The dramatic decline in conferences and other meetings is likely to contribute to a significant drop in carbon emissions from air travel in 2020.
Conferences and meetings have come to be regarded as important parts of professional life. They allow us to connect with people and ideas in our field, and can be opportunities to advance new knowledge.
But with so many of us effectively “grounded”, what are the alternatives to attending traditional conferences and meetings?
Digital conferencing on the rise
The use of digital conferencing platforms has skyrocketed in the past few weeks as more and more people work from home and travel is restricted.
Leading US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden even held a “virtual town hall” meeting recently as part of his campaign, although many users reported technical glitches and low-quality video plagued the experience.
Conferences are even taking place in virtual reality settings. These dedicated online conferencing environments are designed to mimic the venues conferences are often held in. These online events have large auditoriums, smaller “breakout rooms” and even socialising spaces to meet other participants through the use of digital avatars.
However, online conferencing need not be held in immersive 3D environments to be successful.
Exploring alternative formats
Most traditional conferences tend to be quite similar in format. They’re usually in a fixed location and run for two to five days. Presenters speak in front of live audiences on a fixed schedule.
Some digital conferences try to mimic this format, but others are trying to use the technology to open up the possibility for new types of event formats.
The “nearly carbon-neutral” conference model was initially developed to reduce the emissions associated with flying to conferences. Presentations are broadcast online over about two weeks. Participants can interact with presentations via accompanying text channels. The lectures and text messages are preserved online, creating an accessible archive.
Some events are being broadcast on the website Twitch. It’s a popular streaming platform where online gamers broadcast to – and interact with – surprisingly large audiences. This shows how conference organisers planning online events may need to look to communities who have been connecting and interacting “at a distance” long before any travel bans came into force.