In 2019, the conference with its 130 lectures, workshops, and meetups as well as the international trade fair with more than 160 businesses attracted about 4000 participants. Company employees, managers, self-employed professionals, CEOs, students, and university professors joined the annual gathering. tekom’s chairman Herbert Herzke still remembers his first tekom conference in 1985, which he participated in as a guest together with about 100 attendees. A year later, he became member number 102. From then on tekom quickly grew in popularity.
However, in 2020 everything changed. Noone could have envisioned how thoroughly and abruptly the coronavirus would transform the world and life as we knew it. Suddenly everyone had to react on the spur of the moment to quickly develop creative solutions.
An association lives of collaboration and working together – yet, the virus forced us to keep apart. After extensive consideration, the tcworld and tekom conferences in Stuttgart were suspended, and tekom is about to enter a new field with the first “digital tekom” in its long history of conferences.
We wanted to know what our members thought of this new direction. Therefore, we prepared a survey in which 1215 participants took part, 92.5% of whom were members. Altogether the results were very positive and encouraging.
One aspect that will make the shift to the digital format easier for technical communicators than for other industries is the fact that 87% of people who work in technical communication already have a lot of experience dealing with software and technology and/or online events. In fact, 62% use virtual communication (e.g., web meetings, professional networks) on a daily basis while another third employs it at least once a week. Regarding the question whether they prefered online or in-person sessions 72% responded that, depending on the topic, they will hold discussions either online or in person; only 20% prefer in-person sessions exclusively. The same applies to online events: 72 % stated that they find online events just as good as on-site offerings, while only 17% oppose them; and 11% like online events even better. Although every fifth person (19%) prefers visiting conferences and fairs in person, 72% still think the virtual tcworld conference is a good alternative – given the current circumstances.
In general, 80% of the respondents found that working online during the last months (e.g., via telecommuting/meetings/classes/training) presented no substantial problems. Although 18% reported some challenges, there were no larger issues. For this reason, only very few of those surveyed had misgivings about dealing with technology at a virtual conference (4.5%) or bandwidth (8.5%). Only a few respondents stated that getting employers to approve time off (16%) or assume the costs (21%) could be an obstacle to their participation. Likewise, the need for silence in the office or home office (13%), motivation (8%), and concentration (11%) are not an issue for the majority of those surveyed. For almost everyone acquiring knowledge can be achieved digitally just as well as on-site; only 2% see this as a challenge. However, concerning networking, making contacts (43%) as well as direct communication and the exchange of information (71%) are perceived as challenges for a digital conference.
Survey participants also identified advantages of a digital tekom conference: Among these are the fact that recordings of the presentations are available afterwards (73%), the lack of travel expenses (72%), less time required (68%), lower cost (62%), and the easier integration into the workday (60%).
Although many would prefer to attend the conference in person, the great majority of those surveyed approve this years’ digital version and see the benefits in it. Here are some replies:
- “I think the idea is outstanding. We have found a way of communicating with each other despite the whole situation.”
- “This is the best thing we can do at this time: It is the logical consequence of the coronavirus situation and the ongoing transformation to a wise digitalization.”
- “In extraordinary times (coronavirus), a virtual-only conference makes sense. It’s great that you have got this organized.”
- “Generally, considering the coronavirus, a solely virtual conference is better than being on-site with masks and distancing requirements. The number of on-site participants would be too limited.”
- “I think the offering is great. A trip to the conference at this time is out of the question for me.”
- “The savings in travel costs and time is also a small bonus that will certainly be good for many people at the current time.”
Many are excited to see how it will unfold: “If everyone is considerate and gives their best, this will certainly be an attractive and interesting event.”
About a third of the respondents (400 people), have already experienced virtual events with tekom’s SummerCON. For many, this digital conference was “a complete and utter success”.
The main challenge of a virtual tekom conference resides in the interpersonal exchange and contact. In his opening presentation to the digital conference 2020 on YouTube, Michael Fritz outlined, how to promote community and cohesion digitally: “As usual, with 120 lectures on a variety of topics with the traditional high-level of quality, there is a wide range of offerings and comprehensive information spread out over five days. Learning new things is the central aspect of tekom. To meet and exchange, network and experience the technical communication community, digital tekom will offer a full range of options: even during the lectures, you can chat among yourselves and ask the speaker questions. In online discussion groups, people can exchange information or enjoy relaxed meetings and conversations with colleagues in virtual cafés. The fair will also be presented digitally: businesses will show their software, services, or consultancy virtually, and participants can get information about the offerings and seek advice via videoconferencing. The added value of the digital tekom 2020: Presentations can be retrieved for a certain time, even after the end of the conference. And new contacts won’t be lost: On the new tekom meetup platform, conversations can be continued past the conference.”
Will you attend the digital tekom conference 2020?
A quarter of the respondents (26%) stated with certainty that they will attend; another 50% are likely to join. For tekom and everyone involved, the digital conference 2020 will be a new milestone in its history.