Report by Tucker Johnson.
This is an industry that loves conferences. It’s not surprising if you think about it. Many of us were drawn to the localization industry because of our love for languages — a love that is driven by a deeper need to connect with others. This need for connection is exacerbated by a natural feeling of isolation that is typical in the most remote-worker-friendly industry in the world. All this leads to an industry of peers from around the globe who love to travel and connect with one another.
In March of 2020, due to the quickening growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, our beloved industry conferences started getting canceled. At first, these cancellations were seemingly controversial, but as the pandemic worsened, the cancellations became expected. Increasingly, though, events have been rescheduled and moved to remote formats.
The data and verbatim feedback presented in this research were collected through interviews with recent virtual event/conference attendees (multiple events) and an online survey of verified localization industry professionals likely to attend industry conferences.
People who were likely to attend in-person events in 2019 are now 600 percent more likely to attend virtual events. This is made possible as the virtual events are easier to attend logistically and because there has been an increase in the frequency of online events in 2020.
People attend for two primary reasons — 80 percent of respondents attend events to network with peers, while 66 percent of respondents attend to learn. As it is inherently more difficult to improve networking opportunities for virtual events, an increased focus should be placed on quality content that stands out from other events.
New modality needs a new approach — The best-rated conferences are those that did not try to force an “in-person” format into a virtual modality. Conferences that are designed with virtual as a priority are able to address participants’ needs more creatively.
Lower costs — Participants are much less likely to spend a lot of money on virtual events. While in-person events are typically over USD 1,000, most participants will pay no more than USD 100 for a virtual event.
Even those who don’t regularly attend events themselves recognize that there is a prominent cohort in the language services industry that seems to attend multiple conferences every month. To understand how event attendance has shifted since the onset of global shutdowns, it’s first important to get a baseline that helps us understand the “normal” frequency of attendance for in-person events under normal circumstances.
We surveyed localization industry professionals to see how many events they attended in 2019 in order to establish their baseline behavior.
In the graph above, we can see that 90 percent of survey respondents attended at least one event in 2019, with the majority of respondents going to three or more events, and 28 percent reporting that they attended more than five different events that year.
With this baseline in mind, we now can look at how these same participants reported their virtual event attendance during May and June of 2020.
Surprisingly, these two charts look very similar. The data show that those who had attended at least one event in 2019 were more likely to have attended a virtual event in the last two months. Those who reported attending between one and four in-person events in 2019 were likely to report attending between one and five virtual events in the last two months. And lastly, those who had attended more than four in-person events in 2019 were likely to report that they had attended more than five events in the last two months.
Now that we understand who is attending, let’s look at why they are attending. In order to understand participants’ motivations for attending events, we asked them to rank their top three reasons.
The two most common responses participants gave were to extend their personal networks and to keep up to date on industry information and trends.
Research participants were asked in surveys and interviews to describe how they feel about the switch from physical to virtual events. Below are some samples of verbatim feedback received. All responses have been kept anonymous in order to encourage direct feedback and have been edited for clarity and context.
The same respondents providing the feedback above also had some suggestions for event organizers, based on their observations from virtual events they have been attending. All responses have been kept anonymous in order to encourage direct feedback, and have been edited for clarity and context.
Respondents were asked to list some virtual events they had attended recently and to provide any feedback (whether positive or negative) they had on the event.
