Online Event Fatigue
Hello, everyone – it’s been awhile. Like everyone else, I’ve been affected by the current state of the world and I’m finally able to take a few moments to blog. I’ve never been someone to just put out content for the sake of it. I had ideas over the past month, but did not want to seem like I was taking advantage of the situation or do a lot .of “me too” type posts (i.e. “So you’re working from home … now what?”). My whole career has been based on helping people prepare for worst case scenarios. To me it would have felt a bit like what we call here in the US an “ambulance chaser”. I’m not going to prey on fears, but SQLHA is here for our customers new and old. If you do need help with anything, please reach out.
Everyone’s situation is different during this pandemic. Where there is a quarantine/stay-at-home/shelter-in-place or similar order, some of us are by ourselves others are at home with family. That includes juggling work, maybe home schooling, and more.
Having said that, it seems like there’s been an uptick in the number of online events. I see two trends. The first is that most major conferences until mid-2021 have been converted to online instead of in person. I did not want to use the word cancelled because it’s not true if the event is still happening. Second, it seems like everyone and their aunt, uncle, cousins, and distant relatives is now doing a ton of online events. It’s like “Everyone is home, let’s give them something to do.”
The Rise of the Online Event
I was supposed to be in the UK at the end of March/early April to speak at SQLBits in the UK. Clearly that didn’t happen. It’s been rescheduled to the fall, but given the current world situation – especially with travel – as much as I want it to happen and to be there, my gut says Bits as an in person event may not happen in 2020. While I hope I’m wrong, part of me knows I’m not. Will we ever see rooms filled like the picture below in the near future?
I’m also slated to speak at PASS Summit in Houston this year as I have a pre-con. They’ve already said there will be a virtual event even if the in person one can’t happen which is forward thinking. But let’s talk reality for a moment: even if it happens as in person, how many people are going to show up? Most companies are not going to pay for people to travel anywhere right now. It may be hard and bordering on impossible to get into and out of the US from other countries. There’s the bigger question … do people really want to be in a place with lots of others where it may be hard to do social distancing? I’ve been speaking at conferences a long time and for the first time in over 20 years, this has me pondering if in person events will come back, and when/if they do, what will they look like.
There’s another aspect to all of this that is a bit of an elephant in the room: conference cost. Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware among others turned their large, in person conferences (Ignite, Build, VMworld, Red Hat Summit) that they charge attendees good amounts of money into online free events. Within reason, big companies can absorb the financial hit of cancelling a conference that would have had thousands or tens of thousands of people and turning it into a free online one.
What does that mean for smaller conferences such as PASS Summit, SQLBits, and Live 360? Many smaller conferences have tight budgets and are largely run by volunteers who have day jobs and lives. Can they afford to do that? I’m guessing the answer is no. And what would people be willing to pay to attend an online event when so much is out there for free? Again, I have no answers, but I’m posing the question because I can’t be the only one to ponder this. We’ll certainly find out sooner rather than later. All of the free stuff may set a dangerous precedent as if that hasn’t happened already with how people view training (i.e. paid training versus a free YouTube video).
As a speaker, I hope major events still happen but free for everything forever does not seem like a sustainable model. That doesn’t mean free is bad and I’m happy to support things like local user groups. In fact, I’ll be speaking at the Jacksonville SQL Server User Group in a few weeks at their virtual meeting. I’m looking forward to it. Giving back is a big part of who I am.
One of the biggest aspects missing from many online events is the interaction and networking that happens. For vendors in exhibition halls, it’s how they get in front of customers. How do you replace those face-to-face experiences in a virtual way that works for everyone?
This brings me to a more practical and very real issue for a lot of us – attendees, speakers, and organizers alike. As I mentioned above, it seems like since the pandemic, there have been a million webinars and online conferences announced. Some are multiple days and many hours.
As someone who has done training online, I know very few people can sit for hours on end glued to the screen watching technical content. I’m going to be announcing some online classes very soon, but the model I use spreads the content out to balance knowing you need to get work done and getting things in bite sized chunks is better. It took me awhile to come up with what works.
Add to that with the pandemic, with everyone at home, this is not a normal situation. Can you even find the time with everything else on your plate to sit through all of this content – free or not? Some scheduled SQL Saturdays are transitioning to the online model, but do people really want to also spend their Saturday now in front of a screen?
Even before COVID-19, people have said to me (paraphrasing), “Well, if I’m not physically at a conference, they’re expecting me to work.” Even when I do teach – including in person classes – people have to duck out for work interruptions. Now that events are online and ubiquitous, why should a company allow you time to just sit and watch content, not answer mails or tickets, etc.? It’s a very real problem.
Truth be told, I was talking with some folks about doing an online thing that will be cool if we do it, but right now just doesn’t seem to be the time to introduce it. I’m seeing and hearing the fatigue. People are already starting to tune these online events out or have them on as background noise in the way some of us listen to music. The little separation they have between work/life balance is nearly gone. I think we’ll do it, but it has to be at the right time.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I don’t know the answer. If I did, I should buy a lottery ticket. What do you think about all of this? Will you attend an in-person event/conference again? What influences that decision for you? Do you have event/conference/webinar fatigue? What would you pay for an online event or training with great content? How long are you willing to sit and watch sessions in one sitting?
I would love to hear from you because we are all just trying to navigate a brave new world none of us have encountered.
Definitely, “event fatigue”: I’m finding that I register for online events, but not able or willing to view the live event at the appointed time, but tell myself I’ll view the recording later. Umm yeah, not so much; just hasn’t been happening.
Best events I’ve attended lately have been smaller things like local user groups (here or elsewhere), where most folks have webcam, and I get same sense of peer-to-peer camaraderie as in-person events. Whereas just another educational event just isn’t making it.
What you’re saying is what I’m observing, Tim. As someone who fits into all three categories – speaker, attendee, and organizer – it’s that interaction that makes or breaks a lot of online events. That was why Red Hat Summit failed for me. You spend so much time in front of a screen already, there has to be something more than just a recording. That alone is not compelling no matter how good the content is.
People’s hearts are in the right place thinking doing these things online will fill a void for some. It won’t. More is not better in this case. Online events are good, but do we really need one or more every day or week?