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Event Planning & Management
2 February 2018 

Virtual and Augmented Reality: What Event Organizers Must Know

Josh Levine, Stephanie Schutz & David Epstein
Virtual and Augmented Reality: What Event Organizers Must Know

Virtual and augmented reality are changing the way that organizers, sponsors and vendors engage with attendees at events. Here’s the what, why and how of VR and AR.

With each passing year, technology continues to propel the events industry to new heights. Whether it be improvements in event marketing attribution, more robust event tools, or stronger event data security, the collective advancement of technology plays a significant role in the evolution of the events industry. And among the event trends that continue to shape the space, virtual and augmented reality have become key catalysts for innovation.

Learn more in our Biggest Event Trends of 2018 ebook.

VR and AR are leading the charge in creating unique and singular experience for attendees. As the use cases and accessibility of this technology continues to expand, we should expect to see VR and AR make an even larger impact in the years to come. This blog post looks to educate the reader on the recent developments of this technology and how it has already influenced the event space.

What is Virtual and Augmented Reality?

Virtual Reality (VR):

Virtual reality is a three dimensional completely computer generated environment. Users usually need to wear a Virtual Reality headset and may also need compatible gloves or handsets to be able to effectively interact with this world.


Above: an example of virtual reality

Virtual reality should not be confused with 360° photos and video, which is simply a still image or recording captured in the round. We provide an example of this type of video later in the article.

In 2016, NBC broadcasted 85 hours of the Rio Olympics in 360° video. This included the opening and closing ceremonies, and sports like men’s basketball, gymnastics, track and field, and fencing.

Augmented Reality (AR):

Augmented reality combines both computer generated elements and the reality to create an augmented world. With augmented reality, viewers interact with computer generated overlays as they move within the real world.


Above: an example of augmented reality

The overwhelming success of Pokemon Go provides an interesting case study. In less than a month, Pokémon Go generated over 30 million app downloads, $1.6 million in revenue from the iOS store per day, and increased Nintendo’s value by over $9 billion. Of course, Pokemon Go ended up losing momentum rather quickly, but these statistics show that AR technology has the ability to make a significant impact among consumers.

Why Should Event Planners Care?

Now you may be wondering, what does VR and AR have to do with event planning? With so much potential, VR and AR have the ability to change the way we discuss, attend, and interact at events.

Sarah Yeats, Client Services Director at Sledge, recently discussed her thoughts on the industry’s next big thing:

“I think people are realizing the potential and embracing the technology. You can really put yourself or others into an experience / space that you can fully experience for yourself. This is ideal for business in foreign countries as you can bring the place to them if traveling isn’t an option… The tech is becoming more affordable and we are starting to see the opportunity now which is very exciting.” 

Yeats, an experienced event professional, realizes the potential that AR and VR offer. Not only will this play a big role in the event tech space, but more so, it will allow attendees to garner more fulfilling experiences.

Virtual Venues

As a planner of an event, you may be used to investing a large poriton of your budget on an event venue, speakers, lodging, food and beverages, and other miscellaneous logistics. However, if you were to hold a conference or a trade show through virtual reality, many of those costs would be eliminated.

To create a truly virtual event, organizers would have to create a computerized event space. Doing so may be expensive now, but once the technology is more mature it will likely be much less expensive than existing event planning costs.

Virtual Attendance

Thanks to advancements in telepresence tools, event organizers can make it easier for people to attend an event remotely. Double Robotics developed a remote control robot equipped with an iPad, making it easy for attendees to interact with other event goers remotely.

double-hallway1.jpgSource: Help Net Security

Event organizers could make these robots available to VIP guests unable to attend an event because it clashes with their schedule. Now a top executive in New York can attend an event in Australia without having to commit to long flight times and inconvenient time-zone changes.

In return, event goers will get the chance to interact with an attendee who would likely enhance the experience for everyone involved.

Augmented Experiences

What if you could give an event attendee heads up turn-by-turn event directions? What if attendees could know who they’re speaking with simply by donning a headset equipped with facial recognition software?

These are the sort of things that augmented reality can provide event attendees. Event goers would simply need to use an AR headset, glasses or contact lenses that are paired with special event planning software. Then they could engage with your event on a deeper level thanks to rich data overlaying their event space.

Experience Products and Spaces

Venue spaces for trade shows often need to be cavernous in order to accommodate all of the different items on display. Cars shows for example require hundreds of thousands of square feet to accommodate all of the different vehicles on display. Augmented reality could make the need for giant venues a thing of the past. Companies like Volvo are already working on technology that would provide potential customers the ability to engage with their cars through headsets.


Soon this technology could change the way trades shows and other events with exhibitors are operated.

Mainstage Presentations

In May 2016, Google I/O held a two-hour keynote where CEO Sundar Pichai and his team showcased what the company had in store for the upcoming year. They provided a live stream of the opening address on the Google I/O website and on YouTube.

In the video below, Google’s event planners made it easy for anyone to turn into the live stream, and since 360° video was used, those watching remotely were able to feel closer to the action than ever before.

Above: use the directional pad in the top left corner to explore the 360° video.

Examples of Augmented Reality for Events

Augmented reality technology is already being used across multiple events. The versatility of AR and how it can be applied through different devices makes it a very useful technology for event organizers and attendees. Check out some of the ways AR is making a presence at events.

