With the global Covid19 pandemic causing unprecedented disruption to all industries around the world, those working in the event sector and academic conferences will know full well how this crisis has brought their industry to a halt, and perhaps provided an impetus for mitigating against this type of disruption in the future.
Virtual conferences have been a technical possibility for several years and, while they are sometimes deemed a second rate alternative to meeting people face-to-face, with the increasing options of conference management software available, could provide not only an alternative to hosting academic conferences, but the preferred option given the extensive benefits.
In order to be a successful researcher in the world of academic conferences, it is fairly essential that you are well-funded, located somewhere with good travel connections (and non-restrictive visa options), are physically mobile, or aren’t bound by extensive caregiving responsibilities.
This rules out huge swathes of potential contributors in the academic community, which can be easily included with comprehensive software that can be accessed as long as you have a reliable internet connection. Through virtual conferences, those who live in remote parts of the globe, full time carers - especially parents - and those with restricted mobility, can engage in research conferences from their own homes.
The benefits of this are manifold. Accessibility and inclusivity brings with it richer, diverse contributions to the world of research, which can advance all fields of study, and on an individual basis, enhance career paths and professional development
When planning an academic conference in the physical world, numbers and space are very important. Venue space, logistics, complex budgets, catering, the number of attendees, support staff and hotel rooms must all be considered and budgeted for in your conference plan, to name a few.
The benefit of hosting your conference online is that virtual space is infinite. With software like Zoom, your virtual conference can host as many delegates as you like, with some of their packages allowing for up to 10,000 people. Platforms like Attendify and Pathable provide instant networking opportunities for delegates that are continents apart. With virtual conferences, you no longer need to worry about how many seats are in a room.
Unless a conference organiser provides a sustainable land-based solution, travel to an academic conference, especially those with international delegates who will largely be flying, contribute a large percentage to an event’s carbon footprint. On top of that, unless using renewable energy, hosting an academic conference also uses a huge amount of power in the form of lighting and heating alone, not to mention the electricity required to keep a large venue operational. This, of course, doesn’t include the environmental cost of printing brochures and programmes, producing signs and any other communication materials.
The waste caused by hundreds of delegates also needs to be considered. Just think about the amount of coffee cups alone that will be discarded and end up in landfill after an academic conference hosting 1000 delegates. According to meetgreen.com, the typical conference waste attendee produces 1.89KG of waste per day, 1.16KG of that will go directly to a landfill.
As the world adapts to the climate change threat, many in the academic world are making personal decisions not to attend academic conferences for sustainability reasons, and welcome the opportunity to engage with virtual conferences, so transitioning to a new model could also be a good business decision.
The cost benefits of hosting a virtual conference are huge. Hiring a venue can cost tens of thousands of pounds, supplying food and drink to all your delegates and support staff is not only a logistical nightmare, it can be extremely expensive. Printing and the cost of badges, signs, banners and the whole array of branded goods that are associated with academic conferences can also eat into your budget. Add on infrastructure, admin and support staff, marketing and creative costs, it’s no surprise that many academic conferences are transitioning to virtual conferences, purely for cost saving reasons alone.
Whilst it’s true that you will need to invest in software and training, the overwhelming majority of costs associated with academic conferences are negligible when comparing to virtual conferences. Event hire, catering and accommodation are no longer required, and, of course, these cost benefits can also be passed on to delegates, increasing accessibility.
Through zoom and other video conferencing applications, it’s possible to recreate the question and answer sessions normally associated with academic conferences in the physical world, through live messaging. Attendees can type their question, with speakers responding in real time. Polls and other interactive tools can be used including a chat facility, so attendees can network with each other. There is also the facility for session attendees to go into smaller ‘rooms’, for breakout sessions. The overriding benefit of doing this virtually, of course, is that post session, all data can be downloaded and analysed. This means that you have an automatic record of all interaction without the need for any recording or transcription. This, along with data on session attendance (ie who, and for how long) can create valuable insight, which can be used to develop content to ensure all post conference follow up is targeted and highly relevant.
In terms of conference management software, there is no one platform that can handle the full spectrum of needs when hosting a virtual conference. Depending on your requirements, you will need a combination. Check out the following to get you started.
Abstract management: Oxford Abstracts
Platform integration: Zapier
If you’d like a chat about how we can help,** get in touch.**