When to use the terms virtual, online, hybrid, live…?

In just a couple of months, the entire meetings industry made a quantum leap forward and became digitalised. At the same time, the turbulent coronavirus situation has caused a major terminological mix-up. Explaining virtual and online events has become rather confusing, let alone defining every other subgroup of events like webinars, webcasts etc.

Who is to blame for this confusion? Well, we all are, but the root of the problem lies in the numerous software/service providers, who keep bombarding us with buzzwords usually starting with the word VIRTUAL. We’ve decided to clear up some of the confusion by putting these new event formats into context

The key issue is differentiating between online (web) and virtual events. We like to explain the difference to our colleagues like this; virtual events are accessed through virtual interfaces like virtual goggles, helmets, implants etc. Online events are accessed through a computer, usually through your web browser or dedicated application like Zoom.

The physical and online worlds of events are currently populated by real attendees and event planners. As soon as they are replaced by avatars and other virtual alternatives, the meetings industry as we know it is screwed. That is when we will talk about virtual events and I sincerely hope it does not happen any time soon.

So, on our way to reaching normality, let’s at least try and use appropriate expressions and differentiate between these types of events. To make it easier, we have divided events based on the venue in which they take place:

Live events
Location: Live events take place in a predetermined physical venue at a predetermined time. Our hope is that they remain the most favoured format after the coronavirus crisis ends.

Hybrid events
Location: Hybrid events take place both in a predetermined physical venue, as well as online, through different online platforms. The physical venue usually serves as the main hub for transmitting a live video feed to the online platform. (ADVANTAGE: Attendees from all around the world can join the online platform.)

Multi-hub events
Location: Multi-hub events are hybrid events that take place in multiple predetermined physical venues, so more physical (live) attendees can join. Groups of attendees in different locations can connect with each other using an online platform, making the event hybrid.
(ADVANTAGE: More live attendees in different locations)

Online events
Location: Online events do not have a physical venue, as they only take place on online platforms. Similar to multi-hub events, attendees join the online event from their computers, but they are usually alone and not in groups.

Virtual events
Location: Virtual events do not have a physical venue, as they take place in virtual reality, accessed through different interfaces. The most common interface is a VR headset that transfers you into an artificial environment like an exhibition hall or a conference room.

We like to say that live events engage all of our senses. Online events usually engage just our vision and hearing. It’s up to you to decide whether you like an authentic or augmented reality.

We have seen a surge in hybrid events lately and most experts predict that they will be the go-to platform for many meeting planners in the future.

Why are we making such a big deal out of terminology?
A very specific set of tools is needed to carry out these types of events and without proper clarification, the DCO (Digital Conference Organiser) won’t be able to successfully tie everything into an efficient whole.

If we take a look at Zoom, the most popular online event platform, it seems that everyone has everything figured out. It’s like asking someone if they know how to use Facebook. The software is incredibly easy to use, but that creates a problem, as most clients now think that organising an online event is much cheaper and easier than live events. This was confirmed by our recent research:

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In reality, online and hybrid events have added a thick layer of complexity to event planning. Not to mention virtual events, which require even more technological support. This is why agreeing on the same terminology is so important. We should start speaking the same “meeting planner lingo”, because when there is this much confusion, there is also a lot of room for scams and products that are too good to be true. If things aren’t clearly defined, we will start losing the trust of clients, who will fall for the promises of online service providers flooding their inboxes.

What do you think?

Let’s keep the terminology conversation going. Write to us and tell us your comments or suggestions at gorazd.cad@toleranca.eu.