Mar 18

How technology events are pivoting in the face of COVID-19

Coronavirus is hitting the conference industry where it hurts – the wallet.

Mobile World Congress was the first to go. The annual gathering of electronics manufacturers and mobile technology experts was canceled in late February. The announcement came only a couple of short weeks before the convention. As global concern over the new coronavirus, COVID-19, was rising, exhibitor cancellations started to roll in.

A whirlwind of events followed suit including the Adobe Summit, Facebook F8, Google I/O, and Google Cloud Next, Microsoft MVP Summit and IBM. Even the organizers of SXSW called it quits after major tech exhibitors including Twitter and Facebook jumped ship.

As the threat of COVID-19 continues to deliver its financial blow, major technology companies such as Google and Adobe are starting to reconsider the benefits of virtual conferences.

So if your event has been cancelled, seek inspiration from our review of some of the alternative conference formats we’re seeing crop up.

Virtual conferences are great, but where’s the cocktail hour?

You may be thinking virtual conferences…that’s so 2000. We’re all familiar with webinars, Zoom meetings, and plain old recorded presentations. The ultimate pitfall is always the same; a lack of social interaction. However, new platforms aim to solve the problem and become an industry standard for conferences.

Using the immediate demand caused by the threat of coronavirus as a springboard, companies that support remote meetings appear to be flourishing. Virtual conference platforms such as Hopin, and Run the World are reaping the benefits of increased demand for services that facilitate working and networking remotely.

Hopin aims to recreate the experience and benefits of attending a conference without the expenses, logistics, and environmental impact that come with it. In a recent interview with Crunchbase, founder Johnny Boufarhat hit the nail on the head. “People want to go to conferences to meet others, not just to watch presentations.” To solve this problem, Hopin offers live-streamed presentations with virtual networking, including a ChatRoulette-style feature for meeting other attendees.

Run the World allows for live stream talks, discussions and panels. It also enables conference attendees to fill out a profile describing their interests and uses an algorithm to match them with others; a virtual “cocktail party” feature lets attendees meet each other through video calls.

Virtual Reality makes strides

Virtual Reality is perhaps the most comprehensive solution to the problem. Amid the coronavirus epidemic, HTC is hosting the first-ever completely virtual industry conference. The organizers are linking up with ENGAGE, the virtual reality training and education platform developed by Immersive VR Education to host the now Virtual Vive Ecosystem Conference (V2EC).

The platform allows for virtual reality training. Experiences are created in minutes. For new users, the tools are very simple to use and do not require previous experience. Sessions can be hosted live or recorded and saved for others to experience later.

Benefits and Tips for Virtual Conferences

While they can never fully replace the face-to-face experience, these conference pivots to Virtual Reality and online formats are quite impactful at a time of risk. Lack of attendance limits on keynote presentations, the option to replay sessions, and the reduction of traveler carbon emissions are key advantages organizers are noticing.

If you are planning on attending a virtual conference, here are our top three tips on how to make the most of it:

  • Be sure to check whether presentations will be live, or recorded. While you may have the option to record conferences and play them back, sessions can likely take place simultaneously. Knowing which presentations are live will help you maximize the number of sessions you can attend
  • Put yourself out there, even more than in person! The leading flaw developers noted is virtual conferences are not experiencing serendipitous interaction. You, nor your avatar, are going to run into an old colleague on the way to the coffee counter. Don’t worry; it’s okay to approach people directly (and politely of course)
  • Note that while virtual conferences can make it so that anyone can attend, many are still limiting the number of attendees. Be sure to read through the guidelines in advance!

Our shortlist of virtual conferences

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