AR/VR Conferences & Trade Shows Rise to the Challenges of COVID-19

June 1, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the world. With stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and social distancing rules, trade shows and conference have been hit hard. The list of major imaging events already canceled this year includes Photokina (Germany), the National Association of Broadcasters – NAB (US), CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show (Japan), and DRUPA (Germany). With the prospect of live trade shows and conferences off the table, show organizers are trying to replace them with virtual events.

AWE goes Online Only

In March, as COVID-19 restrictions were still being published, Augmented World Expo (AWE, May 26­-29) announced that they were adding an online component for those who would not be able to attend the in-person event. By early May, an in-person show was looking very doubtful. So, on to Plan B – an online-only event. With AWE’s charter being focused on Augmented and Virtually reality, who better to try to pull off a virtual conference?

The Good and the Bad of a Virtual Event

Given the short amount of time available, I have to commend AWE organizers for a job well done. Overall, the conference went smoothly. To no one’s surprise there were occasional minor technology problems to deal with. Day 1 was a little challenging keeping up with the three livestream tracks. By Day 2, I had found a solution. By keeping a browser tab open for each livestream, it was very easy to switch between tracks.

Some of the talks that I enjoyed most included AWE-co-founder Ori Inbar’s always thought-provoking opening keynote. This year’s presentation was titled “It’s Time to Go Spatial!” I also attended sessions from:

  • HP and Microsoft – Tech Talk, Introduction of the HP Reverb G2
  • Intel – ThinVR: A compact, 180 degree FOV, VR display
  • Lenovo – Beyond the XR Hype Cycle
  • Luxexcel – Ready for innovation in smart eyewear with 3D printed lenses?
  • Niantic – The Path to Selling 1 Million Consumer AR HMDs
  • Qualcomm – Accelerating an XR World

The publicly broadcasted presentations are available on AWE’s Vimeo channel (, while registered attendees have access to all recorded presentations.

The trade show portion of the show was more challenging. Serendipity is one of the things I like most about attending a trade show. For me, that includes wandering in and out of the booths to see what products catch my eye, listening to the show staff giving their pitches, listening to the questions attendees are asking, meeting new people, and running into old friends in the industry.

A virtual trade show involves more planning. While there were virtual exhibitors (Zoom conference calls), it was not easy to see who had a virtual booth and who was available at the time, unless you clicked on each exhibitor’s logo. Attendees who wanted to speak to a specific company had the option to schedule an online meeting.

Attendees could also schedule meetings with other attendees. Not everyone filled out a profile, so setting up meetings with random people was not very appealing.

Rise Above Research’s Viewpoint

The realities of a post COVID-19 world will force more conferences and trade shows to go virtual.  Moving forward, we expect to see more virtual conferences, which include pre-recorded talks with live Q&As. These events will be successful for transferring content and data, but we do not believe they will replace in-person conferences. Being immersed in an in-person on-site event allows attendees to avoid life’s distractions and to focus their time and minds to the topics at hand. At a virtual event, it is too easy to multi-task.

We also believe that in-person personal interactions are important for establishing and building new relationships. According to Mehrabian’s communication theory, effective communication is comprised of 7% words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language. In a virtual trade show, we are missing more than half of the message.

Rise Above Research will be attending two more virtual AR/VR conferences/trade shows in the next two weeks. The VR/AR Global Summit ONLINE conference + Expo (June 1-­3) and LiveWorx 2020, sponsored by PTC (June 9). It will be interesting to see how well these next two conferences perform as virtual events. Stay tuned!

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