By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
The Coronavirus is causing havoc in the conference circuit. The Mobile World Congress, Barcelona, Feb. 24-27 was the first to be cancelled. Geneva International Motor Show, Geneva, Switzerland, March 5-15. Facebook Global Marketing Summit, San Francisco, March 9-12. Livre Paris book fair, Paris, March 20-23. The Nvidia GPU Technology Conference, San Jose, March 22-26 (The conference will now be an online event.) Google Cloud Next ’20, San Francisco, April 6-8 (The conference will now be an online event.). Facebook F8 conference, San Jose, May 5-6 and even the Google I/O, Mountain View May 12-14 stands cancelled. I was supposed to go for the Adobe Summit 2020 that was starting at the end of March and spilling into April – that was called off and is now an online event.
A crisis should not be wasted
It is not just the hotels that are grappling with unsold rooms, the entire travel industry is in shock. The speakers’ diaries are empty. The influencers are wondering how long this will continue. The guides, the ushers, the car services guys, the chefs, the projectionists and event planners are all in a state of disbelief. That is indeed the unpredictability of the world we live in. But a crisis is too good an opportunity to be wasted.
This may be a good time to rethink the conference. Here are a few easy fixes:
1. The audience approves the speakers: Get the speakers to do a short 1-minute video of the topic they wish to speak about. Share the names of the speakers and their topic on the conference website. Let the people vote for the topic and the speaker. Some keynote speakers are notorious for recycling old slide decks. Worse still, some stalwarts of the speaking circuit (especially those who are sponsors) do not prepare and rehearse their talks adequately. They meander on. The audience that is paying for the conference can vote and decide which speakers are worth their while.
2. Audience votes for the key themes and topics: The conference organizers can post the key themes they wish to explore. The audience can suggest specific issues they would like discussed by the speaker. The questions can be a useful guide for the speakers to keep their talk sharp. The conference organizers can know which ones have few takers and can assign them a smaller room that is just right. The speakers who have no takers are best forewarned. They could get in a few participants from their office. The conference organizers would welcome the additional funds.
3. Simultaneous webcast across platforms: Some speakers are a huge draw for the audience. For these speakers, the organizers can arrange for live webcast across platforms. Those who are watching the conference live on say Facebook, can use a pay per view option to join specific sessions. It allows for more people to join the conference and is not an all or nothing choice for a participant who may wish to listen to specific speakers or topics.
4. Panel discussions: I have seen panels that have 6 to 7 members plus a moderator struggling to keep all the speakers engaged (imagine how chaotic it is for the audience). A panel discussion is best done with no more than 2-3 participants and a moderator. Budget 10-15 minutes per speaker makes it meaty. The moderators must discuss and agree upon 2-3 big ideas or opinions that each panelist will share. The moderator can invite questions from the audience to address specific issues. The virtual participants can also post questions live on the screen. It makes for great real-time engagement.
5. Would you like us to bring back this speaker next year? At the end of each session, ask the participants how relevant and how interesting the session was. When they rate the session on relevance, it is easy to tweak the topics to align fully with the audience need. If they rate the topic as relevant but the speaker as not interesting, you need to get someone else to address the topic either in this conference or in future. If the speaker was engaging and interesting, that is a sure sign you want to bring back the speaker for the next conference.
The badges can have a QR code that is scanned as they go in and out of the conference rooms. It gives you a good idea for the possibilities for the future conferences. Having an online conference can also be used as a prototype of the conference and can tell you how many people would pay to engage with the speaker or the topic. The online sessions can be 15-minute sessions that the audience pays for and that can be set off against the actual conference ticket price. Online and offline need to be seamlessly offered for creating a great experience. A conference is no exception.