The Future of Conferences in the Wake of a Pandemic
A future physician reflects on attending her first "in-person" conference in the Fall of 2021.
Blouses ironed. Presentation running smoothly. A fresh pack of N95s and hand sanitizer (less than 3.4 oz for the flight of course)...stocked and loaded.
This is our new normal - at least for the foreseeable future.
I couldn’t have imagined that my first Brave Enough conference would consist of warm energy separated by six feet; my first time meeting Brave Enough founder, Dr. Sasha Shillcutt, anesthesiologist, gender equity expert, and work-life control guru being limited to an elbow bump; and greeting women leaders in medicine, law, and other prestigious professions for a power-packed four day conference where my excitement is minimized behind… a mask.
This is our reality, but one well worth it for the safety and health of ourselves, those whom we love, and strangers we pass by on our weekly grocery store run.
For the Brave Enough team, the past year and a half has been filled with more pausing, pivoting, planning, and uncertainty than we’d like to admit.
This year, we’ve brought back our in-person conference with limited capacity, accompanied by a state-specific, COVID-19 protocol for before, during, and after conference activities. We’ve taken various precautions to minimize COVID infections for those both vaccinated and those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated. Some of these measures include:
- Encouraging vaccination, social distancing, handwashing, and masking during all group-related activities while requiring staff to wear masks at all times.
- Decreasing our breakout sessions while increasing our outdoor activities.
- Creating codes of conduct with required acknowledgment to maintain clear expectations and transparency.
- Gathering COVID-related data from conference attendees and contact-tracing post-conference.
For our BE21 conference, we’re glad to report a 99% vaccination rate for all of our attendees. However, the complete vaccination rate at any given conference could vary below the suggested rate for herd immunity, which poses an increased risk of COVID transmission.
Undoubtedly, the future of conferences in the wake of an ongoing pandemic looks very - hybrid. As many business professionals are being diagnosed left and right with Zoom fatigue, many of us have a newfound appreciation for business-related travel, socialization, and conferences as a whole. What once may have felt dreadful preparing for business travel now feels like a much-needed getaway. We’ve seen a growing number of annual conferences and symposiums move to a hybrid model: offering a limited capacity of in-person accommodations for those with the travel itch while still providing an option to tune in virtually for those not quite ready to elbow bump. I envision companies investing more funding into personalizing online platforms to appease their crowd and bring more “normality” to virtual conference spaces while ensuring that attendees feel seen.
No matter how your next conference is offered, there’s one thing we all are forced to digest: COVID has thrown a wrench in many of life’s happenings that we used to take for granted - even business travel. Who would've thought we’d be desperate for early morning round tables and days filled with interpersonal exchanges? Yet this is our reality.