|"Happy Hours"||"I take part in several informal virtual happy hours that have sprung up recently. These are always a good excuse to relax and meet with friends."|
|#LocFromHome by Smartcat||"Did very well!" / "I only stayed online for a short time." / "Too long." / "It was cool, but there was a lack of networking, which was addressed by a Slack channel for participants."|
|Cranfield Webinars||"Great content."|
|Digital Future Congress||"Nice speakers from well-known players and hidden mittelstand champions, you could actually go to the fair stands if you wanted to, so that was cool"|
|Elia Webinars and discussion groups||"Great to debate in the discussion groups and the webinars work well"|
|Gartner Webinars||"Great content"|
|Google Enterprise Remote Day (by Seibert Media)||"This was quite a relaxed event. Funny enough, Google Hangouts/Meet didn't work that well (I would rather blame it on the speaker's network but still... It was nice to get some insights into different fields."|
|Insead Webinars||"Good content"|
|InterpretAmerica||"This worked fantastic using Kudo."|
|LocPub||"These informal meetups are always relaxing."|
|Memsource Meetup||"Too long."|
|Nimdzi Virtual eLearning||"Very useful insights and the course was broken down to allow for the information to be absorbed effectively."|
|ProZ.com Freelancer Success Summit||"The events were all very well organised but were all intended to be run online and I think this was key to their success. The organisers knew exactly what was required from the very start of planning, rather than changing the nature of the event later on."|
|ReMeP/Research meets Practice||"Cool presentations (they dared to have people that speak longer than the usual 20/30 minutes but there were quite a few interesting topics). Plus, they used Hopin so you could get to know random people on a 1:1 basis, and I loved that."|
|SDL Virtual Roadshow||"It was interesting to see the results of their latest TTI survey and to get a glimpse of Studio 2021 but I was missing a bit the food and the networking opportunities they normally have (they used to organise it in fancy hotels)."|
|Society for Technical Communication Summit||"I was surprised with how well the Society of Technical Communication conference transitioned to virtual in about 9 weeks. It was worth attending from 10pm-7am my time!"|
|TAUS Conference||"People who were put together to discuss were saying they were busy and did not discuss, so networking was close to zero." / "Information and learning is there. Networking reduced."|
|Tekom||"I like the hybrid approach they have taken."|
|Translation Mastermind Summit||"Well run."|
|White Nights and Game Global Summit.||N/A - No comment provided|
|Women in Localization||N/A - No comment provided|
|XTM LiveStream||"It was nice to see both the buyer side and XTM's viewers."|
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the conferences and events industry. Before the outbreak and subsequent travel restrictions, online events had not yet gained traction and were used for niche purposes. The forced migration to remote has provided a clear mandate to events organizers to adapt to virtual events.
Once travel and social distancing guidelines have been relaxed, it will only be a matter of time before conference organizers start holding in-person events again. In fact, many optimistic organizers are already advertising for the second half of 2020. The question that we are left with is how will event attendance be affected in the long term, even after official restrictions are lifted? Will people rush back to conferences, or will they take a more cautious approach.
We asked people if they had thought ahead to when conferences start happening again, and we see that most respondents were eager to start going to in-person events again, but held different beliefs about the level of caution warranted.
Roughly a third (30.8 percent) of respondents are committed to hitting the road again immediately and will begin attending conferences immediately once restrictions are lifted. An additional 12.8 percent feel the same but will have to wait until their company policies allow for event attendance.
For organizers looking to hold the first conference once borders start opening back up, it will be difficult to forecast attendance. There may certainly be a rush of people that normally would not have attended but have been waiting for months to get back on the road. However, there are also a considerable amount of people (48.7 percent according to this study) who report that they will not immediately resume travel. Rather, they will choose to wait and see before they commit to attending conferences with large crowds of people.
The supply and demand for online events and conferences has changed so dramatically in recent months that we haven’t yet seen the market settle on a standard pricing structure. Whereas everybody had a generally accepted idea of what was reasonable to pay for in-person event attendance, we now have no collective idea of what is reasonable for virtual events.
Participants in this research were asked how much they would be willing to pay to attend a virtual event. The majority of respondents (52.6 percent) reported under USD 100, which is a significant decrease in the USD 1,000 - 3,000 price tags on in-person events.
Participants were also asked to provide additional comments on why they feel the way they do about virtual event pricing. Their responses provide useful additional context to the data reported in the above graph.
By taking into consideration the feedback provided from our industry peers, we can learn from others’ (and our own) mistakes and work together to promote better events that more appropriately meet the needs and expectations of our industry constituents.
The language services industry is a diverse space by its very nature as its primary purpose is to connect people from a vast number of language and cultural backgrounds. Communication is at the core of all human interactions and where there is a need for communication, there is a need for language services.
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