06.07.2020

Meetings in the modern age – will technology take over?

When lockdown was imposed back in late March the way we met, communicated and did business changed overnight. Virtual meetings and home-working have since become the norm and most of us, our colleagues and clients have adapted well to this new way of doing things.

But with restrictions gradually being lifted we’ve been asking ourselves, what does the future look like for meetings and events? What learnings, if any, can we take as we move forward and how will this shape the future of our industry?

The video conference call

Before lockdown, a lot of us would have avoided video conference calls at all cost.

But it’s a fear that every one of us has had to overcome and as a result of this, we’ve all got a lot better at it. These new skills are something every business can benefit from when the world returns to normal.

Hopefully, one of the positive outcomes of these new skills will be that we’ll see a decrease in long email chains, cc-ing in swathes of people who really don’t need to be involved, containing dozens of confused messages and the increase in people pinging a quick Zoom invite out to a handful of key decision makers. With a focussed group of relevant invitees and a clear goal set out, embracing video conferencing on day-to-day matters could save everyone a lot of time.

This isn’t to say that the video conference call is the answer to everything. If the isolation of the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of face-to-face contact with other human beings. While the information passed during either a video conference call or an in-the-flesh meeting is unlikely to vary hugely when there is a simple agenda, it’s the more creative, dynamic meetings that benefit from face-to-face meetings. Subtle body language, eye contact and cues as to when it’s appropriate to have your say are often hard to read unless you’re all sitting in a room together. Chemistry, bouncing ideas off one-another and the natural flow of conversation are also somewhat lost when things go online.

Many people feel that although lockdown has taught us all how to work effectively in a virtual world, it’s also showed us the importance and value of human contact and how much richer communication is when we’re in the same physical space together. The skill is in knowing when it’s necessary to be in the same room together.

When to go digital

Hopefully, soon, we’ll have the choice about how we meet. There are no hard and fast rules as to whether you should schedule a virtual meeting or arrange to get together in the flesh, but when you’re weighing up your options, these are some things to consider:

  • If you’ve not met before and you are going to be working together in the future, meeting face-to-face is a good way to establish a strong bond from the off
  • If there are more than six of you who need to be in on the meeting, a video conference call might become too chaotic
  • The more creative the discussions, the more likely you are to have a successful meeting if you are all together in the same room to get the chemistry fizzing
  • Ask yourself if your attendees would benefit from meeting in an inspiring place with food and drink to help fuel their enthusiasm
  • If you are going to embrace more digital meetings, ensure you sense check the decision with external suppliers and your clients, they may not share your enthusiasm
  • Is the saving you’ll make meeting online worth the sacrifice?

Conferencing

The pros and cons of virtual conferences have been hotly debated for years and unsurprisingly the discussions have come under the spotlight during the current pandemic. The question on everyone’s lips is, when we’re all getting on so well with our new, digitally connected lives, why would anyone go to the effort of hosting a conference that requires people actually leaving their homes?

We believe there is always value in events being hosted in a real place, live, with actual human beings making meaningful connections. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for streaming elements of content and that video conferencing can’t play an important role in your event. Quite the opposite in fact! Offering a streaming service of talks and seminars is something many organisers shy away from, fearful that ticket sales will drop. But as we all up our digital skills and scrutinise our physical commitments more closely, it makes sense for organisers to at least consider how these digital mediums could increase their reach and provide a new revenue stream. Being able to access some of a conference’s content without actually being there could open up your brand to a market of attendees who wouldn’t, or couldn’t, have attended your event anyway.

Obviously, every conference has different goals, content and delegates, so there isn’t one size fits all with the rules of what parts of your event you should take online. For example, training sessions which require audience participation might not work as effectively with a mix on live and online attendees. Perhaps your speaker could offer two sessions to meet the needs of both sets of attendees?

A straight-forward lecture could be a good start if you want to test the waters with streaming. Charging for access, capturing data and taking the opportunity to showcase the rest of your conference while you have a captive audience are all things you should consider if you decide to dabble in going virtual. It could end up being a great way to drum up business for next year’s live tickets, too, if your virtual audience likes what it sees.

Networking

This is the one element of any event that cannot be replicated online. And it’s not just at dedicated drinks reception in which it happens. Chance meetings in the queue for a sandwich at an exhibition, bumping into an old colleague in the audience of the keynote speaker’s talk, making a new contact as you take a breath of fresh air in between sessions… As our consumption and capabilities in the digital world of communication increase, perversely, so does the importance we place on the value of personal connections.

Your next meeting

Whatever your plans, give the team here at W12 Conferences a call to discuss any projects you’ve got coming up. You can reach us on 020 3313 1606.