Why online conferences are so much better

I know face-to-face conversations are hard to replace, but hear me out. Online music conferences have been around for a few years already. But COVID has forced the event industry to step up their online game considerably and quickly. While many are still eagerly awaiting in-person events again, I think online conferences are here to stay, even post-COVID, and here’s why that’s good news in my books.

Lower cost to the organizers

Venues, food, logistics cost a lot. Depending on the caliber of the speakers, their transportation and hotel costs, can add up. There’s also the time it takes to sort out the logistics with the venue, caterers if any, sponsor booths, and the like.

With an online conference, there’s less variables, so more resources can be allocated to getting incredible speakers to be part of the event. As an attendee, I see that as a huge plus.

More access to global perspectives

In the Sync Summit event I just attended, we had speakers addressing the sync market in India, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, U.K., and more. That would be impossible to do at a single in-person event, because people are just too busy to fly across the world to be on one panel. So if I wanted to keep up with various markets, I would have to attend those events around the world, at my own expense. But I was able to learn so much about other markets in one event, without ever leaving the house and without jet lag!

Lower (opportunity) cost to the speaker

Although the speakers may be compensated in some way for their appearance, there’s always an opportunity cost to giving up their most precious resource. Even when speakers are local to the city of the conference, there’s still the commute to and from the venue, plus any networking time with the attendees. With an online summit however, the time commitment for the speaker is minimal – just the one hour they have to be on the call. I would think that makes accepting the invitation more appealing/more doable.

Attendee tardiness is no longer a concern for the punctual

How many times have you arrived at an event early, only to find that most people were half an hour late and everything was delayed for the rest of the day? With an online event, as long as the speakers are there, the show is on. I found that most people were much more punctual than they would have if it was an in-person event. That’s especially an issue for any after-lunch sessions. This benefits everyone, especially the speakers and organizers.

Better moderation and more questions get answered

Perhaps one of my favorite advantages of online events is the ability for moderators to curate audience questions better, because they are coming through a chatroom. If a question is too off-topic or too rudimentary, the moderator can preemptively redirect them to relevant resources or clarify in the chat without disrupting the event for everyone.

As someone who strives to read and learn everything I can about the industry, the speakers, the topics in advance, I have a really hard time sitting through another raised hand asking about whether it’s ok to attach MP3 to their email, when I have more advanced technical questions I would love to get answered by these experts I’ve paid to come see.

Also, unfortunately some people take a very long time to ask a simple question. Sending questions in the chat makes it more likely that the question will be concise and only the gist of it needs to be repeated for the entire audience when it is addressed by the speaker. This also ensures that more questions are answered and less redundant ones are beaten to death.

No competing for terrible hotel wifi + more comfortable

Another perk of being home is that I could easily look up links, books or other material referenced by the speakers on one machine, while my Zoom was on a different device. I did not have to find the venue password, enter my name (which the hotel inevitably misspells) and compete with everyone else trying to log on. I was comfortable in my office chair, and the internet was fast. I could also easily get up and stretch when I needed to.

You can control the volume

Depending on where you’re sitting relative to the sound system at a live event, the panelists’ voices can be either too loud or too washed in reverb they’re unintelligible. With Zoom on the other hand, the sound quality is generally terrible, but most speakers quickly figure out how to sound the best they can, and I can lower the volume on my end if someone’s sibilance starts to hurt my ears. I can also crank it up if someone is too quiet.

Bonus: there’s no one chatting behind my back to distract me from listening to the speakers. I find that rather rude and disruptive.

You don’t have to bust your vocal chords

For singers especially, large in-person events can be rough. But online, you get to network with the people you want to via chat, and exchange links etc right then and there, without having to blow out your vocal chords spelling out your instagram handle over the noise. Every time I go to a conference, I have a migraine by the end of the first day. The brouhaha of hundreds or thousands of excited voices networking is not something my brain copes with very well.

Lower cost to the attendee – better access

We moved to LA partly because we were attending so many events here and figured we might as well call it home. But even then, we often ended up renting a hotel room for multi-day events instead of commuting in the notorious LA traffic, since a lot of the networking happened at the bar, after hours. We took the train to Ventura for the Songwriters Expo, and stayed at the hotel. We took Uber and stayed at the Westin LAX for another conference. And then there’s the meals. We try to prep and bring our own healthful snacks as much as possible, but that’s still extra time and money spent. While it can be fun, it does add up.

Without the travel costs, I suspect more people would be able to afford the tickets and get a chance to educate themselves about the latest industry trends, and meet the influencers previously out of their reach. Coming from a small island in the Indian Ocean, I know a thing or two about being prohibitively far from everything. I would love to see this new movement of global conferences open up opportunities for artists in remote places like Mauritius.

Final thoughts

When done well, I have no doubt that online conferences are better. Although it would be fun to get together in person eventually, I hope that becomes optional, and the online events are more the norm. It would be interesting to see whether event organizers can meaningfully balance both a live and online crowd at the same event. Either way, online conferences are here to stay, and I’m all for it.

Let me know in the comments whether you also prefer online events or can’t stand them.

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