What is an online conference? Explaining how they are held and their advantages and disadvantages
The demand for “online conferences” is increasing in the business industry. In the past 1, 2 years, online videoconferencing tools have become widespread, and conferences that used to be held as face-to-face events are now being held online. In addition, an increasing number of companies are now designing conferences that can only be realized online. However, online conferences are still in the process of evolution, and many people are still exploring the possibilities.
In this issue, we will discuss “online conferences” in detail, including their merits and how to host them.
What does “conference” mean?
The word “conference” itself may be unclear to some Japanese speakers. In Japan, among the medical industry, meetings are generally referred to as conferences. Recently, it has come to be used in the business world as well.
However, the meaning of “conference” in the medical industry and the business industry is somewhat different.
In the business scene, a conference is almost always a “large scale meeting to which experts are invited and held externally”. In the medical industry, all meetings are called conferences, but in the business industry, smaller meetings are more commonly referred to as meetings.
Compared to meetings, conferences in the business scene are larger in scale, open to the outside world, more specialized, and have a stronger event-like element.
Social background of the demand in Online Conferences
There are several reasons for the growing demand for online conferences, the most significant of which are “refraining from holding live events” and “the expansion of online technology”.
As you know, due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus in 2020, it has become very difficult to hold events that gather large numbers of people in one place. Conferences attract a relatively large number of people, and the new coronavirus has made it more difficult to hold such events.
On the other hand, online conferencing using video conferencing tools such as Zoom has quickly spread and taken root. Usually, it takes many years for a new technology to hold a firm status. However, as a result of the necessity created by the new virus, as of 2021, the majority of people involved in business now have access to some form of online conferencing tool.
These trends have made online conferences a very popular way to host a business event.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Conferences
While online conferences are current, there are both advantages and disadvantages. It is important to understand both the advantages and disadvantages when considering holding a conference.
Advantages of Online Conferences
There are four main advantages of online conferences.
A: There is no limit to the number of participants
B: Participation is possible from anywhere in the world
C: Easier for guest speakers to participate
D: Easier for the attendees to express opinions
>No limit to the number of participants
There is virtually no limit to the number of participants in an online conference. With the right tools and the right infrastructure, you can bring together hundreds or even tens of thousands of participants.
>Participate from anywhere in the world
One of the strengths of online conferences is that they can be attended from anywhere in the world, as long as there is access to the Internet. This is a great advantage for those who live in rural areas or work from home and have not been able to travel or stay for several days during a conference. It also allows participants to save on transportation and lodging costs, which in turn may decrease the organizer’s cost as well.
>Easy participation for guest speakers
It is not only the audience that has been made easier to participate by going online. Experts and lecturers can also participate more easily. Guest speakers are especially important for conferences as they often deal with specialized content. Online, the ability to invite experts and lecturers from all over the world dramatically increases the number of options of experts to be invited as guest speakers, and improves the quality of the conference overall.
>Easier for the attendees to express opinions
One of the characteristics of online conferences is that participants can easily express their opinions. While the number of opportunities to express opinions at a live conference is inevitably limited, online conferences allow anyone to easily express their opinions by using the chat function. Also, by using the survey/voting function, the results can be tallied on the spot, making it possible to capture participants’ feedback as they arise while hosting a large-scale conference.
Disadvantages of Online Conferences
There are three main disadvantages of online conferences
A: Participants can easily logoff from the conference
B: Difficult for the attendees to share the uniting experience with others
C: The host needs to set up a secure internet connection
>Easily logged off
The disadvantage of online events, not limited to online conferences, is that it is easy to logoff. While it takes some energy to leave from a live venue, it is easy to leave from an online venue just by simply closing the screen, and if the content is weak or monotonous, it makes it even more reasonable to do so.
>Difficulty in sharing the live excitement with others
In the case of live venues, the environment where “many people are in one place” can create enthusiasm and a sense of unity, but this is not the case with online venues. If the program is not designed with a clear idea of how to create excitement, the participants will lose interest and easily leave the event.
>The need for secure internet connection
Although it is said that the hurdles to holding an online event are low, it is essential to secure a functioning internet environment in order to hold a large-scale conference. If there is no connection due to poor internet connection, it will be impossible to hold the event in the first place. In addition, in the case of online events, participants often use their own devices (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.) to view the event, and there are cases where participants cannot view the event due to poor internet connection on their side.
It is important to understand these advantages and disadvantages before planning an online conference.
The two types of Online Conferences
There are two main types of online conferences: “fully online” and “hybrid”. Let us explain the characteristics of each.
This is a format in which all attendees participate online, using video streaming tools such as Zoom. Since a real venue is not required, it is more cost-effective than arranging a large venue, and can be held more easily. On the other hand, there is a drawback: it is difficult to get a firsthand understanding of the participants’ feedback and it is also harder for the attendees to communicate with each other. In addition, if the screen is too monotonous, viewers will become bored and leave the conference, so careful attention must be paid to the screen design and program flow.
