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Telepresence, Virtual Conferences, and the Future of On-Line Events

March 21, 2010 | Howard Lichtman

The Starting Point for the Sustainability Virtual Summit, the first "Telepresence-Enabled" Virtual Event where speakers from around the world will participate via both publicly available and enterprise Cisco TelePresence Systems.

Next week on March 30th, 31st, and April 1st the Human Productivity Lab and Telepresence Options will be participating in a next generation virtual conference: The Sustainability Virtual Summit. The conference is an on-line event showcasing Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) that contribute to a more sustainable world. While this isn't the first on-line virtual event on a next-generation platform it is the first virtual event that will be "telepresence-enabled" by virtual event pioneer: G2 events. Speakers and presenters from around the world will be participating in roundtable discussions from a variety of enterprise and publicly available Cisco TelePresence Systems. I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the cutting edge platforms that are replicating in-person tradeshows, conferences, and seminars and how Cisco TelePresence is being incorporated into virtual events.  What's in it for the attendees, what is in it for the exhibitors, and give folks a taste of what they can expect at next week's Sustainability Virtual Summit including a sneak peek at the Human Productivity Lab's Virtual Booth.

In addition to virtual events which pull together real people in an on-line virtual environment I will also discuss how telepresence is enabling organizations to bring together speakers and participants from around the world to address both participants in virtual environments AND real-life attendees at traditional in-person events including conferences, summits, and trade shows leveraging the publicly available telepresence capabilities going into hotels around the world.
A round-table discussion on telepresence-enabled virtual events and publicly available telepresence-enabled live events with G2 events, Cisco, and Tata Communications

What Are Virtual Events?

Virtual Events in an on-line gathering of real people in a virtual environment who have come together for a common purpose with the ability to interact with other participants in real-time as well as view/read/download content relative to the event including:

  • Attend virtual keynote speeches, panel discussions, and roundtables
  • Visit virtual trade show booths to learn about the latest information on product and services
  • Participate in virtual chat sessions with company representatives and/or

For this overview I am also using the term "Virtual Event" to describe events where telepresence can be used to bring together speakers and groups to address and educate attendees in live settings such as in-person conferences, training sessions, and summits.

What is in it for Attendees?

On-line virtual events have many of the benefits of live events without the cost and expense of travel.  A virtual trade show or conference attendee can visit with many different companies and organizations that have come together around their particular interest.  They can browse through other attendees and communicate via chat and ultimately video and telepresence.  They can discover companies, products, and services that may solve their problems that they would not have known about if not for this format. They can focus their efforts on a particular topic (I.E. Sustainability) and get a thorough immersion in a relatively short amount of time.


Getting around the Sustainability Summit will be quite natural for anyone who has ever been to an in-person trade show.  The Exhibit Hall, The Booth, and the Booth's Front Desk are all represented virtually (Click to Expand)

What is in it for Organizers and Exhibitors?

For Academia and Non-Profits the ability to bring together scholars and academics globally around a particular topic.  For corporate marketers the virtual trade show offers that same benefit with the ability to glean massive amounts of data on the individual interests of participants.  What virtual booths they visited, what topics were of interest, and what offers / campaigns were successful with the ability to test multiple variables in real-time and adjust based on success or lack there-of.
Also, as G2 Event's co-founder Bruno Castejon points out in the accompanying video, it might be easier to draw a crowd of thousands from every corner of the world over the web than get a couple of hundred to a particular booth in Orlando in the middle of August.

VE - Metrics dashboard.png
VE - sample graph report.png

Virtual Events are a Marketer's Dream with Detailed Demographics on each Registered User's Every Interest and Mouse-click (Click to Expand)

How is Telepresence and Videoconferencing Being Used Today?

Both telepresence and videoconferencing are being used to create ad hoc video content where presenters and subject matter experts are being brought into events. In the past year I have used telepresence and videoconferencing to speak in real-time to a group of CTOs and CIOs from an international telecommunications buying consortium, I have recorded an overview on telepresence market for a customer event for a systems integrator/ VAR, and I have participated in the roundtable discussion on virtual events with participants from around the world which you will find embedded in this article.  In each case I was able to connect with participants from around the world without having to board an airplane and in the case of the presentations I was able to charge a fraction of my speaking fee for a speech requiring physical travel. 

In the example of the virtual roundtable we put together for this article, we were able to put together a panel of some of the leading experts from companies that are pioneering telepresence-enabled virtual events and making telepresence publicly available.  Using a combination of publicly available and enterprise Cisco TelePresence System we were able to cost-effectively connect this group from San Jose, CA, Herndon, VA, and Singapore in real-time.

Using the production capabilities of Cisco Studios and G2 Events we were able to record the discussion in high-definition, add illustrative graphics, and produce a recorded version ready for international distribution over the internet, also cost-effectively in less than a week. 

