Why Bother Showing Up In Person?

I’ve become so distracted by ensuring that digital participants are engaged fully in in-person-turned-hybrid events that I was stopped short by a client’s comment last week: “We really want people to come to our conference in person. Why would they bother, if attending remotely is an option?”

An interesting conversation ensued. Travelling to a conference is expensive and time-consuming. Even as COVID fears ease, will participants make the trip? And if not, how much does that matter? Is hybrid a temporary state, not “until things get back to normal” but “until we surrender to the new digital normal?”

I left with four takeaways:

  1. Update your assumptions. Attending conferences in person is no longer “just what we do.” Consider why it’s important to you to have people attend in the flesh.
  2. Be clear on your objectives. Once you’ve mined your assumptions, transform them into intentions. What are you trying to accomplish, and how will attendance at your event do that? For example, if your conference is primarily about communicating information, people may not need to show up in person to achieve that. But if it’s about strengthening collaborative networks through informal time spent together, then dinners and hallway chats are critical. Design accordingly.
  3. Communicate expectations. No matter how they show up, participants should know what to expect. If you are creating an experience where in-person attendance is preferred, make your case for it. If only some of the sessions will be suitable for hybrid participation, spell that out so that people can make a fully informed choice.
  4. Make in-person exceptional. People are more conscious of having a choice of attendance now. In your event design, make in-person attendance worth their investment. If I am taking the time to be there, I want my experience to be unforgettable, not something that could have been replicated (or improved on) through digital engagement. As remote collaboration methods improve, in-person occasions also need to up their game.

Learning out loud helps all of us navigate new territory. I’d welcome hearing what you’re thinking about this, either as an event participant or host.

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