The sudden shift in the MICE industry during the first half of 2020 triggered an onslaught of digital and virtual events.

In late August, master event organiser Tony Robbins has for the first time launched a virtual edition of his wildly successful digital business and personal growth seminar. Not limited by location, users are able to tune in from around the world.

Asia’s most popular events, including in fields like technology and start-ups, will similarly need to be smart about transitioning rapidly.

Asia’s MICE industry is estimated to be worth a half trillion dollars by 2026, according to Allied Market Research. However, those who are unable to create dynamic and immersive experiences for viewers will find themselves with a much smaller slice of the pie.

DigiconAsia tapped the insights and expertise of Ender Jiang, Founder, Hiverlab, to find out what business need to be in place for digital and virtual events to be successful.

Ender jiang image photo
Ender Jiang, Founder, Hiverlab

What are some key areas of improvement needed in the region’s projected $500 billion events industry?

Jiang: It’s absolutely the case that the impact of COVID-19 during the first half of 2020 has triggered a wave of digital business and virtual events to be successful across Asia

However, those who are unable to create dynamic and immersive experiences for viewers will find themselves with a much smaller slice of the pie.

Areas of improvement include the need for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) capabilities in presentations to create more immersive experiences for audiences.

It’s a time for innovation as most organizations are looking at alternative ways to maintain engagement with their staff, vendors, and clients remotely.

Virtual events have become popular and mainstream with virtual conferences, career fairs, and webinars all vying for attention in a crowded market. What should event organizers, producers and speakers watch out for to be impactful?

Jiang: I think a key thing to highlight at the outset is the importance that event companies place on working with the right vendors, who have an efficient pipeline to produce novel, visually engaging, and high-quality content.

The goal is always to deliver messages effectively, create a ‘wow’ effect among the audience, make the most out of a virtual environment, and make a real impact.

In our own case, we did a project with Singapore Management University (SMU) that serves as a good example of this, powered by our own proprietary photo-realistic digital human mass production pipeline.

While COVID-19 put a halt to nearly every school’s graduation ceremony, it did not deter SMU from organizing a virtual graduation for their students.

The objective was to deliver personalized graduation experiences made possible to the students, who would otherwise have missed such a formative commencement ceremony.

We know the delivery of this virtual event was truly impactful for the students, university, and parents.

How could elements such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) be incorporated to provide real-time engagement in online events?

Jiang: The first thing to stress is that event organizers must consider onboarding webcasting mobile apps that are available for both Android and iPhone, as part of their conference format for speakers.

The webcasting software should offer native Android support for live streaming platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube, as these are particularly effective channels in reaching the younger generations.

It should also be compatible with popular platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype and more, via screenshare features.

In our own case, we recently launched RealityCast to revolutionize how the industry conducts online presentations. RealityCast allows static media files to be imported to float next to the presenter in real time, as well as dynamic 3D graphics and models.

3D graphics model in digital business image

The key is that the software should be easily accessible; all that is required is a smartphone app that anyone can use with a few clicks.

What this means is that there’s no longer a need for expensive equipment or computer software, which was the case just a few years ago.

That being said, this also means that while such a solution has seen surging user adoption rates during COVID, it is not just a temporary solution for people to use during the social distancing phase.

We believe RealityCast is something that is here to stay post-COVID as well, due to its accessible and cost-effective nature, and good visual quality.

As the world goes digital and remote, key technologies like 5G will also support more widespread adoption of AR and virtual presentations that may contribute for business to be successful.

More broadly, event organizers and presenters must consider incorporating real-time special effects into their online webcasts, with the ability to overlay AR visuals and animations including videos and 3D animations.

For presenters, it’s no longer enough to just be a floating head in front of a webcam as the virtual events industry becomes more sophisticated.

Instead, organizers, presenters, and studios will need to stand out by leveraging the latest technology to deliver next-generation virtual audience experiences.

Our research suggests that good presentation requires a lot more to influence decision makers – everything from a presenter’s body language to interactive media elements.

