New and ever improving telecommunication technologies have improved how we communicate. From the first telegrams to virtual reality holographic conference rooms, we’ve come a long way. The key now is not so much the technology (we have the technical ability to put a 3-d representation of a person live on stage anywhere in the world, after all). Of course, we still need better, faster and cheaper broadband to be more evenly spread around the world, but that will happen – sooner rather than later. It’s now more about our acceptance of these technologies, and the user friendliness of their application.
It won’t be too long before a significant number of our conferences go fully digital. That is, the speakers and delegates will all hook up to the Internet, and participate digitally. This will take many forms, the best of which will include video walls and full interactivity.
There are many reasons to go this route, including: making it easier for people to work from home, reducing commuting time, office space, the need for conference rooms (which often stand empty for long periods of time – especially the big auditoriums), reducing the number of flights around the world and the amount spent on corporate conferencing. So, save money, reduce pollution, save time… why would we not do it?
Of course, what we lose is the time between sessions. Conferences are a lot more than just information transfer meetings. Lots of networking happens, and relationship development. It’s often the time between formal sessions that is most important. We can’t change this, and virtual conferences will not replace this aspect.
However, this means that those people who put conferences together need to know exactly WHY they need to get people together physically. There are good reasons to do this – but these need to find their way into the design of the conferences themselves. This is a challenge for the next few years for this industry.