On Virtual Events

With the current situation carrying on for most likely another while and conferences not happening in person one of my main reasons for travel falls away. It is also interesting to see how a few conferences deal with the new reality.

There are many variations of it but I see a few reoccurring themes:

Postponed to next year

This is mainly due to contractual obligations – as sponsors might already have spoken their grants to events that’s a tricky one. Postponing makes sense as most of the contracts aren’t breached and also cancelling would land many organizing teams in hot waters when they don’t have a legal basis to do so. In short: you would lose a lot of money.

Cancelling and moving fully online

Kubecon and DrupalCon Global, for example, do exactly this. They moved their event completely online which is a great move. But more on that later. I find it hard to take a day off work to attend an online conference. As for now, everything revolves around the work from home situation it’s even harder to make a distinct cut from working to attending a conference. Also, I very much feel that I have less attention span on online conferences as everything is recorded and can be watched later. From my past few online conferences, I attended I’m usually just watching the recordings as there’s little added value in seeing an online-only live talk in most conference setups.

Drag along and facing the facts later

The most dangerous approach, in my opinion, is just dragging along and continuing efforts. This will most likely lead to slow ticket sales (if at all) because people won’t just fall back to the old norm. This is the best case leads to an event that might work out but also could lead to quite some headache if you need to cancel on short notice.

General Implications

In general, seeing events moving online made me think quite a bit. As it changes the entire dynamic of events. For a conference, I wanted to attend this means that the ticket price drops from 1500$ to just around 100$ for the attendance fee. I’d be hugely surprised if the sponsors will still chip in the normal amount of money as the event would have been an on-location event. As an online event is relatively cheap to create and there are tons of new tools that made an appearance which makes it interesting to start something your own.

What does this mean for me as a speaker?

I always questioned the high profile conferences where tickets go for high prices and usually stick to community-driven efforts. Most of the conferences already published most of their talks so there all the venue, food and activities around the conference made it worth. Now with that falling away, it gets tricky also for the speakers. Rerunning talks gets even harder as the recordings are now the core of everything.

I have sat through a few live conferences where the speaker performs his talk live – This comes at the interesting fact that there are so many things that can go wrong – It’s basically like you don’t have a professional stage crew that takes care. Having run several big events this sounds stressful to me from a tech perspective. I think recording talks before and streaming them on the day of the conference is the best compromise. There are many takes you can do and pick the best one and hone into the best end product. It also gives much more time for Q/A and speaker availability. As the speaker can answer questions during the talk – which helps to get the missing hallway track back 🙂

So. Much. Content.

Currently, there are so many online conferences you can spend your day’s binge-watching online conferences. The current abundance of content makes me wonder – What happens to the Ticket Prices. As there’s an oversupply of great content and most of it will be released online there’s not much of a point paying a lot of money to “live” attend.

Where’s the hallway track

When it comes to conferences it’s usually the hallway track that sparks the most interesting discussions. With an online-only setting, this falls away. I saw a few ideas evolving around Slack-Channels and online rooms to chat – but still, it feels kind of weird to me. I’ll give it time and observe what creative ideas conferenciers come up with.

Your Email address is now your most wanted info

There’s nothing like a free lunch – I ran into that trap on my first online conference. It was free and I paid the price. Giving the email address without adding a +conferencename filter was a huge mistake – I think I finally managed to get unsubscribed from all newsletters but there were at least 20-30 emails in the week after the online happening haunting my mailbox. I will stick to using a filter tag now, this was pretty unpleasant.

Attention span

I joked last week that I can also go to an online conference and only see 1 talk in full. While some of my conferences are hinted by a lot of talking and the occasional booth duty it’s interesting to see that my attention span is very short, to say the least. Now that I’m working from the same place as I’m attending the conference leads to me missing a lot of talks and sometimes it’s just a pain to navigate through tons of schedules to find the nice talks. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one having this issue and conference teams will need to plan for this fact

This got way longer than first anticipated but these are my current observations in the conference space. Looking forward to what may come 🙂