“That’s where you’ll see the wheat separated from the chaff”
Christopher Meinecke, Head of Digital Transformation at the German digital association Bitkom talks about creative ideas for holding conferences during a pandemic and why mediocre events will have a particularly hard time in the future.
1. Virtual events which were inconceivable before the pandemic are now commonplace. What are the advantages of these new formats?
Virtual formats offer a lot of freedom. It is possible to hold large conferences with separate workshops without any spatial restrictions, and to vastly increase the number of participants. At Bitkom events, we sometimes had five times more participants than before the pandemic.
Plus, with these event formats you have the ability to involve people who wouldn’t normally have been able to attend. A parliamentary minister or a CEO who wouldn’t otherwise fly in for the event can be patched in for 20 minutes at relatively short notice. Thirdly, it is time efficient. A lot of the infrastructural work in the background can be done away with – all you need to do is dial in. And you have the opportunity to try out new formats or switch back and forth between locations. All in all, there are far fewer obstacles, which is hugely advantageous.
2. So a fully-fledged substitute for the conventional analog conferences, trade fairs and events of old?
It’s important to be very clear on this: the social interaction component must not be underestimated. Good in-person events always manage to engage their audiences, especially during breaks and with targeted networking formats. Chance meetings and face-to-face conversations often deliver the best results. And that’s hard to replicate in a virtual environment. We’ve had this experience ourselves, despite trying out a lot of different things and always exploring new approaches. Each event has its own goal and some goals can be achieved perfectly well in a digital format, while others cannot.
3. So do you think that virtual formats will remain a pandemic-related phenomenon? Or are we looking at a permanent shift here?
High-quality, effective in-person formats and events that thrive on being noisy and crowded will continue to exist. And that’s where everyone will want to be as soon as the pandemic situation allows it. I think the bulk of digital formats will cease to exist once the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end. There will probably be a solid lineup of virtual events that people are happy to tune in to; ones that are really well done and ones that bring the benefits of digital formats to bear on their target audience. Virtual bars with music or avatars moving through a virtual event will no longer be a novelty at some point. There are many benefits to virtual events, but if we don’t enhance them with interaction and networking, they will soon cease to exist. On the other hand, mediocre in-person events with mediocre lectures will have to evolve massively; no one will fly around for hours to attend those anymore. Many events will either evolve or disappear over the next two to four years. That’s where you’ll see the wheat separated from the chaff.