In 2012, VR first grabbed the attention of the world with Oculus Rift’s wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. The almost 2.5 million dollars raised proved it was easy to see the potential of a technology capable of transporting users to another perceived environment.
This rings especially true for the meetings and events industry. From the initial event planning discussions to day-of — and everything in between — virtual reality has represented the potential to create interactive, immersive experiences. Seven years later, however, VR applications are still limited in scope.
Let’s review a few ways you may have considered using virtual reality, and VR’s place in the meetings industry for 2019.
Site Visits & Design Visualization
Who hasn’t thought it would be a great idea to put a VR headset on a stakeholder who couldn’t make a site visit? But once we tried it, most of us quickly realized this is more of a novelty than a practical tool. There is little to no tech support outside of the venue to help first-time users acclimate to VR tools, and users have to be ravenously curious about VR to give it a try – never mind that a photo tour could do just as well.
The one unique case where it might be useful is pre-selling or showcasing a renovation/ new build space. Tech-savvy teams that develop scenic renderings can convert pre-visualization textures and geometries to real-time engines that have built-in VR capabilities.
That said, those same engines can just as easily be displayed on a laptop, over the web. So, for now, having VR is really about giving the future meeting space that extra kick. If you choose to incorporate VR, run the experience on-site and be sure you have a competent technical team on standby to help.
Education & Training
This is where the content needs to be custom, and well-matched to the medium. You only want to use VR if only VR will do – not as a gimmick. Content delivered through VR can be a much more compelling experience than passively viewing slides or a video. For example, medical groups are employing VR to conduct training and offer seminars in surgical techniques. These modules often implement dynamic overlays and offer orbital, interactive exploration of the content.
In this case, it’s not only VR visuals that increase efficacy but also VR-specific gesture control, allowing users to grab and move virtual elements more naturally, side to side, forward and back. This is not easily done with a 2D display. Even in these situations, be cautious of the ROI. You should still be expecting to spend upwards of $20k.
Brain Breaks & Entertainment
With the demand for attention and actionable insights required of today’s event attendees, meeting planners are looking for ways to break up stress. Could this finally be a job for VR? Slip into a headset and find yourself transported to a beach, climbing a summit, or snorkeling along a reef. Magic, right?
As you probably know, brain breaks like this have variable success. But we’ve achieved a better response when set up in a private, quiet space where attendees don’t feel like they’re on display. Some planners add aromatherapy to elevate the experience. I know what you’re thinking: private means it’s not discoverable. But if you include the experience in your schedule or wayfinding material, attendees seeking sanctuary won’t mind walking a little further to get to it. Just make sure you bring plenty of extra headset covers for hygiene.
Gaming, on the other hand, is an entirely different way to destress with VR. Thinking about adding a PS4 VR during a social event? Awesome! Especially if there are multiplayer options. (Though with a friendly reminder to mind your licensing.) Again, just make sure your technical team is right there to help. Plus, games are designed to be discoverable, so there’s a good chance people will just want to explore. And of course, it’s supposed to be a spectacle, so people already know what they’re signing up for.
Is that your final answer?
So, to answer the original question, is VR dead in the meetings industry? It has its place when leveraged appropriately. Thankfully, we can finally see our opportunities more clearly. And this isn’t the end of the story.
Today, there are emerging VR platforms that may soon bring together people who can’t travel. At the moment, these platforms are the domain of diehards and developers, but as the platforms become more professional and better connected and tools become smaller to support the emergence of wearable augmented and mixed realities (AR/MR), VR will only benefit – and we can’t wait to explore these topics in future blog posts.
Holli M. Downs, Ph.D, Senior Analyst, Metrics and Communications at PSAV
Christian Wright, Director, Research & Development at PSAV