Virtual Events: The Next Level

A new way of experiencing online events
Photo by Peter Woods
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Many of us have had events postponed or cancelled because of the coronavirus. Many more events have been moved online. Now one organisation based in Hexham, Northumberland has come up with a different approach to hosting online events.

North East Bylines mentioned this venture as part of an earlier article, and I wanted to know more. What new opportunities could it provide to connect with other people? I interviewed Peter Woods from Hexham TV.

This does seem like a good time to launch an online events platform. Yes, we don’t know how long large event spaces will be closed for – but they’re likely to be the last to return to general public use, particularly if there’s a second lockdown. That’s why I came up with Hexham TV Events.”

I did wonderwhy events couldn’t just use existing online platforms like Zoom? Peter agreed that there are already conventional tools for sharing the content of a talk. But he believes there’s a need to do things differently in the ‘new normal’ – and virtual online events could be part of the solution.

I asked how Hexham TV’s events will be different: “This is more about creating something like the real-life experience of attending a conference, event or trade fair without the need to travel or meet in large groups in a real-world location. You have access to virtual online event spaces, classrooms, conference halls and theatres.”

But would it feel like I was actually attending an event in real life? “I’d hope to recreate some of the atmosphere for you. At a time when virtual reality is becoming more widely used, I am using this particular platform developed by a colleague in the States to bring some of that to online events.”

I was getting a clearer idea of this new events service. So, if it’s virtual reality, do participants move around an online world? Peter Woods showed me how you have an avatar that can move around the virtual campus or exhibition hall, a bit like with Google Maps. What’s different about these events is that you can also interact safely with your surroundings if you like.

I wasn’t sure how I could interact with a virtual environment. Peter described how it works: “You can either ‘walk’ into the venue yourself, or use the menu commands to take you there directly. Once you’re ‘seated’, either at a boardroom table or in a conference hall, you can zoom in to the presentation on the screen, or zoom out to view the whole room.”

Photo by Peter Woods

What I miss most about attending events is mingling with other people between the sessions. But perhaps there’s hope for me yet? With Hexham TV events, virtual breakout spaces can be made available before and after the talks themselves. Once you’re in one of these spaces and you get close enough to someone, the software allows you to speak to one another, either using your microphone or the chat box. It was easier to understand when Peter demonstrated it, and there’s also a brief video tour available.

I asked how much personal involvement Peter would have in events hosted on the Hexham TV platform. “It would be like renting a space in the real world for an event, for a half day or a day. I would be there to greet you – I’d make sure everyone was comfortable and could host their event the way they wanted it, and sort out any problems. You’d pay for the size of the venue you wanted to use and the number of people attending. After downloading a small piece of software the campus is accessible via PC or Mac.”

It does sound like Peter wants to stay involved so he can tailor the service to his customers. And I can see that his original news enterprise, Hexham TV, is hyper local and non-profit. But would the events company be larger and more commercial?

“It’s not necessarily big, but it has the potential to expand. Events can cater for groups from 10-10,000 with multiple speakers presenting and break out areas. The different formats suit different group sizes. The paid-for events would generate income for Hexham TV Events.

If you’re not sure whether your event would work in a virtual space, I can show you around the virtual campus and the various rooms and show you what is possible.”

To contact Peter Woods, email or visit the Facebook page where you can also see a short video about the virtual campus.

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