What scientific conferences will look like beyond COVID-19

By Olesya Chayka, Molecular Biologist and ResearchGate Marketing Solutions Ad Operations Manager

Virtual events are here to stay, at least in some form, for the long haul. While there are elements of in-person interactions that are hard to replace, it’s unlikely we will ever go back to relying so prominently on in-person events, and that might not be a bad thing.

Virtual events will continue to be valuable post-COVID

Online events allow STEM companies and organizations to engage audiences no matter where they are based – while allowing international scientists to actively participate in sector events without having to worry about travel-related issues. Think of the hassle of obtaining travel permits or tickets, the reallocation of work across the team caused by some taking time off work, the stress of being away from family and, finally, the cost element. Virtual events, on the other hand, incur none of these.

By their very nature, online events are far less costly to attend, meaning they encourage more attendees from the same organizations, and the benefits of attendance can be shared by more members of the team, increasing the event’s value across the organization.

These cost advantages of online conferences don’t only benefit attendees, but the event hosts too: events held virtually require a much smaller budget, enabling companies to focus on more specific topics, as they can afford to have a smaller audience — inviting only specialized scientists, for instance, instead of needing to appeal to a broader spectrum of in-person attendees. Finally, as companies refine their tools and improve their digital event offering, multiple session events will grow in popularity, meaning people will be able to flexibly choose the time slot that best suits their schedule. While, of course, scientists are looking forward to being in the same room with one another again, online events will continue to have a place in the world of science, because of the value they can provide.

Interactive events will stand out in a sea of webinars

It’s clear that virtual events continue to be one of the true ways researchers and organizations can connect with each other. But, in a suddenly crowded digital events market, how can each STEM company ensure its contribution to this landscape is unique, to beat webinar fatigue and ensure high-quality attendance? Maintaining the human interaction element that everyone is missing will be key: webinars that feature ‘live’ Q&A segments — even if the webinar itself is pre-recorded — as well as polls, brainstorms, networking opportunities, and multiple event times in order to increase accessibility will survive for the long-haul.

In this regard, laboratory equipment company Malvern Panalytical is an example scientific organizations can follow in years to come. A trailblazer in virtual events, it has used this method to connect with audiences for the past two decades. This year, in an effort to stand out even further as others started to replicate its successful formula, it worked with ResearchGate to offer a highly interactive digital event with two industry speakers. It provided the opportunity to view a real-time webinar and engage with a live Q&A: the key was getting people to join the conversation, rather than simply sit back and watch. The interactive element worked, leading to a highly successful event.

But what is next?

With change always around the corner, it’s hard to establish what the events landscape will look like in the future. However, we can expect companies to continue to leverage the benefits of online conferences and combine them with real-life events. For instance, seminars can be held in person at a certain location, but talks can be broadcast live to those attending from elsewhere. Speakers will be able to connect with online audiences as well as attendees of in-person events via streaming. And social media will continue to play a key role, allowing people attending both face-to-face and virtual elements of conferences to network and share their experiences.

In this new setting, digital events allow for new ways to measure success. At in-person conferences, it’s difficult to track interactions and assess their value. When conferences are held online, however, monitoring who attends, recording how they participate, and collecting their details is possible. In this new fully digital space, event organizers have the opportunity to unlock insights that will empower them to truly determine and improve the value of the events they hold, and subsequent business follow-up.

While the pandemic undoubtedly caused disruption worldwide, there are valuable lessons we can learn from it. By embracing the online element in their events strategies, rather than relying on in-person conferences, companies in technology, science and engineering can unlock gains that were not possible with traditional in-person events, making their events count even more.