With the highly contagious coronavirus continuing to spread across the world, large events like conferences won’t be the same as we know them for a long while. It’s not difficult to imagine why. Hundreds of people together in close quarters, with not enough space to keep a safe 6 foot distance from one another – these conditions make social distancing impossible. Even if other businesses that are currently closed slowly open back up once the curve is flattened, large scale events probably can’t follow that pattern. Among other big gatherings like sporting events and concerts, it seems likely that conferences will not be returning until it is completely safe to do so.
This isn’t stopping event planners, though. Many conferences are now being moved online, especially tech conferences frequented by professionals who aren’t shy about video-calling their way into networking opportunities. Online events aren’t new, but the phenomenon of large conferences being converted into remote gatherings within a short span of time is pretty specific to the moment we’re living in. For a lot of these events, it’s simply a process of offering recordings of the presentations they would’ve had in person, the breakout sessions and keynotes converted into webinars and some live streamed content. But what about more immersive experiences, conferences or trade shows where you might network, gather leads, exhibit? They aren’t being stopped, either. Some of the most interactive events, such as huge art galleries, are moving online for the duration of the pandemic, too.
Though much of the in person contact will be missed, there are some pros to both hosting and attending an online event. They’re extremely accessible wherever you are, saving time, money and energy spent on traveling. Tickets are reduced price if not free. Even if there’s still a registration cost, you won’t have to pay for hotel rooms, airfare, or other transportation needs like car rentals or taxis. Virtual events are better for the environment – no stacks of paper flyers and name badges and piles of plastic swag. And they’re quite flexible for the audience since you could come and go as your schedule allows. If you want to check out an online event, you’d probably have an easier time getting approval to go than you would for a week-long conference.
So when things go “back to normal,” will virtual conferences go back into hiding in the darkest corners of the internet, or will they stick around? With all the positive aspects of online events, perhaps they can exist alongside in person meetings in harmony. A lot will depend on the attitude at large when people can meet in person again. Will most of us be anxious to get together with others, tired of quarantine and ready to network? Or will we be cautious about gathering in large groups and slow to want to get back into the old way of doing things?
Pretty much all conferences of any industry are moving online for the first time right now, so event planners are having to find new ways of measuring success. This year is becoming one long trial run for any future virtual gatherings. And there is a new industry boom happening currently: the online event industry. Yes, there are platforms devoted entirely to hosting such things, and they existed before the pandemic erupted in early 2020. As one might expect, their numbers were relatively low. Now they can hardly keep up with increased demand in the tens of thousands on waitlists to use their products. When in person events become possible again, these platforms will still be around to offer their services, so if some conferences find success in the online format, there’s no reason to think they can’t continue virtually.
With all that being said, in person events will not be gone forever. The value of face-to-face contact cannot be understated. The solid combination of body language, facial expressions, and verbal inflection creates such a strong style of communication that can’t be totally replicated virtually. Networking efforts are generally more successful when individuals can exchange looks and handshakes. There are simply more ways to interact with one another in person than online when maintaining those three facets of face-to-face contact. So while attendees are interacting via video chat in large groups, and perhaps individually via chat messaging at the same time, this can’t totally replicate what can be gained from meeting others at a traditional conference. For the duration of the current pandemic, however, the health and safety of everyone has to come first.
If you’d like to experience an online event for yourself, consider joining the FreeSWITCH team at ClueCon Deconstructed, a conference by developers, for developers. This year, ClueCon will be held virtually on August 4-6. It’s free to attend, and we’re making it as interactive as possible – an online version of our Coder Games hack-a-thon, trivia, swag, raffles, networking rooms where you can hang out and chat, on top of a selection of awesome speakers. We’ll certainly be going back to the in person format as soon as we are able, so check out this virtual version of ClueCon while it’s still possible! Click here to register today!