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The last couple of years have seen a massive amount of growth in online events, ranging from webinars, to virtual meetings, to virtual conferences - indeed I have been involved in all three in the last month, along with internet radio and most recently from the SMRD (Swedish Market Research Day) in Stockholm the live streaming of interviews via Internet TV (you can see recordings of the eleven interviews HERE).

All this growth raises the question about whether face-to-face events are necessary, or perhaps whether they are even desirable? As well as virtual events, I have attended face-to-face events in London, Utrecht, and Stockholm in the last three weeks and tomorrow I am off to the very face-to-face MRS Annual Conference in London. I think that face-to-face events have a really great future if they focus on what they can do that online can't.

I think the key benefits of face-to-face are:

  1. When attending a face-to-face event it is easier to concentrate on the presentations and not be interrupted. When somebody is listening to a webinar in the office it is hard to manage even one 30 minute session without somebody asking to interrupt. At a face-to-face event, with any luck, you can see a whole day of material without being interrupted.
  2. At a face-to-face event you meet other attendees, which can be pleasurable and can also be useful. Online is much more task focused.
  3. A face-to-face presenter can react to the audience. If you see people are understanding the point you can move along faster. If you see a sea of puzzled faces you can back up and try it a different way.
  4. Face-to-face can be more interactive, with attendees joining together to do tasks, having a two-way banter with the speaker, or through some sort of co-creation. Options online are much more limited.
  5. Face-to-face venues can also be part of the attractions; destinations like Paris, Dublin, and, for some people, London are a real draw.
  6. And, of course, it is easier for face-to-face to have a social side, especially the after event dinner/party/disco.

Online has great advantages, cost, fitting into busy schedules, no travel, being able to select the very best presenters from around the world. But I do not think that online is going to kill the conference star in the near future. Indeed, I find that the people who attend the most online events tend to visit more face-to-face events than other people. The online event is often an appetizer for the main course.

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