1) Finding Hidden Figures at CES 2017

Augmented reality for Hidden Figures promo at CESCredit: 

The advantage that AR has over VR is that the former is more accessible to consumers. Given that popular apps like Snapchat already use forms of AR and the iPhone X has AR functionality built into the software, the technology is becoming more available to users. It makes sense to use AR technology in a way that remains simplistic while still leveraging its fascinating capabilities.

At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the film Hidden Figures was promoted through AR technology by having attendees use their smartphones to discover the hidden statues of the film’s main characters. There were multiple pedestals at which specific QR codes were placed and attendees had to scan the code with their phones in order for the statue to appear. Each statue was accompanied by a short description that was provided within the app. Experiences like these incentivize attendees to engage with their surroundings in ways that would be impossible with AR technology.


2) Cirque Du Soleil and Hololens

Cirque Du Soleil using Hololens

Perhaps the most sophisticated form of consumer-facing AR technology is the Microsoft Hololens. This headset consists of translucent glasses that overlay images and graphics within the user’s current environment.Microsoft has demoed the product in numerous different events, showing off its capabilities.

During the 2017 Microsoft Build Conference, the set design team for Cirque Du Soleil showed how they utilized the Hololens to visualize their entire set. By demoing the product in real time, attendees were able to experience the wide-range capabilities of this technology and understand the scope of its usage across different all types of industries.


3) VNTANA at Computex 2016


Aside from smartphones and headsets, AR can also be created through larger hardware devices. A particular form of augmented reality that is gaining traction is the hologram screen. VNTANA is an AR company that allows consumers to interact with concepts, products, and people through their patented hologram screen in order to create a more engaging and hands-on experience. Their technology is already being used at multiple conferences and trade shows.

At Computex, one of the world’s largest tech trade shows held in Taipei, Intel announced their new AR processor ship using VNTANA’s telepresence hologram technology. Gregory Bryant, Intel’s GM of connected home and commercial clients, appeared on stage as a hologram, addressing the audience and answering questions in real time. The clarity of his image as well as the immediacy of his responses made it seem as if he were actually on stage. Examples such as these makes one wonder how AR will transform the way people visualize and communicate with one another.

Examples of Virtual Reality for Events

The use case for virtual reality is as wide-reaching as one’s own imagination. Given the endless capabilities the VR provides, how the technology is used depends on the end goal of the organizer or exhibitor. Is the objective to educate attendees regarding a product? Is the goal to generate anticipation for a soon-to-be-released product? The following examples offer different use cases for VR technology.

1) Budweiser Beer Garage

Budweiser Beer Garden using oculus at SXSWSource:

During 2016 SXSW, Anheuser Busch’s experiential campaign consisted of a full-on beer garage that involved all things Budweiser. From a comfortable lounge to a bar with Budweiser beer on tap, the garage was full of multiple sections that created an entertaining atmosphere.

Using Oculus VR headsets, participants were given a full tour of the brewing plant, engaging all five of their senses. When entering the refrigerator, cold air was blown into the room for a realistic effect. When the virtual tour took them to the hops room, Budweiser employees would hold a jar of hops under the participant’s nose so they knew what the room actually smells like. This entire experience helped participants become more aware of the Budweiser brew process, developing a deeper understanding of the product and brand.


2) Bosch Xperience Mobile Tour

Bosch Xperience Mobile TourSource:

VR is a great way to educate prospects on the full capabilities of a company’s product or service. Bosch, one of the world’s leading engineering companies, used VR technology to do just that. In an effort to promote their gasoline direct injection system (GDI) and quiet cast brakes, they embarked on an event roadshow that focused on a specific experiential marketing initiative.

The Bosch experiential team spent seven months on the road meeting with thousands of auto technicians to educate them on properly implementing Bosch’s quiet cast brakes and GDI system. This was done through as immersive experience with the Oculus Rift, placing the technicians in repair scenarios in which they had to use Bosch’s automotive parts. This experience is a prime example of how immersive VR technology can be used to help consumers understand the full scope of your product by placing them in the relevant situations.


3) Virtual Tutorial at 2017 Intex Expo


Virtual Reality tutorial at Intex Expo

When people think of VR use cases, they oftentimes think of ways to further enhance spaces within the tech industry. However, the versatility of VR allows it to be used across multiple industries, whether old or new. For example, even in a profession as dated as construction, VR technology has a way of bringing a new perspective to the job.

During the 2017 Intex Expo, the world’s largest trade show dedicated to walling and ceiling, Continental Building Products used the VR headsets to teach attendees how to apply their drywall product, Rapid Deco, at an actual construction site. The process was annotated throughout, combining VR and AR capabilities. This educational experience helped attendees better understand the strength of the product as well as appreciate the discipline of construction.


Moving Forward

Virtual reality and augmented reality present great new opportunities for event organizers to create truly novel experiences that capture the hearts and minds of event attendees. Currently, people are excited by these new experiences and are eager to try them.

Event organizers should think about how they can design event experiences that can help attendees to engage with one another, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors more effectively and in many cases it seems that these new pieces of tech can help.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 6, 2016 and has since been updated to cover the latest AR and VR trends.  

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