What the future of conferences could look like - BBC Worklife

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In mid-March, the 2020 PROMAX European Conference will be held in Madrid, and Spain has locked the entire country. With the increase in virus cases, the annual entertainment marketing conference-with 500 attendees, 300 hotel rooms and a cost of 400,000 pounds ($524,000)-was suspended. Postponement means that "all tickets, all purchases, all speakers and all production commitments must be put on hold, or at least temporarily put on hold," said Lester Modu of the conference. Director.

Now, although the organizers hope to resume operations later this year, PROMAX will not be held in 2020-at least not in person. This is just one example of the massive halt in the global conference industry after Covid-19.

Traditionally, the participants in the meeting usually gather in a hotel or event center, so the meeting requires close contact. The members sit together, share a buffet, and talk in a narrow place. Many people saw hundreds of participants flying in from all over the world. In the Covid-19 era, this is the worst "super communicator event": a conference in Edinburgh in February

Infection with the coronavirus, including the coronavirus that was subsequently sown at the child’s birthday party. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “People gather together, social restraints and norms are relaxed, and the time people spend together increases the risk of spreading diseases.” “The meeting did meet that standard. "

Currently, due to travel restrictions and public health issues, it is almost impossible to hold meetings. However, they must continue

Support hundreds of thousands of jobs. In such a changing world, how will the industry develop?

PROMAX participated in part of the conference, including some keynote speeches, held the conference online, and replaced the auditorium with a Zoom window. Organizers are not alone: ​​just as most trading business elements have been transferred to video chat screens, so are meetings.

The main attraction of the conference is not always the speaker; social and casual interactions are also valuable to participants

Mandy Jennings of Paje Consulting, an event planning company based in Cheshire, explained that before the coronavirus, “everyone was talking about e-meetings,” but few people were willing to explore it. "We are in that state of habit. This forces everyone to accept it and makes the company realize that some of these things can be done in a virtual world instead of letting people travel around the world by train or airplane."

Mordue said that attendance at online conferences that replaced PROMAX was “encouraging,” and some conferences had the same number of participants as usual. Participants are allowed to transfer tickets to virtual events or postpone them to physical events in 2021. PROMAX stated that it hopes to adjust its pricing structure for future web conferences so that people can choose events at reasonable prices. Mordue said that so far, the feedback has been very positive, and many people like the ability to catch up to digital conferences on demand.

But the organizers admit that in many ways digital events are pale imitations of traditional conferences. Mordue said: "We made a conscious decision not to try to replicate the meeting experience. This is an awareness of the tangible benefits of face-to-face physical meetings." Because of the social opportunities and occasional discussions on the sidelines, companies spend money to send employees to the meeting .

"We all know that the network is an important part of the conference," Mordue said. "The ability to communicate with speakers or your community, exchange your ideas and get inspiration-this is the conference experience." Although organizers are trying to replicate as much as possible through online events, when people don’t gather in person , It is difficult to capture intangible elements that are difficult to stimulate other energy around.

Jennings said: "In digital meetings, you tend to stick to the agenda." "It's shorter, and you don't have the opportunity to do it yourself."

Despite potential security issues, some meetings are slowly returning to their schedules. In the UK, the government has announced that it can

After extensive lobbying in the industry,


During the pandemic, the main food of the meeting needs to be changed, such as a buffet lunch and a question-and-answer session via microphone

Rachel Parker, chairman of the British Industry Organization Event Venues Association, stated that the value of the conference to the British economy is 11 billion pounds. She said that 50% to 90% of employees in the UK organization and venue industry are on leave, and many people are beginning to think that layoffs are

start end. Parker said: "Although we have a green light, in the last quarter, our transaction price may be between 15% and 25%. Therefore, we need the government to take other (financial) measures."

After the physical meeting comes back, it may look very different. Parker said: "Organizers will have to consider technical measures." For example, most virologists will shudder at the idea of ​​passing a single rocker microphone to the audience for question and answer. Instead, organizers are looking at boom microphones hanging from participants' heads, or using systems like Sli.do, which allow users to submit questions through online chat systems. Given that many countries are still regulating large-scale social gatherings, holding social events at night (usually the venue for most informal online events) seems challenging.  

Parker's industry groups also recommended mitigation measures, such as placing furniture, replacing paper handouts with digital methods, and monitoring the density of meetings. She said: “There may be a traffic light system at the entrance, and we hope we don’t have to do all of these things.” It is possible to provide individuals with boxed lunches instead of buffets, and provide additional cyberspace while maintaining social distancing. The mask must be consistent with the indoor party rules of most countries.

Parker believes that as society continues to deal with Covid-19, conferences are one of the best sectors to reopen. She said: "We know who is coming to our events." "You may get some help, but 99.9% of those attending our meetings are pre-registered. Tracking already exists."

But Linda Bald, a public health professor at the University of Edinburgh, is more cautious. She said: “One of the main benefits of the conference is that you can gather a lot of people in an indoor environment, and that’s what we don’t want to do right now.” “I think that at a national conference in the UK, it’s like We are in a hotel, you can keep a certain distance. But this year's international conference seems to be a bad idea for the whole station." She also pointed out that travelers from certain countries pose a higher risk due to higher infection rates. She pointed out, The risks of traveling by plane and taxi are likely to prevent major international incidents from happening.  

Hunter, a professor of medicine, believes that the arrival of vaccines, rather than effective tracking systems, will open the door to meetings for many people. He said: "Although I doubt that most of us will, I suspect that some people cannot get rid of their psychological fears." "With an effective vaccine, if we can distribute it early next year, the risks and risks that come with Anxiety will be greatly reduced."

As the conference industry figured out its next move-a vaccine or no vaccine-Hunter himself longed for their return. He said: "In the scientific community, in particular, part of a meeting is to meet face-to-face with people who may not be able to face-to-face with others, and propose plans to jointly develop new science and plans." ."

Conference planners and event experts are convinced that digital conferences will eclipse actual audiences for the rest of 2020, while respondents

PCMA, the American professional conference management association, said that the coronavirus will have a broad impact on its industry, and they are not sure that it will have a major impact in 2021.

"Some lights at the end of the tunnel started to appear," Mordue said. "But at the same time, we have a good old Internet that can save us."

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