Max Eaglen: The future of the exhibition world will be collaboration, not congregation

Max Eaglen, Director at Platform Group, considers what future exhibitions could look like.

Like many of you, I recently watched Boris outlining his vision and strategy for the future at the first ever Conservative Party virtual conference. And like many of you, my gaze was both one of a personal nature and a professional one, especially at Platform, we were the providers of the digital platform that enabled the Tory conference to take place.

The pandemic has made us all rethink the way we deliver our events – and rethink fast. The result is a mixed events and exhibition marketplace – with some virtual events literally just this – an event online with a virtual registration app – and others like the ones we create at Platform – far more than this – an immersive, 3D, interactive event that can offer real customer experience that can disrupt the exhibition and event world as we know it.

In a world of Zoom overkill

For many of us suddenly the only alternative was virtual – whether that was via Teams, Zoom, Houseparty, Facetime or another video streaming service – and whether for business or pleasure. With virtual being the only way we can communicate at certain times, and the preferred way at others, how can we as an industry make these virtual experiences different? And encourage visitors to our events to join us for more time online when often their days have been filled with more than enough screen time already?

At Platform, we believe there are three key ingredients:

Firstly, the virtual space we are creating needs to be visually appealing. Not just look good but look beyond beautiful. The space needs to encapsulate different, unusual, immersive spaces that cover different spectrums – so for global meetings industry company Imex, this meant an underwater extravaganza.

Secondly, it needs to be functional and create for visitors a proper experience – one that if not competes with the physical space can take them to places that we couldn’t create in the physical world. Yes, the registration needs to be slick and the systems and management of data need to be operationally excellent, but it needs to take them further than that. Real virtual experiences can bring real time data and analysis – like how many people are in the auditorium at any point in time, how many are engaging with each stand, how many are listening in to each keynote session – and we can use this data to adapt the customer experience in real time. So, if that data says that they people aren’t reacting positively to one element of the exhibition, change it. Or if they aren’t engaging with a stand, recreate it – overnight, at less cost and with less disruption to your event.

So now you have the aesthetics and the customer experience competing with the physical world, the third element is the physical interaction, the networking. There is no doubting that a virtual world will never replace the face-to-face networking that a physical event can offer. But what if that virtual world did the networking differently incorporating software like that of or that allows you to randomly chat to people who were signed into the event so you learnt new things from people you didn’t know even existed? Or that the data gathered from registration to track your interests, put your visitors in a room with those with similar ones? Suddenly virtual networking becomes interesting, fun and exciting with endless possibilities that we don’t have the time, the logistic ability or frankly, the appetite for in the real world.

Future gazing

Having been thrown into the fire and seeing the phoenix rise up out of it, we know that events and exhibitions will change forever. So, here’s how we see the future of the exhibition event world. We believe it is collaboration not congregation. We believe it is about intelligent networking and data analytics driven by artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality. We believe it is about secure registration platforms ensuring our customers data and events are safe. We believe it is about lowering our carbon footprints and adopting a model for events and exhibitions that allow us to work any place, anywhere. We believe it’s about creating 3D experiences and we believe it is about thinking differently and acting differently.

We know that the future of our industry will be a hybrid of both virtual and physical. For some, a familiar environment is reassuring so as we transition from real to virtual, we will provide the steppingstones to allow the traditionalists and trail blazers alike to feel comfortable in. We know the future is about continuing to understand the user and provide an experience that suits them most and the functionality that enables them to carry out activities that can work both in a physical and a virtual world. We also know that the future is about looking forward and not looking back.

Eventscape3D/Storyscape3D created and produced the virtual platform for the Conservative Party virtual conference.