How to Choose the Best Format for Your Conference

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 Tips and Tricks

Matthieu Chartier, PhD.
Matthieu Chartier, PhD.

Founder @ Fourwaves

Before 2020, academic conferences typically took place in a hotel or conference center.

When Covid-19 hit, legal limitations on gatherings and concerns about health and well-being caused conference organizers around the world to re-evaluate their strategies.

In early 2020, many conference organizers simply canceled their events. The pandemic was new, its severity had not yet been determined, and there was no time to pivot away from the in-person conference format and find an alternative. 

Within a few months, conference organizers learned that virtual and hybrid events can be just as productive and valuable as in-person formats, and a conference ,management software that facilitate these remote events became more robust and much more popular. 

As the world re-opened and people began to gather in person again, the benefits of attending virtual and hybrid events remained. It is clear that virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. 

But now, conference organizers have a dilemma – which event format should they choose when planning an academic event? 

This article will compare the benefits of in-person, virtual and hybrid conferences, providing the information you need to choose the format that will produce the best results.

Hybrid event on Fourwaves
Hybrid events provide the most accessibility, but are more complex to organize.

The In-Person Conference Format

As an organizer, here are some reasons to consider planning an in-person event.

  • Networking opportunities

While online platforms do facilitate a range of virtual networking opportunities like poster sessions and breakout rooms, when it comes to networking nothing can beat an in-person event. 

In-person events facilitate networking opportunities outside of the organized, prescribed breakout sessions and social events. When a group of people are sharing a physical space, networking naturally occurs at the refreshment table, charger station, the line for the restroom – everywhere. 

  • Good for small groups

If you have a limited audience with a narrow focus and are not interested in reaching a large, international crowd, an in-person meeting is the best choice.

The Virtual Conference Format

At a virtual scientific conference, researchers gather online to present their work and learn about the research of others. These events are facilitated by conference management software where participants register and build their session schedules. 

As an organizer, here are some reasons to consider planning a virtual event.

  • Better accessibility

Virtual events are the most accessible option for many reasons. 

They are far less expensive to attend than in-person conferences since attendees won’t have travel related costs. This makes it easier for international attendees to participate in your event, opening up your audience to include a larger demographic. 

Virtual events are also easier to attend for people with disabilities or family responsibilities.

  • Sustainability

It’s estimated that the travel industry makes up 8-11% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Since virtual conferences require no air travel, hotel stays, tours of the city, disposable coffee cups and single use plastics, encouraging conference attendees to present, review, learn and network from home is an important way to minimize the carbon footprint of an event. 

  • Organizational costs

Virtual events are more cost effective, not only for attendees, but for organizers as well. Without having to think about the expenses related to venue tours, printed programmes, equipment and furniture rentals, conference organizing committees can rely on one software that takes care of all of their planning needs.

  • No surprises

Whether we’re talking about weddings, family reunions or academic conferences, anyone who planned an event between 2020 and 2022 knows the importance of flexibility and always having a backup plan. If a public health crisis happens that makes in-person meetings impossible, organizers of virtual events won’t have to reschedule or cancel. 

  • International audiences

If your event has a wide scope of focus and you’re looking to attract attendees and presenters from around the world, a virtual event is probably your best bet. The ability to participate online removes many of the barriers associated with attending in person events. With virtual events, all attendees need to consider is their bandwidth and time zone.

The Hybrid Conference Format

An academic conference that follows a hybrid format is an in-person event with virtual participation option. It provides the best of both worlds, combining the networking benefits of in-person meetings with the budgetary and accessibility perks of a virtual event.

As an organizer, here are some reasons to consider planning a hybrid event.

  • The best of both

A hybrid event satisfies the people who value the live interaction and discussions that take place naturally when people with similar interests share a space. At the same time, this event format makes it easy for those who would be unable to attend because of issues with travel, budget, or responsibilities at home to participate.

  • Adaptable

When you plan a hybrid conference, you can easily adapt and go completely virtual if external circumstances demand. This is especially valuable to organizers who had to cancel their events during the first few months of the pandemic.

On the flip side, while conference management software solutions have become extremely reliable, technical difficulties and network errors still occur. In fact, 32.9% of event organizers have experienced connectivity issues during a hybrid event. One of the main benefits of hybrid events is that, if you experience technical difficulties, you’ll still have a live, in-person group to continue with while the tech support team resolve the issue. And once connectivity is restored, you can broadcast recordings of the content that was missed.

  • Multiple options

There are different ways to organize hybrid meetings and make the in-person elements of your event accessible to virtual attendees. Some events are completely live-streamed, while others provide recordings after the event to help extend the impact of the event.

Some organizers of hybrid conferences choose to plan asynchronous hybrid events where the in-person and virtual parts of the same conference both take place, but not at the same time. This makes it easier to manage because there is no need to livestream the sessions. Instead, presentations and discussions can be recorded and made available online at a later date. 

There are pros and cons to each of the event formats discussed above and there’s no clear answer as to which type of event is best. However, we hope this article has provided you enough information to compare against your goals and objectives, and decide which option is best for you. If you’re interested in learning how Fourwaves can help you organize an in-person, virtual, or hybrid event, click here to book a demo today.

In-person, hybrid or virtual

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