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What happens when the CES goes virtual?

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Published on
12/1/2020
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Gary Shapiro
Consumer Technology Association, President and CEO

Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association has spoken to Klaxoon about what to expect as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) goes fully virtual in 2021. Learn how the Consumer Technology Association is reimagining how to connect exhibitors, customers, thought leaders, and media from around the world, and how the global pandemic has changed the state of innovation and is shaping the Future of Work.

Stretching the envelope

The CES – the largest tech show in the world – is going virtual, but how do you include 170,000 attendees and 4,400 exhibitors in a remote event? For Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, this has been an all-consuming concern since Covid first came onto the scene in the early part of 2020.

Fortunately, the Association had already flagged concerns about the virus and its potential impact as early as February 2nd, when there was still little action being taken outside of China. At that point, they decided to take a two-way planning approach, although by July it became clear that a virtual event was the only way they could do anything at all. But Gary is clear that this decision was done with benefit to their customers in mind and they believed strongly that it was right to ‘stretch the envelope’ and be part of the solution to the pandemic by not bringing people together.

But, and it’s a big but, is it possible to create such a virtual event? How will it work for attendees and will the whole experience have to be drastically scaled back?

Forget about Vegas

Firstly, it’s important to note that Shapiro is very clear – this is not a case of trying to recreate the physical experience virtually, because that simply isn’t possible. Much like with remote meetings, you can’t simply transfer your approach to physical meetings and expect a successful outcome. Instead, the CES will try and do a few things really well. Shapiro has joked in the past that he’s known for underselling, then exceeding expectations and that may very well be the case here. 

He has acknowledged that networking won’t be possible in the same way, but they’ve partnered with Microsoft as the platform for the event specifically because it can handle a really large audience. This investment is likely to pay off, and the hope is that participants will be able to take a more relaxed approach to proceedings: with more time to explore they can be more methodical in the way they choose which keynote speeches they want to hear and which ‘booths’ they’d like to discover. There will be a keyword search function, and they hope that people will still discover things they didn’t know they needed, but it’s not possible to exactly replicate the experience of exploring in person.

If you’re an attendee (and it’s worth pointing out that they are expecting more attendees to this virtual event than the regular in person meeting), access to the platform will be extended to provide 30 days to interact and there is a huge number of keynote speakers. Attendees can also expect a lot of press conferences, (global), and you can set up appointments ahead of time. A lot of exhibitors are creating production quality videos and there will still be live product announcements just as you would expect at an in-person event. 

Qualifying everyone who signs up is time-consuming, which is why there are significant discounts for people who get in early, and figuring out how to manage the issue of time zones is also proving to be a real brain teaser and Shapiro says he working on trying to make it so that people don’t have to get up in the middle of the night for their presentations.

Rethinking what’s important

How this new format will change the game

Klaxoon has exhibited at the CES since 2016 when we were a small startup making a lot of noise. Since then, we’ve won 4 CES innovation awards, and we’re proud of the reputation we’ve built as the booth to be seen at. We’ll be exhibiting virtually and we’re excited to see how it will all unfold.

Several Klaxoon activities like Weekly Board, Live and To Do List are displayed to mention that Klaxoon will be attending CES 2021 in a virtual format. | Klaxoon
Klaxoon will be joining CES 2021 through various virtual formats and activities.

Shapiro is clear that helping small companies get a foothold has and always will be an important part of CES. It’s always been a goal of the CTA to make sure that the event is accessible to even the smallest of companies, so that they have the chance to become the biggest.

This year will be different. It will be more visual, and it’s likely that the companies that make headlines will be approachable with a great story to tell, and who know how to make the most of the virtual environment. 

What is to expect for the future

The world has fundamentally changed since early 2020, and like any recession, it forces us to rethink what’s important. For the Consumer Technology Association it has meant a greater empathy for employees with young children, and, says Shapiro, it’s made us all more human. We need to connect and our creative teams want more physical meetings and more interactivity. How we do this depends on the people involved and the safety of our people.

"The world has fundamentally changed: the way we work, the way we play, the way we do medicine, there's so much that is different today because of it.", Gary Shapiro | Klaxoon

It has however been hugely gratifying to see that the tech industry has been the answer to a lot of the problems thrown up by the pandemic, and Shapiro thinks we’re going to see a lot more of this kind of innovation ahead. There are also predictions of change in the structure of our buildings, the way we treat our employees, and the way we invest in the skill sets of those future employees. Virtual tech skills may well become standard, and with people working with colleagues from around the globe, it’s likely that cultural sensitivity and collaboration will be the most highly sought characteristics in the workforce of tomorrow. There is without a doubt a lot of different things that will have to evolve rapidly, but for better or for worse, we’re going to have to continue to rethink the way we connect as individuals, as businesses, as colleagues and as employers.

Watch the full video discussion with Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, to find out more about what to expect as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) goes fully virtual in 2021.

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