Conference rooms are a terrible choice to illustrate what your event experience is about
The reason why conferences look the way they quite often look is that we as meeting planners face design constraints imposed by the architecture of conference centers. While purpose-built conference centers follow a pretty good logic (with lobbies at the entrance, main theatres right behind it and meeting rooms left and right or up and down) they are the result of a compromise made between architects, private businesses, governments and about anyone else involved in building conference centers. They may be purpose-built, but only within a given framework. Even then, conference centers are bland and all look very similar (sure, the CCH in Hamburg has an iconic roof-top garden, the old Fira in Barcelona is a design marvel and that long walk in the San Diego conference center is quite something). And that is a good thing. The blander they are, the easier it becomes for us, meeting planners and meeting designers, to project our visions and fill the space with life. Maybe Berlin’s CityCube even perfected this idea with their brutalism-like concrete walls everywhere. It is a fabulous venue after all.
Taking a real-life conference center, then projecting our meeting vision into it, and then taking this entire analog concept and digitizing it is, for the lack of a better word, absolutely absurd. It is the meetings industry counterpart of taking a smartphone video of a video you see on TV. There is no value to this kind of behaviour.
You are crippling the experience you could provide online
Instead, we should focus on how we can build something amazing online. Howard Roark, the fictional architect in Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel The Fountainhead faced backlash in design school because he refused to build Roman-style columns out of concrete. And while Ayn Rand is probably the worst inspiration I could pick for a modern society, her character Howard had a point: the reason why Roman columns looked the way they looked was not purely esthetic, but had much to do with how to work the materials such as marble. Instead, according to Roark, concrete, glass, and steel should find their own design language and speak to their natural material strengths.
The same is true online. This crisis is messy and annoying, I get it. But we also have the fabulous opportunity of building something new and exciting, something that changes the way we meet, collaborate, enjoy, and network. Putting meetings online provides us with new tools, interactive games, mass participation from around the world, internationalisation aspects, the application of advanced technologies such as AI and modern design tools. And yet, here we are, rebuilding conference centers in 3D. Have we lost our collective minds?
Regarding trade shows in virtual spaces I personally believe they have no space as such. I am not saying they need to die, but they need to change. Online booths may not be the right answer. Tradeshows have a super power. They know their trades and industries. They know the key people. And they got trust. So building on that, I could imagine two parts a) curated product presentations, driven by the show, not the exhibitors and b) intensive online networking. I think this caters more to the strengths than a gimmicky online booth.