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Long live the conference!

February 28, 2022

After the last two years of webinars, virtual events and remote presentations, I was starting to wonder if the days of the big in-person conference were numbered.

Just thinking about the effort of getting up early to travel, finding the venue (and parking), drinking sub-standard coffee and eating too much unhealthy food – was going to a conference all worth it?

Last week, attending Pearcey Foundation’s Riding the Digital Wave Summit brought it all back for me. I got up at 5:30am to leave the house at 6. Two and a bit hours later, I was driving around Sydney Uni looking for a place to park, and at 8:45am I was at the registration desk, sipping a very average coffee from one of those pump-action insulated pots.

However, straight away I was chatting to colleagues I hadn’t seen in person for last two years and soon found myself sitting at a table as The Hon. Victor Dominello (pictured above) opened the conference, giving us some great insight into the challenges of digitising NSW Government services. From there, we were treated to a stream of amazing speakers, ideas and loads of information and insight.

I remembered why conferences like this could be so magic. You hear things you might not have realised before, and they spark your own thoughts – it was a conference that sparked the idea to start Explore Communications. Our logo is based on my handwritten notes from that event.

You meet people that you otherwise might have only had an email exchange with in the past, or they were one of the faces in a video conference. You see and hear brilliant people, concepts, businesses and technologies for the first time, or to a depth you hadn’t been exposed before.

Best of all, you experience all of this directly, spontaneously and dynamically – most of which is missed in articles, podcasts, videos and webinars. You are also more engaged. At home, watching on from your desk, it’s nothing to be checking your email or taking a call while you’ve got the webinar on in the background – but in the room, in front of the speaker you can be giving them your full attention, and you reap the benefits of that attention too.

Is there still a place for virtual events and webinars. Definitely. The last two years have proven why this works. You lower the barrier to entry, and you can reach people who would otherwise be unreachable. There are potentially no limits on the size of the audience, and you’ve got a long tail impact, where the video content can be posted online for future consumption. In fact, putting on the Summit last week, we had the debate – given that a lot of people weren’t able to travel to be at the conference, do we run it as a hybrid in-person and virtual event? The decision was taken to make it in-person only, so as to preserve the experience for people in the room and capture the magic of the conference. The great thing is that the Pearcey Foundation managed to do that, and also recorded the event, so we can make the proceedings available to everyone shortly. I’ll update this with a link once the event content is posted online.

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