Evolution of professional conferences – part 1

A traditional Conference Setting

Everybody knows that the year 2020 has been turbulent for business globally. One of the biggest influences has been the restriction of movement and travel due to the pandemic. Several months on from the onset, here is part 1 of some personal observations about the effect on Professional Conferences and what trends are emerging.

4 Types of Response to the changed conference risks

There seem to 4 major types of response to the threat that a conference, which always takes months of preparation and planning, may not take place by the traditional physical event. I have personally experienced all these options, either as presenter, organiser or participant:

Conferences which changed to online free format

Making this decision months in advance of the conference impacts not only the format and participation, but also the finances. Traditional events in conference centres, universities, hotels etc cost money which is either borne by the participants or the organisers (and their sponsors). By changing to a free format, both costs and income from a physical event drop away and are replaced by much lower costs for online delivery. The risks to the schedule are mostly avoided.

Conferences which changed the date and format from live to online, retaining the participation charge

A difference compared with the free format is that the potential participation is largely from the same group so cannot be used as freely as a promotional activity. The income makes it easier to invest in more than basis technology, resulting in a more polished access for the paying participants.

The resulting online event avoids most of the risks arising from restrictions to travel and movement.

Conferences which planned for live events affected by last minute changes in regulations

This category invests in a traditional delivery and then stands to lose both the planning effort invested and some costs (e.g. prebooking of the conference facilities etc) if the access regulations change.

The challenge is to recover if the event is either cancelled or restricted, e.g. to smaller participation limits, with social distancing enforced etc.

Cancellation at short notice means that he organisers may need to reactivate the interest of their participants, even if the replacement event is held online.

Conferences which cancelled for 2020 and reschedule for 2021

A big risk here is to lose the support of the potential participants and to have no conference income during the year 2020. This combination tightens the demands on the organisers for 2021 and increases the risk that the conference series simply never re-emerges.

Some organisations have undertaken alternative online events to retain contact with their participant group. In addition to professional conferences, there are examples of this from museums, to musical festivals, at least on one of which transferred to television https://www.tg4.ie/ga/eolas/preas/nuacht-raitis/2020-2/fleadh2020/ for 2020.

Novel Features in Online Conferences

From my personal perspective, there have been several novel or improved conference features, which counteract the very real loss of person-to-person contact at traditional physical events:

Involvement with previously unthinkable locations.

For example, my location is in EMEA, but the porting of conferences online has opened up participation in locations such as New Zealand, which is exactly 12 hours east. This means that 08.00 a.m. for them is 08.00 p.m. for me. Although outside normal working hours, it is still reasonable to participate in their morning sessions, i.e. up to my midnight. If recordings are made, it is then possible to follow the rest afterwards.

This change increases by far the geographical home base of the participants and adds to the diversity, which is a powerful driver and accelerator of innovative ideas.

“Speed dating”

An example was at the Disruption Forum Innovation Labs, https://hopin.to/events/disruption-forum-innovation-labs where a session was scheduled for participants to meet each other randomly. After confirming presence, the system looked for the next available participant, then connected a random pair of participants with a video call window in the browser. The window included a countdown timer for 3 minutes and closed abruptly at the end, before putting participants into the queue for the next chat.

Longer Partner Engagement time windows, like the “speed dating” but running over several days the week of the conference. In this case Biotechgate https://partnering.biotechgate.com/register/index/BDP1120 the connections are not random but driven by the participants’ declared profile and interests.

New conference sites / apps getting better:

My experience of online conferences previously was with promotional events, e.g. of companies increasing the knowledge about their products and services. In recent years, these have an app, which replicates the printed catalogue, like at a physical exhibition to help identify which speakers and companies are participating. The evolution which I have become aware of is more reliable interfaces requiring no download (browser only), participant contact data, retaining videos and support material for all sessions, and including opportunities to talk to the presenters.

The Author

Dr Deasún Ó Conchúir, is an Effective Project & Program Consultant for B2B & cross-functional situations where holistic solutions cannot be obtained within a single organization.

To learn more about how he can help you to implement Project Solutions for your technical and business challenges, please call him on +41 79 692 4735 or email him at info@scatterwork.com.

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