How will conferences "work" in 2021?

The challenge of remote events and "group" relationships

Until June 2018, I didn’t really think much about tech conferences. I was frequently a speaker and my experience was limited to the following: enter green room -> go on stage with aggressive lights on my face -> get visiting cards/linkedin requests -> exit with swag. Everyone likes swag.

That changed in June 2018 when I took the CMO role at Amplitude and decided to spend 25% of our entire marketing budget that year on a 2 day product conference called Amplify. Yes, my first marketing project was a million dollar conference.

Not all CMOs like organizing conferences - they are very expensive bets and suck up all the mental energy of every creative person in your company for at least two months. However, if you get it right, it can dramatically alter your brand, your enterprise pipeline and the relationships you have as a team with leaders at your top accounts.

Most of that magic comes from sharing a beautiful space and a highly motivating experience with thousands of people. The energy is contagious. Live-streaming is good for extended reach but everyone focuses on the in-person attendees as the primary customers of a great conference experience.

Conferences create what I think of as “group” relationships. They are not 1:1, they are your connection to a team of people that you see operating together. It’s hard if not impossible to do build them online.

So what are we going to do in 2021, when more events will be part-live, part-virtual?

2020 was a wash. Everyone faux live-streamed and got broader reach (yay!) but none of that content consumption truly translated to relationships (boo!) for the account team. (If you know someone who had a different experience, I would love to talk to them!

So the 2021 question would definitely keep me up at night if I were still a CMO. I am yet to see any new tool/event platform recreate the experience and bonds of a great, IRL user conference. Here are some things that happened for the first time in Amplitude’s history at Amplify on Oct 9th, 2018 that we were hard pressed to recreate digitally in 2020 even with a 10x larger audience:

  • Our customers ( and prospects of course) suddenly saw us as a grown up business that was here to stay. Walking into a large venue with over a thousand people moving through a queue does that to you.

  • They watched our team working together - our leaders co-presenting, our engineers running demos, our GTM team introducing them to interesting people from our community. Overnight, they suddenly felt like they “knew” who we were and what we stood for.

  • They saw us hosting incredibly accomplished leaders on our home turf and more importantly - saw them sticking around to meet them.

  • They talked to each other about what they were learning - Amplify was their Q4 team offsite.

  • They stayed for dinner and then drinks and then after parties - if you are not sure that stuff makes a difference, please talk to your friendly next door account executive about what happens when a prospect joins your after party. :)

Two years later, Amplify 2020 was 10x larger and very successful. But we missed that magic of intimate human connection and shared energy that made the event special and highly impactful for the business.

2021 will be even harder. I hope we will all be vaccinated soon but the reality of remote events is here to stay. How do you recreate the magic of a great conference when some people are live and some remote? I know there are many event platforms working on the problem and a ton of VC $$ pouring into it but I remain skeptical. If you know someone that’s nailing it, would love to learn from them!