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Planning an event? Taking it virtual may be the smartest option.

Auto trade publication plans one of the industry's first virtual trade shows
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Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

When I left my last staff position as an editor just shy of three years ago, many of the high-tech companies were falling all over themselves to create so-called virtual events. I was asked to participate in several Second Life briefings, which I often found very frustrating -- being that I am just not all that coordinated. Plus negotiating around virtual 3-D space was just too darn time-consuming for me.

Not that I’m down on virtual events in general. As a green tech journalist, they certainly make sense to me as a means of offsetting carbon-intensive travel activities. Which is why I felt compelled to report on the virtual auto show being planned for September 22 and 23, 2010 by industry publication Autoweek.

Not only are virtual events cost-effective and a bit “greener” than their real-world counterparts, I think the introduction of the iPad and the touchscreen interface revolution that the iPad is bound to inspire will make online conferences and events a lot more intuitive to visit for cyber-spazs like me.

The platform for the Autoweek show will be ON24, which currently works on virtual conferences and meetings for about 750 different companies.

According to ON24, a virtual event with approximately 2,300 attendees reduces carbon emissions by about 3,330 tons, compared with a “real life” event of the same scale. Mark Szelenyi, director of product marketing for ON24, says that is just the start of the potential corporate benefits: up to 90 percent of the costs of an event are often associated with travel (including the freight costs to ship samples and booth setups) and lodging. You can see how a virtual auto event would be much more effective in this regard: you don’t have to ship around huge cars or trucks.

Another plus is that you can generally plan one of these virtual events in a much shorter time frame than real-world counterparts, maybe two months. The starting cost is roughly $25,000, according to Szelenyi. If you happen to go over that amount (happy days!), you are charged accordingly.

At this stage of virtual event development, many sponsors opt to try to recreate the look and feel of a typical trade show. That means when you visit the event planned by Autoweek (for which there ARE already several sponsors, although the publication's advertising director would not reveal names), you’ll find virtual booths along with tons of video, audio and collateral information about the products being shown. Visitors will be able to chat with booth personnel – the only thing they WON’T be able to do is touch the new cars or sit in them.

Some of the keynote sessions and panels in the works for the Autoweek event include “The Environment and the Car: Do These Interests Collide?” and “Green By Design: Does It Exist?”

Now, I know some of you are probably categorizing this whole event in the greenwashing column, because of the nature of the auto business. But one thing that is very notable here -- this is actually one of the first consumer-focused trade shows being planned by ON24. Pretty much all the other ones I’ve heard about are focused on business-to-business interaction. So, I’m very curious to see what happens with attendance for such a consumer-focused event.

The other thing that is intriguing to me will be the role of the iPad and derivative devices in making it easier to get around these events.  I’ll have to see once I receive my unit later this month.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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