If you were to Google search “conferences canceled in 2021,” you might be struck by a few things: 1) how many events have decided to go virtual; 2) how deep into the year decisions have already been made; and 3) how many folks report that they have no idea what is in store for them.
Indeed, the in-person meeting landscape is dotted with uncertainty as the entire world seems to, in unison, take two steps forward and two steps back in the battle against Covid.
You can place the world’s most prominent presentations conference in that camp, as Season No. 19 of the Presentation Summit is in limbo, just like every other event that hopes to play to an audience in 2021. You might think it is an advantage to have an event scheduled for Q3; after all, that gives organizers more time to figure things out. But really, it is more of a curse, because organizers have more time to figure things out.
The irony of that statement should escape nobody: events held in the first six months of the year can (and should) pull their triggers now. They won’t be in limbo for as long as the “lucky” ones who have conferences planned for later in the year.
There is a lot of company on the Good Ship WTFK. The survey we conducted in early December suggests that a significant share of Summit alumni are drowning in uncertainty as to whether they can / should / want to attend the Summit in person this year. We will share the survey results later this month and we will repeat the survey in February and again in April, if for no other reason than its sociological value. Will those results help us make a decision? WTFK.
What we do know
Amid our uncertainty, we learned a lot from our maiden voyage into virtualosity so let’s choose to focus on the many things that we do know.
Third week in September: The 2021 Presentation Summit will be held September 26-29 — that is a certainty. It will consist of the same deep dives that have become part of its nearly 20-year heritage: storytelling, design, PowerPoint proficiency, and delivery. Keynote speakers will begin to be announced this month and the rest of the program will be doled out across Q1. Reflecting our belief that virtual presenting will remain a thing long after Covid leaves us, content across our two tracks of seminars will pay tribute to both the in-person and virtual experience.
Last year, over 400 presentation enthusiasts connected with the virtual Summit, including a few hundred who shared with us their delight in our converting to virtual, allowing them to attend for the first time. No matter what happens this year, these folks will have an event to connect with this fall. No matter what, there will be a virtual Presentation Summit in September.
Clearwater Beach? It has been our intention to return to one of the most popular venues of the last 10 years: the west coast of Florida, 30 minutes west of Tampa. A brand new Wyndham Resort, in the heart of the beach scene, continues to hold rooms and meeting space for us.
Our vision is to hold a hybrid event that blends the in-person and virtual experiences and we have thought a lot about what that might look like:
- Keynotes and seminars would be held in conventional ballrooms in front of actual people.
- Live streaming technology, now commonplace and familiar to us, would capture presenter and visuals for those tuning in from their homes and offices.
- The seminar hosts that were so popular last year would fill that same crucial role, only they would do it from the first row of each ballroom. They would monitor the remote Q&A and relay all relevant commentary directly to the presenter.
- Everyone gets near-immediate access to the recordings of the sessions.
- The in-person audience would feel the presence of the virtual audience in a much more vital way than simply through social media, and conversely, the remote audience would be able to get a sense of the vitality of the room. Both would benefit from the DNA of the hybrid experience.
- The Expo Hall and Help Center would have feet in both worlds.
- Each audience would have its own separate after-hours experiences, but our minds are abuzz in how we can integrate remote contestants into the trivia contest. We hope to get a chance to prove that concept.
The bet that we are hedging today is forecasted capacity: we believe that an in-person event this fall would not draw the normal 200 people. We are preparing for half that number. If we had 100 people in attendance in Clearwater Beach and several hundred tuned in from all over the world, we would be very happy conference campers.
What has to happen? In order for this vision of conference nirvana to come to fruition, people need to be willing and able to travel. Well, duh — the more relevant question is what creates that comfort? What are the conditions that must be met in order for people, bosses, departments, and entire organizations to say, yes, it is time once again to spend money so people can get on airplanes, Uber to hotels, interact with strangers, and contribute to a positive community vibe?
That last part of the question is the most entangled and it suggests that we need much more than just a vaccine having been distributed across the country. It is likely that many tens of millions of people will be vaccinated against Covid by the fall. It is likely that companies will begin to implement return-to-normal plans by the fall. It is likely that people will be itching to return to normal by the fall.
However, it is equally likely that our country’s vaccination program will not replace our mask-wearing and social-distancing protocols — that is the real sticking point. It is not good enough that conference patrons would be made to feel safe with the requisite safety measures in place. We believe our patrons would have to feel as if they no longer need those safety measures. Otherwise, we are wearing masks in Conference Central; we are not shaking hands with new acquaintances and hugging our long-time conference buddies; we are not sitting next to one another in ballrooms or on our comfy couches; we are not all eating lunch together; we are not hanging out in the lounge in the evenings.
We don’t want to host our conference if we can’t do those things.
If we can’t do those things — if we conclude that an in-person conference is not yet viable — we would fall back on an exclusively virtual conference, as we held in 2020. A far cry, we know, but we also know that it is way better than nothing: real learning does take place and a semblance of community is possible. We know this. We felt it last year and we can feel it again.
What you can do
The first question for you is simple: do you want to attend the Summit this year, no matter what form it takes? If so, then you can register right now, taking one of two routes:
- You can reserve one of the 100 in-person slots. If we are a no-go, you would be refunded the difference in registration fee between in-person and virtual.
- Or register for the virtual conference. If you decide later you want to attend in person, you would pay just the difference between the two prices. No upcharge, no fees for changing your mind, no funny business.
Those who sign up in January will be granted access to all of the seminar recordings from the 2020 virtual conference, available through the end of February.