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Virtual Meetings: How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Changing the Way We Meet Up June 22, 2021

by Amy Reis

During normal (pre-pandemic) times, conferences, trade shows, company and team meetings, and other events happened in person and in various-sized communal meeting spaces. With the COVID-19 pandemic spread, large gatherings were prohibited – requiring the meeting and event industry across the globe, including the U.S., to adapt to a “new normal.” Many planned face-to-face event organizers quickly pivoted to offer virtual events. The change didn’t simply address the problem of being unable to gather for events; it also created unexpected possibilities and benefits.

In virtual events, participants can interact with others in many of the same ways that we connect in traditional trade shows, large-scale association meetings and other face-to-face meetings. We can gather in real time to hear a presentation, ask questions or network online, for example.

Virtual meetings and events also offer attendees several advantages over face-to-face gatherings, including:

  • Allowing attendees to attend from anywhere within their home offices, dining room tables, and living rooms – from anywhere in the world
  • The ability to pause or rewind "Live" talks. This is a useful feature for those who miss details or want to spend more time on a specific slide in a presentation
  • Making sessions available in an "on-demand" style platform, where attendees can access full sessions at a later date

In many cases, the event industry experienced an uptick in attendance by moving to the virtual platform. In April, the APS (American Physical Society) was scheduled to host their meeting in Washington, DC. Rather than canceling the event, the APS decided to take the entire event virtual. Historically, APS hosted 1,600 to 1,800 attendees at their meetings. Because this one was held in a virtual forum, more than 7,000 people registered for the online event! Speakers were given the option of presenting a live talk or uploading their presentations into an "on demand" session for the many participants.

We are continuing to see “hybrid" events take shape, offering a face-to-face experience with an optional virtual connection for those who want to participate remotely.

The technology needed to host virtual and hybrid meetings and events will continue to evolve. These events will become more of the norm as the country and the world opens back up from the pandemic. Rather than going back to the traditional way of doing things, hybrid events may become just the budget-friendly, practical venue that supports a range of meeting types and participant preferences for years to come.


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