Virtual presentations need to incorporate real-time special effects right from the broadcasting smartphone, which then goes out to mass audiences regionally or even globally through online video.

Finally, the option to easily overlay AR visuals and animations including videos and 3D effects onto the webcast feed directly from smartphone cameras will help presenters differentiate themselves from the herd in 2020 and beyond.

What more can organizations do to combine technology and creativity to improve online collaboration, communication, and events?

Jiang: Generally speaking, organizations should be aware that there are cost-effective tools in the market which allow them to craft personalized media technology solutions for effective communications, if you know the right partner to work with.

A few key areas we try to help organizations across some of the following areas are: corporate training, school education, marketing and communications, innovation, and workshops on immersive technology.

I’ll go through each in turn.

Corporate training: Augmented reality and virtual reality training solutions are commonly used in scenarios which are limited by geographical factors, or too dangerous or too expensive to simulate in real life.

For scenarios where hands-on activities are necessary, we can develop fully interactive 3D VR AR solutions, for trainees to walk around and interact with different objects with their hands.

For simpler scenarios that can be achieved by 360-degree videos or photos, we can assign users with accounts on our content management system.

This allows users to add in their own interactive functions for assessment, and view the interactive content on their smartphones.

School education: Many schools come to us because they see the value in our platform, an AR/VR content management system that teachers and students can use on their smartphones.

For schools that don’t have any content yet, there is readily available content on our platform for teachers to choose from – including some which are free of charge.

For teachers who hope to customize the content, they can engage us or other local content creators to help craft out the content.

Increasingly, we are seeing user-generated content by teachers and event students on the platform.

We also provide offline workshops and online tech support to help the community.

Marketing and communications: Clients from a variety of industries are looking at using AR/VR as an effective way for marketing and communications nowadays.

Some of the interactive AR/VR visualizations can be easily achieved using our platform, compatible with smartphones. It’s perfect for those who want to have a 360-degree video or interactive 3D AR for your brand.

Innovation: In the Information Age, the physical, digital and biological worlds will continue to fuse, and the boundaries between media, technology, and telecommunication will continue to diminish.

As immersive technology becomes an integral part of organizations’ daily operations in various industries, we believe our role as a media technology enabler is becoming ever more crucial.

Our R&D team work with pioneers in different industries to explore the cutting-edge applications of immersive technologies plus other technologies, such as AI, Machine Learning, IoT, 5G, Cloud Computing, Robotics, etc.

Digital Twin for real-time contextual data visualization and abstract data visualization are some of the promising emerging applications for business to be successful in our view.

Workshops on immersive technology: We have a strong belief that technology should be made accessible and transparent to the general public.

We work with the communities and cultivate next-generation world leaders who have trans-disciplinary insights about technology, business, and society.

As an industry expert and evangelist, we sign MOUs with schools and research agencies, and conduct regular workshops at schools, companies, government organizations, etc.

Through such initiatives, we are able to share our experiences and insights with the general public, so more people can enjoy the magic of this new medium, and start sharing their own immersive experiences with others.

VR/AR workshops, one of the key components of our academy programme, are structured in a way to enhance the participants’ understanding of technology applications, global perspectives, and social responsibility.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations are looking at alternative ways to maintain employee and customer experience, as well as continuity with partners. What innovations have you seen in the Asia-Pacific marketplace?

Jiang: The Asian and global workforce is being forced to work remotely during this period, which means organizations must onboard more technology-enabled solutions to engage their staff and customers.

While the events industry is no different, the shock has been so sudden that it’s not clear organizers have moved beyond simple Zoom presentations for panels, keynotes, and fireside chats.

As you will know from reading this discussion, our view is that more innovation is needed to keep Asia’s conferences and events competitive globally.

COVID-19 is going to be with us for a long time and so it makes sense for event planners to start thinking ahead today; it’s still not too late to onboard new technologies to delight, engage, and immerse your virtual audiences.