The topsy-turvy world we now reside in has challenged us no end - from working at home; to home-schooling our children; wearing PPE and overcoming loo roll hoarding too. As we establish some concept of normality and try to continue in a differing working environment for many; platforms have arisen to aid in networking and communication.
As the usual face-to-face conferences have been unable to continue for the majority of the year, organisers have looked to technology to assist with ways to offer alternatives.
This started with industry groups setting up Zoom or Microsoft Teams calls and presenting their speakers over the internet, streaming in to sparse offices and homes. This was a reasonable attempt delivering industry related content to their delegates, but it lacked the free flow of communication and networking.
We understand it cannot replace a conference, where everyone can attend, creating an environment to share knowledge and open discussion. However, during a pandemic driven 2020 considerations to think outside the normal parameters were needed.
Enter the Cleanroom Technology and Manufacturing Chemist Virtual Conference supported by Swapcard.
This platform provided dual streams for both Cleanroom Technology and the Manufacturing Chemist components that used to be handled as separate entities. Full agendas and presentations that you can enter depending on your interest, which I would say would be what we have already seen but displayed in a more accessible manner and presentations were all informative and relevant. However, the platform provided a stage outside the presentations to enable a more interactive experience.
Exhibitors created virtual areas to allow delegates to explore product range, services, documents, and members of the team - to see if the exhibitor was able to fulfil their needs. These virtual areas were filtered by industry and sectors of interest, to allow easy searching for delegates. It allowed you to set up meetings or ‘Chat’ communications to discuss more in-depth topics, such as resolving challenges, reviewing detailed product specification and services on offer in relation to training and so on. Additional information such as contact information, website and location was also readily available.
Not only was there easy networking available between delegates and exhibitors, but the group discussion forum also allowed for open discussion after presentations; with speakers able to answer questions put forward by delegates and take polls on the groups opinion.
Profiles were easy to create, communicating simply who you were, what you did and some information about your company.
This was clearly a step up to accommodate the scope of a conference in these unusual times. Even though it made progress to establish a considered platform, there were areas that could be improved upon.
The exhibitor-delegate participation seemed disjointed and there was little to trigger attendees after the presentations by the speaker to go and chat (virtually) with the exhibitors. Organisers did place reminders on the group discussion and there were prompts on the notification tool, but I felt there was not as much interaction as there could have been. It was observed that delegates were potentially thin on the ground in participation compared to a physical conference.
To watch a presentation, it would take up the entire screen, so visibility of group discussions and notification on networking and connections would not be picked up right away.
I myself felt drawn away from the event to get on with day to day work, such as doing this email, or I can just complete this document. My presence and attention were not as consistent as it would be if we were exhibiting.
All in all, I believe this to be a positive step taken to provide some form of engagement across offices and homes, to continue with industry updates and knowledge and to help engagement with others across our industry.
For what the future may hold, I believe this is something that is here to stay and will be utilised as part of conferences to come but there are improvements that need to be made. However, once the pandemic is behind us, I believe a face to face will still be in order and I for one am looking forward to it as soon as possible (mainly to get away from the children!).