Online Event Terminology

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Virtual, live, and in-person… many terms, many meanings. Are we talking about the same thing?

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Probably the following conversation between two colleagues sounds somehow familiar to you.

“Hey, are you going to the XY event next week?”
“Yes, I’m really looking forward to the live sessions.”
“But I thought it was only virtual?”
“Well, it’s online but I mean the live, face-to-face discussion with the speakers…”

If these frequently used terms – live, virtual, online, and face-to-face – are already confusing between association and meeting professionals, how do we make sure that attendees, sponsors, members, volunteers and even boards understand what we are talking about? And how do we effectively market events in the digital age?

Author

Doreen Loeber

Events & Communications Coordinator

doreen-01

Probably the following conversation between two colleagues sounds somehow familiar to you.

“Hey, are you going to the XY event next week?”
“Yes, I’m really looking forward to the live sessions.”
“But I thought it was only virtual?”
“Well, it’s online but I mean the live, face-to-face discussion with the speakers…”

If these frequently used terms – live, virtual, online, and face-to-face – are already confusing between association and meeting professionals, how do we make sure that attendees, sponsors, members, volunteers and even boards understand what we are talking about? And how do we effectively market events in the digital age?

Author

Doreen Loeber

Events & Communications Coordinator

doreen-01

A common terminology

We need a common terminology to understand each other. The terms we use convey a certain meaning. Of course, this is influenced by the context in which they are used. Therefore, the meaning of a term can change over time or new meanings can be added. When we hear “tweet”, most of us will more likely associate it with social media than with a bird. Just recently, the EU Parliament decided by a vote that “burgers” and “sausages” can also be called this way when they are made of soy or chickpeas. A term can also be used in a broader sense in another language, like “rice” in Chinese is a pars pro toto for a meal in general.

Language and terminology are permanently adapting to the time, environment, and needs of the people who use them. This is of course true for every language. Being the lingua franca of international business, let’s have a closer look at some broadly used English terms around events and meetings that we read and hear every day. How do we use them, and do we all mean the same?

Virtual, digital, and online

Virtual /ˈvɜrtʃuəl/ adjective is generally used in the sense of “almost, but not exactly or in every way” like “the COVID-19 pandemic caused a virtual standstill“. But of course, nowadays it is also used to describe “something that can be done or seen using a computer and therefore without going anywhere” and “not in a real place” unlike a real conference room. The challenge for organizers of virtual events is NOT to understate the value of the content, connections, interactions, and the fact that people are meeting and learning for real – they are just not (physically) in the same room. And certainly not to be confused with riding a rollercoaster using a VR headset that will trick your senses.

Digital /dɪdʒɪtl/ adjective – did you know that this adjective also means doing something with a finger? But of course it also stands for “using or relating to digital signals and computer technology” and widely used in marketing and communication today. When we talk about a “Digital Event” we are describing rather the technical means that will allow us to host the event than where the event is held. The same is true for the term online which means “something is available or done on the internet or something/someone is connected to the internet”.

When it comes to meetings and events, these three terms are nowadays all in use and are just synonyms.

In-person and face-to-face

When we use the terms in-person and face-to-face, things become a bit more complicated. We need to be aware that there is some potential for confusion here. Currently, they are still often used to designate events with a physical presence.

However, the technology available today allows us to see and talk to someone directly via video conferencing and video chat. (Read more on how to select an event platform here) For me this is an in-person or face-to-face contact too, since we actually see the person and their face with all the expressions. And moving to more virtual meetings and events in the future, my guess would be that here we will also see a broader use of these two terms.

Live events

Per definition “a live event is broadcast or seen at the same time it is performed or happens”. The place of the event is not important – this means a live event can be consumed online or onsite. Everyone understands what “live tv” means but it seems that we are still in a transitional phase since some are still talking about “live events” to designate onsite events. Therefore, it is important to clearly communicate about what you mean and offer.

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    And do you know the meaning of the term simulive? It is an amalgamation of a pre-recorded content streamed to the audience at a scheduled time in combination with a live interaction like a live Q&A or discussion with the speaker (simulated + live = simulive).

    Both, virtual and onsite live events are intended to gather a certain number of participants and can be designed in a way to offer many possibilities for attendees and sponsors to engage and interact live and face-to-face. (Read more on how to design virtual sponsorships here)

    Event terminology in flux

    The pandemic has changed the way we meet today and accelerated the transition to more meetings and events in virtual places. This evolution will certainly influence the meaning of some terms we use in this context. Also, the way how technology providers, the event industry and all those organizing events prefer to use specific terms will shape common terminology in the long term. Some terms will of course co-exist, some will change to a broader meaning and some could disappear – like maybe “badge”. Future onsite events might only use a paperless digital access code.

    What will be important for event organizers is to be aware of the varying meanings of certain terms and to make sure that there is a common understanding among stakeholders.

    Our recommendations

    • Make sure that you speak the same language as your target audience. Have a look at your sector. What event terminology is used and what is meant? Then apply it to your events in a coherent way. From a marketing point of view, this would certainly be the best approach.
    • If there is no clear trend in your sector, it would be advisable to define some standard terminology that is used in all your outreach activities. You can be a bit more “explanatory” in the beginning to educate your audience and sponsors about the meaning. This can be done when explaining the programme format, platform functionality, etc. By doing this, you will make sure that there is a common understanding of the value of your event.
    • In general, sticking to a set of defined standard terms for your events and meetings will help you to reduce confusion inside and outside your organisation.

    How do you avoid confusion around meeting and event terminology? Have you introduced any standard terms in your organisation? We would love to hear your thoughts!

    You can connect with us on LinkedIn: Doreen Loeber, Author or Exempla Management & Consulting

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