This is a format in which a live venue is prepared where guest speakers or a small number of participants are invited, and the event is also broadcasted live from the venue. The main features of this format are that the real participants and online participants have different viewpoints and can play different roles. For example, you can gather participants who are more specialized in the field for discussion and broadcast the discussion, or have real participants join in a workshop and have online participants watch it as content. Another important feature is that you must be particular about the venue arrangements and camera work. Since the way of viewing and participating differ between the venue and online participants, it is necessary to create content that satisfies both types. Particular attention should be paid to online participants to ensure that the event is not simply a live broadcast from the venue, but is also exciting for them as well.
How to Organize an Online Conference
Now, let’s take a look at specifics on how to hold an online conference.
Depending on the size, it is important to consider online conferences in the category of events rather than meetings, as they have a strong event component.
1. Defining the 5W&2H
First, we must go through the 5W2H of the online conference you wish to hold.
5W2H refers to “why,” “what”, “when”, “where”, “who”, “how”, and “how much”.
Why: The reason/purpose of the online conference.
What: The content to accomplish your key goals in hosting the online conference, such as research presentations, discussions, etc. Think about what content would be best to accomplish the “why” content.
When: The date and time of the conference
Where: The venue
Who: Who will be the speakers at the conference and the target audience.
How: What tools and communication environment will be used for the online conference? This can be a criterion for deciding whether to go fully online or hybrid.
How much: The overall budget.
Once these factors are established, it will be decided whether to hold the conference in-house or hire an event company to support you. The 5W2H also serves as a guideline for moving forward with the project.
2. Preparation for the event
Once the 5W2H has been established, specific plans for holding the conference are made and put into motion accordingly.
Especially for external conferences, it is essential to attract an audience. How long it takes to prepare depends on the size of the event, the venue to be used, and the content of the program, but you should expect at least three months.
3. Hosting an online conference
On the day of the event, prepare a system similar to that used for live event management. Especially in the case of online conferences that are open to the public, whether the setup and smooth flow are in place and whether the communication environment is stable will directly affect viewer satisfaction.
Should I host my own online conference? Or should I hire an event company?
Depending on the size of the event, it may be safer to hire an event or a streaming company for an online conference. This is because conferences often have several hundred to several thousand viewers, and if you use the same tools as for a regular conference, there is a risk that the line will become congested and viewers will not be able to connect.
While it is possible to host a conference in-house for a few dozen people, if it is open to the public, or if there are more than a few hundred participants, it is recommended to hire a streaming company or an event company.
Specific Examples of Online Conferences
We’ve been explaining several subjects on online conferences, but some of you may still not have a clear picture.
So, here are some examples of online conferences hosted by various companies for a clearer understanding.
AWS summit online
This is an online conference by Amazon, now one of the largest companies in the world. The target audience is IT technicians and engineers who use Amazon’s AWS service.
As the event claims, it is “Japan’s largest AWS event attended by 50,000 technical and business professionals”, the scale of the event, the number of professionals gathered, and the number of attendees is off the charts! However, the site has a well-defined route to each section, so visitors do not get lost even where there is a huge amount of content.
The site is packed with resourceful elements in all aspects, including the way the site is designed and the way information is presented.
LINE AI DAY 2021
This is the LINE online conference a brand that we are very familiar with. LINE is now more than just a social networking service; it is connected to all diverse services that surrounds our everyday life. With this in line, the event focused on how to make our lives richer and more convenient by using LINE services, and a wide variety of sessions were held on topics such as transportation, infrastructure, and storefront business.
Sansan Evolution Week 2021 Spring
This is an online conference hosted by Sansan, a well-known business card management and customer management system in Japan. Business card management is an essential tool for any business. As an indication of the diversity of businesses that uses their service, a wide variety of experts, from a former athlete to the Commissioner of the Digitals Agency and Taiwan’s Minister of Digital Affairs, are speaking at the sessions.
The event also includes content rooted in their services, such as sales promotion programs presented by participating companies and an online business card exchange using smartphones.
Japan Hybrid Conference 2021
This is a hybrid online conference we hosted in March 2021. We held a session on the future of online communication and presentation literacy for the future that we want to realize through event production. We have archived the video for your viewing pleasure.
Summary: Online conferences is becoming the trend for external events
Today, information abounds and its authenticity is questioned. There is a growing demand in all genres to hear from genuine experts and academically supported stories. In this sense, online conferences, which can invite experts from anywhere in the world and allow participation from anywhere in the world, will be in increasing demand in the near future. Now that providing the right information is a key to branding, a quality online conference is an important event that can improve the image of not only the company, but also the industry. Please consider hosting an online conference for your own company or brand.