We've resisted calls for virtual conferences throughout the pandemic but now it's clear: the world is not going back to normal any time soon.
People don't want to fly, they don't want to spend a couple of days locked up with lots of people they don't know and that's before we start to talk about recession and redundancies.
So here we go:
Back to the Future
We aren't afraid of tech. When we developed Quick To Learn More in 2002, we also began work on a virtual conference and virtual exhibition platform. We took it to an alpha build but we didn't like the compromises. The virtual conference was easy to produce but it was basically nothing more than a series of videos or streamed presentations that the audience sat through. Opportunities for interaction were pathetically poor. That, it is clear, has not changed if the audience is more than half-a-dozen people.
The exhibition was fun: we used first-person gaming tech to create a walk-around environment where delegates could talk, by video phone or online chat, to exhibitors (or leave messages) and collect brochures etc. By integrating on-demand video, we could let exhibitors run presentations for visitors. That was quite easy but in 2002, the biggest challenge facing the internet was the capacity and cost of bandwidth. The cost would have been far too high. After all, five years later YouTube sold itself to Google because it couldn't pay its bandwidth bills.
So, our product ended up in a drawer, the drawer ended up left behind when we moved offices and the project was abandoned.
Frankly, video conferencing is still rubbish yet users have come to accept limitations that we are not happy with. And if you're happy, who are we to preach?
Virtual exhibition software is available and it's not terrible - in fact in many respects what we designed is available (but not all on one platform) although the graphics are better (well, some are).
Past lessons, present experience
So, despite our misgivings, The Financial Crime Forum is going to host on-line Fora. We'll make them as close to the real thing as they can be when everyone is on a room on their own* and there is no possibility of our trademark "room wide discourse" that is such a major part of an in-person Forum.
We are, of course, looking for ways to differentiate our events from the norm. And we have a couple of ideas that will do that.
We will "go hybrid" at some point but initially we will separate in-person and online events. Why? Because we want to provide the best experience we can, rather than simply have a screen full of bulging eyes and sticky-out noses filling your screen and someone with a fixed stare talking at you. We understand something better than most: conferences, more than seminars, are about entertainment. How we build that in remains to be seen but we'll be working towards that as we run the first few events. For sure, presenters can't strut about a stage. Or can they?
So, keep an eye out: we know we'll have much room for improvement when we start but we won't rest on our laurels and we will find ways to make on-line events better than horrible.
Build your own event
If you can't make it, you can fake it. When you and your colleagues buy tickets to the Forum, why not get in some food and drink and watch together discussing as you watch? Obviously, we'd prefer it if you bought a ticket for everyone but we can't police it. It's a matter for your conscience. But whichever course of action you take, we that a group in the same room will enhance your experience.
You can even appoint someone to lead discussions within your group after the event ends.
FinCrimeTV. Com -ing soon.
And "soon" is sooner than you think.