Why Virtual Conferences Will Not Replace Face-to-Face Meetings
While digitally streaming conferences is a hot trend right now, event industry speaker and consultant Jeffrey Hayzlett believes that no amount of technology will replace face-to-face conferences. We spoke with Hayzlett by phone to get his perspectives on the industry and why virtual conferences will not eclipse in-person communication.
“I think it's because we're human beings and human beings liked to be around other human beings,” Hayzlett said about in-person meetings. ”We're not computers. We're not digital devices. Those things are there to help us and utilizing those are nice, but it doesn't replace the need to be able to see, touch, feel and utilize all the senses that you have available.”
Hayzlett feels that there are pros and cons to both digital and face-to-face events. “Sometimes, it's cost,” he said. “Sometimes, it's time away. Sometimes, it's travel. And then, on the digital side, you can't be positive of the immediacy, the reach, the scope that you can get to more people. And sometimes, it's much more convenient.”
As a speaker, Hayzlett has participated in sessions on the other side of the planet via Skype and appreciates the ability to remain at home in New York and still talk shop with professionals in New Zealand. “But it's not the same,” he said. “You don't get the interaction, you don't get that feedback that I would from a regular audience. But that doesn't mean it's not effective or good,” he added. “There's good and bad in everything you do [and] I think there are ways to blend the technologies together today into meetings.”
One tech element that Hayzlett appreciates is live-streams of Twitter feeds that let attendees share their insights and communicate whether remotely or from the trade show floor. Speakers, meanwhile, can read questions from the feed and address issues without putting any attendees on the spot during the session. “There's lots of ways that you can mix,” Hayzlett said.
Networking is such a crucial element of conferences that if it is not allocated for set times, attendees will cut out of scheduled sessions in order to meet other professionals, Hayzlett said. With that in mind, he advises organizers to shake up the meeting rooms and shake up the attendee experience so they’re forced to talk with different people throughout.
This can also be augmented by technology, he noted. “There are some great uses of technology now around--who is registered, here is the Twitter feed, etc. You get to meet the other people who are tweeting that you didn't know.”
A benefit of social media and technology as a whole is that more and more people are willing to become more active as a community and share, Hayzlett said. Organizers once protected attendee lists--but today, those lists are public and attendees can start networking long before the opening session. “The more business [they do], the better. They can get to understand one another--the more they want to do, the more they want to come with that.”