Coronavirus Conference Dilemma: Delay or Go Digital?
By Valeria Carrillo
COVID-19 has taken a toll on our everyday lives and companies have been faced with the dilemma of postponing, canceling, or making their event virtual. So far, there’s been a mix of reactions. Google and Adobe have taken their conferences virtual while TED Talks is still in the air. Facebook has canceled their in-person event, but will host local events, videos, and live-streamed content.
Although it’s hard to determine what’s best in an unpredictable situation, we’ve provided information to help you decide if you should delay or go digital.
PROS to going digital:
Companies that host virtual conferences could be seen as innovative leaders and can utilize the unique platform for interactive polling options, Q&A sessions, and reactions from the audience. It could even provide analytics about sessions, attendees, or overall perception. Since it hasn’t been popularized yet, it’s the perfect time to get creative and try something no other company has. It can also serve as a learning experience for future use.
If you’re worried about money, it’s actually much more cost-effective to host a virtual event. Offering free registration or lowering costs for a virtual event means the financial barriers attendees usually face will be eliminated. With no travel costs and lower fees, they can use that money to tap into exclusive content. If there’s multiple platforms livestreaming the event, this means a much greater reach. Plus, it’ll be easy for attendees to jump between overlapping sessions in one conference.
Going digital means taking a step fighting climate change. Hosting live events require plane rides which leaves a huge carbon footprint and there’s the issue of food and plastic going to waste. According to a study by IBM and the National Retail Federation, nearly seventy percent of consumers in the U.S. and Canada think it’s important that a brand is sustainable or eco-friendly. However, if you state this reason for going digital, you’ll receive backlash if you decide to host an in-person event in the future.
CONS to going digital:
Although it’s possible to hold a secure virtual conference, it’s completely dependent on the platform, and when the majority of platforms are start-ups, it’s hard to know which ones to trust. You may also run into other types of safety issues. With some states on lockdown, spokespeople may not be able to or feel safe having to film their part in-person. If it puts anyone at risk, don’t go virtual.
Hosting a face-to-face cocktail hour serves as a great opportunity for attendees to connect and develop professional relationships. Without it, many feel they can’t get the most value out of their ticket. However, there is a virtual conference start-up, Run the World, that’s trying to solve this problem by matching attendees through an algorithm for a private BYO session. We’ll have to wait and see how networking online compares to in-person.
Is it insensitive?
Sometimes the decision isn’t based on money or operations, but the general situation at hand. This pandemic has impacted the world and caused many to lose to their loved ones. We’re all a bit sensitive to the type of news we see right now so be careful. Delaying an event and hosting it when times are better will be uplifting in a way that can’t be repeated.
Either way, hosting an online or in-person event requires a lot of planning and coordination. Don’t rush an online event for the sake of not canceling, you need to make it count. Don’t cancel an event last minute either. It’s better to have time between the cancellation or delay announcement and the original event date to issue refunds, address questions or concerns, and cancel any vendors.
With that being said, we hope you are well and adapting to this new normal.