Unprecedented. Virtual. Pivot. Since March 2020, our daily conversations have been saturated with a combination of vocabulary reserved for a unique scenario most people never fathomed they would experience – a modern-day global pandemic. The world has worked to persevere with an attitude of flexibility, productivity, and efficiency, but overwhelmingly people are missing the opportunity for in-person, human interaction. It is sad to say it, but the novelty of Zoom happy hours have definitely lost their luster and the more serious situation being considered is how industries will work to cultivate new ideas, spark innovation, and connect with colleagues as the virus continues to loom. One idea—is the virtual conference.
Like many professionals in the translation and localization industry, the team at Terra Translations was primed and excited to take on LocWorldWide 42, which was scheduled for the end of July in Berlin, Germany. Since its inception, the LocWorld organization has created a “marketplace of the localization industry”, initiating an opportunity for networking and knowledge exchange. So, it was only fitting that LocWorld leadership did not shy away from forging ahead to deliver the benefits of LocWorldWide, but on a virtual platform for their first online conference. Like many maiden voyages, some things were smooth sailing and there were a few bouts of rough waters. At the end of the day, thought-provoking ideas were debated, organizers and participants had great attitudes, and there were a lot of laughs!
What can you expect from a virtual conference? Here are some things to keep in mind.
If you are a regular at industry events, a virtual conference can create an opportunity to see some new faces. A major perk of LocWorldWide 42 was that it created access for many people who had not been able to budget or justify the costly expenditure of a global conference in the past. In addition to no global travel or shuffling from exhibition halls to banquet rooms, participants still had the benefit of learning from keynote speakers and panel discussions while enjoying plenty of (their own) coffee and meeting peers from around the world.
The virtual platform also allowed for the flexibility to change when things were not working so well. For example, the LocWorld staff did a wonderful job of listening to participants who asked for more opportunities to directly network; two happy hour sessions were added at the end of each day allowing for plenty of connection and conversation. The ability to pivot in real-time based on audience preferences was slick.
As to be expected, there were a few hiccups that would not have occurred had the conference been in-person, specifically involving technology and time zones. The conference was executed on a couple of different platforms to accommodate presentations, virtual exhibitors, and networking. Unfortunately, a few of the initial sessions did not load properly, so participants were unable to view them at the scheduled times and were left either with nothing to watch or an option to jump into another session. The technical issues were resolved quickly, and event organizers were very transparent in their efforts to ensure it did not happen again. Truly, it is important to keep an attitude of flexibility as everyone leans so heavily on internet connections and user platforms to function properly.
The other major downside to this style of event is the time zone predicament. Because the event was planned to take place in Berlin, the organizers kept with that time zone (Central European Standard Time) as a nod to the original event. Instead of suffering from jet lag and being dazed and confused in the daylight, participants in other parts of the world were logging on in the middle of the night. This might not sound like a major inconvenience, but when the alarm clock sounds at 2:00 am, employees may question how anxious they are to participate. Even with a learning curve, organizations like LocWorld are doing a great job of filling the void to help their respective industry advance and recover some semblance of normalcy. Technology will improve, experiences will be enhanced, and the virtual conference just may become a permanent component within the professional arsenal for information sharing and networking. Certainly, in-person conferences, and all the ceremonious grandeur involved, will return and when they do, the world will be ready.
But for now, consider logging on for the next virtual industry conference; it is a good reminder that the world is a little smaller than we think.