Many podcasters woke to an email this morning from a large podcasting conference stating that this year’s event had been pushed back by a couple of months. A few days ago, another large podcasting conference sent out an odd “pandemic or no pandemic, we’re having a physical conference, dammit!” notice.
I’m supposed to attend both of those events. But... I’m conflicted. And concerned.
I’m concerned about the future of podcasting conferences. Not just the Very Large podcasting conferences that bring a thousand or more people from all around the world together to mix and mingle, but also the smaller gatherings. I’m part of the PHX Podcast Club, and we haven’t met since February. Phoenix was just starting to become a regular spot on podcasting live shows… but that’s all but dried up.
Based on what I know right now, I don't think I'm going to go to any physical conferences or events for the rest of 2020.
Barring extraordinary developments, like me having a positive antibody test, the availability and reliability of therapeutics, or a vaccine; I don't think attending a podcasting gathering of any size is worth the risk.
If I'm having this moment of doubt, I can only imagine other people who are also having moments of doubt. Conference organizers are also having moments of doubt. I imagine organizations that rely on podcasting events or conferences to bring in revenue are having doubts, wondering what's going to happen to their livelihood in the future.
Me too. Me too.
The obvious answer here is to go virtual or distance-based. We've seen a massive shift to online already. Meeting rooms have been replaced by virtual conferencing options. Many planned conferences have gone virtual, and many more are contemplating how they can make the transition from in-person to online.
But I’m not optimistic about replicating the physical experience virtually.
Specifically, I’m not confident that trying to copy/paste the physical format into a virtual format is a good idea. I’m far from an expert in solving this particular problem, but I’ve seen the results of “let’s keep it the same but do it digitally” thinking in plenty of failed or lackluster service offerings. Regardless of what purveyors of digital magazine software will tell you, there was no need to replicate the experience “turning a page” digitally. It’s the content, not the container, stupid.
Will that be any different for the future of conferences?
Podcasters could be a good group to try out new visions of virtual conferences. By and large, we’re used to remote life. Most shows with guests are now interviewing remotely. Many podcasters work with distributed team members. And almost all are used to working with remote service providers. Except for that one weird dude who still runs a media server under his desk at home.
It really helps that we’ve maintained the visual component as we make the virtual transition. I’ve sat on my patio while joined by friends for virtual smoking sessions (me pipe, them cigars). I’ve had virtual happy hours with friends across two states. And I’ve attended virtual live concerts/house parties and chatted with other attendees scattered around the globe.
Would I rather have been in a smoking lounge than on my patio? Probably. Would I rather be sitting across the table with my friends as we laughed and enjoyed a shared meal? Without question. Would I rather let the music wash over me from the stage instead of having it come out of my TV speakers? Undoubtedly.
But at the same time, there are aspects of the forced virtuality of those experiences that just could not have happened physically. How do you happy hour when friends are a thousand miles apart? No one shushes me when I type snarky comments to my friends in the middle of the performance.
Will this forced experiment lead to better virtual experiences? That seems rather obvious, IMHO.
Attempts to replicate the in-person experience virtually doesn’t interest me. However, attempts to make something new with a virtual experience do excite me. Can a virtual experience lead to better educational outcomes? Can virtual events come with better biz dev opportunities? Can virtual experiences redefine what makes a successful conference?
For now, count me out of all in-person events for 2020. Call me overzealous if you like, but it's where my brain is at right now.
I'm curious what your plans are. Are you still going to attend? What are your restrictions or requirements for that to make sense to you?
Also, this is a great time for you to educate me on what cool, new virtual experiences you’re having that are better than in-person gatherings. I’m far from well versed in this area, so let me know what I’m missing.
Apologies for the ill-prepared episode. While this episode likely isn’t one you should send to a new listener, I’d still appreciate it if you would mention the show to just one person today. Thanks in advance.
Not that I have you much reason to so do on this episode, but you can go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and lend me a little support.
Add your thoughts on my thoughts here as a comment. Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Be safe. Make smart decisions. I'll be back on Monday to do the episode I’d planned to do today on another Podcast Pontifications.