The Flaws and Future of Virtual Events

September 21, 2020

Dana Drissel

Dana Drissel is Vice President of Kaon Interactive, a leader in interactive 3D sales and marketing applications. Under her leadership, the company has experienced substantial growth and has introduced a vast suite of award-winning Kaon solutions, building a fast-growing base of industry-leading fortune 500 customers.

If you’re in the marketing, sales and events industries, take a deep breath. We’ve all been having a rollercoaster of a year and now as we face 2021 planning, everyone’s heads are spinning with hybrid, live, virtual, taped, webinars, etc. It’s become more confusing than ever, but my hope is after reading this you’ll be able to make sense of all the virtual event shifts and create a solid blueprint moving forward.

So how did we get here and what’s to come? First, let’s consider the four phases:

  1. In-person – pre-COVID-19
  2. Virtual – Feb.–Aug. 2020
  3. Virtual 2.0 – the present and near future
  4. The Next Normal – 2021/22 and beyond


Your packed trade show floor where hundreds, if not thousands of people mingled from booth to booth and squeezed into keynote presentations. Marketing budgets were heavily reserved for travel, printed materials, booth décor, swag and more. The energy was (hopefully) high and you made important personal connections face-to-face. Then, the in-person event world abruptly stopped.


Marketing leaders who pioneered digital transformation strategies invested their budgets wisely. Visionary organizations, including AWSCisco, Dell, and many others, bowed out of major trade shows, but their investments in interactive customer engagement solutions were immediately pivoted for online deployment within virtual events. This was possible because these solutions were not one-off applications; they were built on digital transformation platforms designed to transcend any single event or customer venue.

However, the majority of virtual event feedback in 2020 has been quite negative. Registration numbers are through the roof, attendance is higher, but the customer experience is sub-standard due to the lack of interaction.

Why? Because alone, web conferencing is not a sufficient solution to those challenges. It is a foundation for connecting people, but as a replacement for meeting in-person, it does not deliver the experience people expect. It puts attendees in a passive role when they want to be in the driver’s seat.

Virtual 2.0

The unengaging stopgap of the virtual trade show booth is already obsolete. Marketers must maintain focus on helping customers solve their challenges – always delivering an understanding of how to create value, rather than focusing on what they sell. For B2B companies, we know that customer engagement is the key to conveying memorable value and differentiated competitive value.

We need to rethink how we should do business virtually and how to effectively engage customers again. When we think of virtual “connection,” we typically think of connecting with other people, not content. However, we make emotional connections with content, as well. The key ingredient with establishing a connection with content or an application is creativity.

So, why digitize your trade show booth? You can recreate any place or space, but you have to know why you’re recreating it. Here are two examples of when to use real-world scenarios:

    • A space that’s widely inaccessible to the average person (an oil rig or inside a medical laboratory)
    • A specific location that acts as a metaphor to visually showcase difficult processes (a stadium featuring various technology solutions)

The Next Normal

If/when we can convene at shows again, we predict there will always be a virtual or hybrid option. How can we can use the technology at our disposal to excite attendees and meaningfully engage them in the process?

Long-term marketing and sales success is not just about investing in a virtual booth and/or event. It goes beyond that, enabling a digital omnichannel marketing strategy. It’s about investing in reusable and extensible customer engagement experiences that spur personalized buying conversations – during and after events, on the expo floor or in the conference room – and arming your sales and marketing teams with the right tools for years to come.

If you’re looking to increase customer engagement at virtual events, meetings and briefings and are ready to make a digital transformation in this area, platform characteristics should include:

  • Availability offline and online (on the web or native applications running)
  • Device-agnosticism (mobile, tablet, PC, touch screen)
  • Venue-agnosticism (website, trade show, analyst briefing, training, onboarding, sales meeting)
  • Interactive 3D augmented reality and virtual reality experiences
  • Scalability and extensibility (with real-time cloud updates)
  • Unlimited global users (customers, sales, marketing, channel, training)

Long-term transformative customer engagement strategies will allow companies to clearly communicate their differentiated value, develop sustainable and predictable revenue streams, and provide a true competitive advantage – thus, coming out stronger when the storm clears. We won’t go back to the old way of doing things or continue to operate as we have. We need to change, starting TODAY.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.