdge Journal

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Making Virtual Reality Events Worth Attending

In the past week I attended two VR meetups in San Francsico. In December I attended one in Santa Clara, in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Of the three, one was very useful. The other two were largely a waste of time.

Let me provide a little background. As a journalist and analyst, I have attended well over 100 VR conferences and meetings. These have ranged from SIGGRAPH in its heyday, with over 40,000 attendees and scores of VR vendors and scientists showing their wares, to groups of a dozen technicians working on standards and technologies. I have attended V R-themed meetings, trade shows, conferences, symposia and seminars in more than a dozen countries on three continents. I have been a speaker at many of these meetings, and a reporter at most. I think I understand what makes a successful meeting.

What made the Santa Clara meeting successful was the understanding by the organizers, SVVR, of how to provide value to attendees. What made the other two a waste of time was that they were misrepresented – they were not places to do business; they were parties with a VR Theme. They were loud, crowded and dark. One could talk only by screaming, and barely hear the response, thanks to constant, loud music. The rooms were so crowded you could hardly move. The light was dim, making it impossible to read name tags, business cards or literature. The vendors were overwhelmed, largely due to the extreme crowding.

Is this your idea of a good VR meeting?
On the other hand, the Santa Clara MeetUp was in a room that was large enough for the crowd, with food and drink in a separate space. There was room for the vendors to show their stuff, though the light was a bit dim. The noise level was manageable – there was a good buzz, but you could comfortably hold a conversation. There was a planned program, but it left plenty of time and space for networking. The venue provided plenty of parking.

Here is a fairly short checklist of considerations that every event planner should keep in mind. Specifically, for a VR event, organizers should:

  •  Make the purpose clear. Is this a party, a mixer, a demo night, or something else? Who will benefit from attending?
  •  Is the room big enough for the anticipated attendance? Two factors matter: Optimal Party Density (OPD), and enough room for vendors and others to do their business. (OPD requires that people be close enough that they MUST talk to each other. However, that can become too crowded, which makes people wary and hostile.)
  •  Plan circulation so that people don’t get bottlenecked. A big logjam at the door makes people frustrated from the start. A bar that has long lines can foster conversation, or just be annoying.
  • If you serve food, keep it tidy and easy to handle. Ave plenty of napkins and trash cans. People don’t like spilling food on their clothes and vendors don’t like people with sticky fingers handling their products.
  • Is there enough light and electricity for vendors to run their demos? A corollary: there should be enough light to read business cards and product literature.
  • If you play music, keep the volume low enough that people can converse easily. Your vendors will really appreciate this when they can still talk the next morning.
  •  Have a printed program. It doesn’t need to be fancy or big. Include vendor contact info and some clues to what people can expect during the event.
  • Make it easy to find and easy to get to. A hidden loft in a back alley may be a great place for a party, but is it appropriate for your event? Also, is there room for vendors to park and unload?
I know that I’ll be checking much more carefully when I decide if I want to attend VR meetups. I like a good party as much as anyone, but frankly, I attend these events to see new technology and meet people. If the setting is not conducive to that, count me out.

Finally, am I totally missing the boat on this? Would people today rather be in a loud, raucous environment to do business? Vendors, how do these events serve you? Please comment below and set me straight.

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