Moving Beyond Gadgetry to Engage Conference Attendees


An attendee uses a virtual reality headset at one of the activations at Convening Leaders 2019. Experts are discussing the gap between engagement and impact for VR technology. (Jacob Slaton)

Author: Morgan Awyong


Palmer Luckey

When was the last time you tried on a virtual reality (VR) headset at an event? And what can you recall from the footage that you saw? The answers are likely to be: “fairly recently” and “not very much.”

Palmer Luckey, co-founder of Oculus, admits as much about the gap between engagement and impact for VR technology. Luckey, who left Oculus in 2017, argues that cost is no longer a major barrier when it comes to VR adoption, but challenges remain surrounding engagement.

In a post on his blog titled Free isn’t Cheap Enough,” he wrote: “You could give a Rift+PC to every single person in the developed world for free, and the vast majority would cease to use it in a matter of weeks or months.

“I know this from seeing the results of large-scale real-world market testing, not just from my own imagination — hardcore gamers and technology enthusiasts are entranced by the VR of today, as I am, but stickiness drops off steeply outside of that core demographic … Cost is not what holds them back actively or passively.”

While VR hardware is now easily accessible (and relatively affordable), Luckey said he believes “quality of experience” is still lacking when to comes to the software.


Franki Boyle

“[Hardware sales] matter only as a means to an end, a foundation to enable the one thing that truly matters: Engagement. Engagement is all that matters. Engagement is Everything!” he wrote.

So, how do you enable that engagement? Frankie Boyle, an immersive lighting artist and founder of Febo Designs, suggests storytelling as one of the best techniques for an event planner to create an engaging experience. “It is far more engaging to the human brain than facts,” she said.

Because stories relate to love and empathy, they quickly establish a connection and help to change minds better than figures. Boyle’s advice: “Make your client the hero at your event and show them why they can’t be the person they want to be without your product.”


James Morgan

Before investing in new technology, Boyle advises event professionals to think about the reasons for choosing the tool and then set clear metrics to measure engagement.

Beyond VR, there are other ways to create an immersive experience.

Interactive light installations can be used to guide attendees, while drones can create drama without the need for a bulky headset. Less-intrusive wearable tech, like wristbands and e-badges, are also gaining traction and can help delegates connect with each other and engage with content.

Wristbands such as the Xylobands, which are embedded with LED lights, can light up and change colour based on an attendee’s location.

“We are seeing some great advances in LED technology,” said James Morgan, founder of Event Tech Lab, a community that supports event technology startups through their early development. “China is leading the way in transparent LED, bespoke LED screen design, curved LED, and even interactive LED flooring.”


Coldplay fans wearing Xylobands light up the arena at one of the band’s concerts. The LED-lit wristbands help create an immersive experience. (Xylobands USA)

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