When I started writing this blog post, I wanted a title that was snappy and catching. The one that kept coming to mind was “candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker”. It’s actually a quote by American poet Ogden Nash from his poem “Reflections on Ice Breaking” in 1931, but you’re probably more likely to remember it from when it was used in “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” in 1971. It means sweets are a good thing to offer someone if you want them to do something, but alcohol will work much more quickly. “Online’s Divine but Physical’s the Pinnacle” basically goes along the same thread – Online, virtual meetings are good, but you really can’t beat a physical “in-person” event.

Let me explain. Lockdown… that was fun (not), and we’re not out of it yet. In fact if you’re realistic, we’re not likely to be completely out of it until such time as there is a reliable vaccine available across the world. But in the meantime, life must go on – it’s just changed from how it used to be. In a nutshell, we’ve changed and adapted to a big change in circumstance. It’s not all bad though, some good things have come out of it too. For one, we found out that actually we don’t all have to go to the office in order to do our work and in many cases we found we can be more productive when we’re working form home. For others, it’s been really hard – trying to work hunched over the kitchen table with children demanding attention, and developing a Coronabelly from too many visits to the fridge not conducive to a good working environment and can lead to an increase in stress levels.

Online’s Divine – Platforms like Zoom (other online networking platforms are available) made major headline news during lockdown and saw a dramatic increase in users. But here’s why Zoom won’t become the new normal way to hold events.

Don’t get me wrong, businesses will still continue to use Zoom, WebEx, GoToWebinar and many other platforms. In fact there are a number of things that many other businesses were using online video conferencing for many years BC (that’s Before Coronavirus). Team catch-ups, client training and cross-country meetings via online video conferencing will continue using it just as they did before, and many companies who have been forced down the online route will probably continue to do so at least in part but there are a number of reasons why online events won’t become the new normal for every event.

Physical’s the Pinnacle – you just can’t beat an in-person event. Meeting up with other people at an event is what we do best. We thrive on the interaction of being around other people, and being able to have a drink and a chat with other people in small groups and one-to-one’s is what helps make the wheels of industry turn.

Another reason that we’re not going to rely on zoom for every meeting and event that we ever used to go to is that it’s tiring, and I mean REALLY tiring. I’ve already heard it referred to as “zoom fatigue”. It’s harder to communicate on video than it is in person. Rather than leaving that conference or event feeling exhilarated, uplifted and ready to take on the challenges that life (and business) has to throw at us, we end up feeling tired and frustrated at having spent hours watching a screen full of people all trying to talk over the top of each other, and feeling that you didn’t get the opportunity to ask that really important question over coffee, or you just didn’t get to say how you felt.

I have to admit, we’ve been working with a couple of online platforms that come very close to a physical event, but just not quite close enough for them to take over from the good old conferences and exhibitions.

Many surveys show that speaking in public has been as high as number 2 in a top ten list of people’s fears. Number 1 is usually death, which means that there are actually some people out there who are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of dying. But speaking to a room full of people as opposed to a computer screen full of faces and a number in the corner is just not the same. There’s no atmosphere, no visual feedback and you can’t gauge the feeling within the room, and speaking to a camera is a lonely and sterile experience compared to an in-person event. You only have to look at the footage from the 2020 TV BAFTA Awards to see how lifeless the ceremony was without an audience – not even a “clap track” for the winners.

Secondly, “Are you paying attention?”. If like me you’ve attended other people’s online events recently, you will undoubtedly have seen instances where there’s been no video (or it kept buffering), no sound or the video is in portrait (phone mode) rather than the traditional landscape orientation. I even saw one event where the presenter’s video feed was upside down (tip: remember to turn scroll lock off). There’s nothing more disheartening than seeing the number in the corner of the screen keep on decreasing as people stop watching your event, apart perhaps from seeing delegates looking disinterested or looking down at their phones and not paying attention (yes, we’ve all done it at physical events, but it’s usually a lot more subtle, and with a room full of others the presenter is less likely to see you). The other thing is, it’s a lot easier not to attend an online event. The excuses are almost limitless – “The broadband went down”, “One of my children spilled their drink on my computer”, “My Zoom password wouldn’t work”. With an in-person event, you’re committing (or sometimes being instructed) to be there, and you have to have a pretty good excuse not to turn up.

Hands up who thinks that during lockdown it’s been a bit like Groundhog Day? For many, working from home has been great, but doing the same thing day after day, week after week and month after month has taken its toll on lots of us. Now and again we all just need a change of scenery. You know the saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – basically it means that without time off from our regular work, we become bored and boring. That’s where events come in. They give us a change of scenery – there’s the commute to the venue, the breakfast patisseries, the traditional conference chicken lunch (or nut roast for the vegetarians amongst us). But that short time out of the office helps improve our mental health and our mindset.

Working in the events industry, you’d expect me to say this, but I’m a people person and I personally can’t wait for business meetings and events to get back on the agenda. We’ve seen a real interest in our hybrid events packages consisting of reduced numbers of in-room delegates backed up by the use of technology to bring other virtual delegates into the events remotely in a way that not only helps them feel like they’re still part of the event, but also allows venues to comply with social distancing rules, and the presenters finally get to present to real people again.