Future implementations of this capability will be able to bring participants together from private and/or publicly available telepresence platforms in real-time for instantaneous high-definition streaming delivery in over the internet globally. 

What is the Future of Telepresence in Virtual Events?

The key dynamics that are driving telepresence as a communications medium for both virtual events and virtual participation in live meetings are:

  • The growing availability of publicly available telepresence systems in hotels and hotel conference centers and the accompanying network / camera /codec/display capability that can be extended to the hotel's traditional conference spaces. You can rent a Polycom RPX telepresence capability at The Waldorf=Astoria in New York City, and Cisco TelePresence at Starwood, Marriott, and Tata Taj properties around the world.


Large capacity "telepresence-enabled" conferencing facilities connected to persistent inter-organization telepresence networks provide anchor venues where speakers and subject matter experts can be brought in from around the world

There are a couple of different ways that believe telepresence will play a part in the future of virtual events:

1.  Global Goes Regional - Many different types of events have traditionally brought together participants from around the world to one location for presentations, working groups, and gatherings.  Examples include: yearly sales conferences, academic conferences, vendor training sessions, and summits. Expect a portion of these events to go regional as the telepresence capability in hotels and conferencing facilities connects regional venues together to enable speakers and subject matter experts to address a variety of satellite locations where participants will still gather in hotels for camaraderie, training, and socializing over a nice meal and a glass of wine. 

In the case of corporate training events the company is still on the hook for the same number of hotel rooms and additional telepresence conferencing charges but isn't paying for international airline tickets and the productivity hit of taking employees out of their regions and subjecting a significant number to jet lag. Telepresence-enabled conferencing provider G2 Events and telepresence integrator IVCi are developing a capability to extend the telepresence capture & display from the publicly available telepresence systems being deployed in Starwood, Marriott, and Tata Taj properties to deliver it to larger conference venues within those hotels.  Speakers from around the world can address large events by being projected onto a large format screen in the hotel's ballroom. 

The same network and codec technology that distributes visual collaboration capabilities into these hotels for the traditional Anglo-American / Western European across-the-table business meeting format traditionally associated with Cisco TelePresence can just as easily transport the video necessary for on-stage telepresence experiences using display technologies from Musion / Digital Illusions or Digital Video Enterprises (although with a much higher cost to set up the effect... ).

The same network and codec technology that delivers publicly available across-the-table sit-down meeting  capabilities to Starwood, Marriott, and Tata Taj Hotels can be extended to the hotel's ballroom to provide on-stage telepresence experiences  (albeit at a much higher cost to set up the display technology for the effect)

2.  Academia Goes Global - Along the same lines on the academic front, conferences can be anchored at a location with a high-capacity telepresence capability connected to an inter-organizational network.  The International Society for Presence Research which holds the prestigious PRESENCE conference each year in support of research into tele(presence) is exploring holding its 13th annual conference by anchoring the main plenary at a facility like Duke's University's TelePresence lecture hall.  The conference which draws participants from dozens of universities around the world would ideally set up regional satellite facilities at other universities connected over NLR/Internet2 high performance research network.  The effort which is currently in the exploratory phase is illustrative of the kind of thinking that forward-looking organization are doing as ubiquitous and cost-effective telepresence capabilities allow them to rethink the way they have traditionally done business... and scholarship.

 About the Author
Howard Lichtman is the Publisher of Telepresence Options and the President of the Human Productivity Lab, an independent consultancy that helps organizations develop telepresence and effective visual collaboration strategies. Mr. Lichtman is the author of The Inter-Company Telepresence and Videoconferencing Handbook.  The Lab provides corporate clients with acquisition consulting, RFI/RFP creation,
and ROI/TCO financial modeling on telepresence systems, telepresence managed services, and inter-networking telepresence. The Lab also provides investors with prescient insight into the rapidly growing telepresence industry.  Mr. Lichtman is also the Editor of the monthly newsletter Telepresence Options Telegraph

728x90.jpgThe Sustainability Virtual Summit will be live on-line @

Mar 30, 2010 USA Timezones
Mar 31, 2010 Europe Timezones
Apr 1, 2010 Asia Timezones

The content will be available on-demand April-June 2010.

Telepresence "Best Bets" at the Sustainability Summit:
These links will take you directly to the booth when the event goes live on March 30th:

Human Productivity Lab's booth:
Cisco's booth:
Tata's booth:
MASERGY's Booth:

Another Important Telepresence Event:

The Human Productivity Lab will be hosting The Developing an Intercompany Telepresence & Visual Collaboration Program Conference and Working Group on April 22nd, 2010 in Reston, Virginia.  The event is for organizations looking to improve their ability to collaborate with their vendors, partners, and customers using telepresence and video conferencing and a working group where partners can get together to work out details of a joint program in a highly focused, productive environment.  Details are available at

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