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Charleston Conference Survey Results: In-Person vs. Virtual Attendance

by | Aug 11, 2022 | 0 comments


By John Lavender, Lavender Consulting and Senior Associate with Maverick Publishing Specialists

The Charleston Conference asked Lavender Consulting to survey past attendees. There were three main objectives in doing this.

  1. To get feedback about the 2021 conference and get peoples views on what they liked and disliked, particularly on the in person and virtual versions.
  2. To get input about the 2022 conference and what plans people had to attend either in person or virtually.
  3. What are people’s general views on in-person and virtual meetings and on COVID-19 protection, vaccination and mask wearing.
Charleston, South Carolina, USA at the Waterfront Park Pineapple Fountain.

The survey was sent to people who had attended a conference over the last 3 years, just over 1000 people responded to survey 64% were librarians, 27% were publishers or vendors which is about the same percentages that usually attend the conference. There were 60% of respondents who attended the 2021 meeting, 26% in person 74% virtually which mirrored almost exactly how the attendance broke down in 2021. These numbers gave us confidence that the results of the survey would be meaningful.

Over 90% of both virtual and in person attendees said they found the meeting useful. Of those that attended in person, 100% felt safe and were able to connect with people. For those that attended virtually 91% thought the platform was good or average and a majority said that if used for 2022 it would not affect their decision to attend (in fact another platform is being used for 2022). For those attending virtually 53% said they found it easy to concentrate on the conference, 47% said they got distracted. When asked for comments about either version of the meeting it was technical issues that seemed the biggest area of concern. For in person attendees there were issues in sometimes being able to view the virtual presentations and also the odd feeling (for some sessions) of being in a meeting room and having most of the presenters virtually.

For virtual attendees there were technical issues, some of these were with the platform but some were connected with either university security policies that did allow people to connect or internet connections.

For those that did not attend in 2021, 34% had no conference or travel budget and 15% who would only attend an in-person meeting but were not able to.

Looking forward to 2022, 68% of respondents were planning to attend, 49% in person, 23% virtually and the rest undecided. For those attending in person, 89% said they like meeting people face to face, 75% to meeting new contacts, 45% said they liked visiting the vendor showcase and  67% said they liked being in Charleston in November, and who can blame them for that! For those attending virtually, 47% were doing it for budgetary reasons, 41% prefer virtual meetings.

In terms of commitment to the conference, 61% try to attend every year, 29% like to attend irregularly. When asked to imagine they have a free choice with no budget or time constraints 77% said they would prefer to attend in person, 7% said they had no preference and 16% said they prefer to attend virtually. When asked if they had attended at least one virtual conference in the last two years, 91% said yes with 88% attending between 1-6. When asked if they found virtual meetings as good as in person, 32% said yes, 68% no.

For the future when asked if a conference offers a virtual option as well as in person what would they choose, 49% said virtual. The main reason for 61% was to allow them to spread their budgets further. If a conference offered only an in-person option, 66% would attend because they prefer in person events, 18% would attend even though they would prefer to attend virtually and 16% would not attend as they will only go to virtual events.

For COVID-19 protection 29% would only attend if all attendees were vaccinated, 40% would attend if vaccinated or had a negative test within 72 hours of the meeting, 29% would attend whether or not people were vaccinated or tested. For masks 28% would attend only if wearing one was compulsory for all sessions, 34% would attend if it was suggested you wear one, and 27% would attend whether or not people wore one.

For the 2022 conference the majority of respondents are planning to attend in person but a solid core of about 20% would only plan to attend virtually. For conference organizers this raises a dilemma, no one wants to exclude people attending but the logistics and cost of running a virtual meeting alongside an in-person one is significant. For 2022 the conference has decided to run a virtual meeting two weeks after the in-person one finishes using recordings of the sessions plus additional virtual sessions.  

Regarding COVID-19 regulations most people still want attendees to show a vaccination or recent test. Mask wearing seems to be a little divisive but by November peoples’ views may have changed, depending on how the spread of COVID-19 increases or decreases. Although a significant number of people would prefer everyone to wear a mask for all sessions there is a question as to whether that is enforceable. For 2022, the Charleston Conference plans to continue its successful and well-received 2021 COVID-19 policy of requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours upon check in at the Registration Desk in order to receive your attendee badge and materials. Mask wearing will be strongly recommended but not required.

So people like the Charleston Conference and the majority of past attendees want to attend each year and are planning to come in person in 2022. The main take away from the survey for conference organizers generally is that there is a clear need at the moment to offer a virtual version. And, although hearts and minds might change by November, COVID protection of some kind is still important.

Thank you to all Charleston Conference supporters for returning the survey: the results (this blog just scratches the surface) are incredibly helpful to the organizers to continue to deliver a rich, engaging event and, for those of us attending the 2022 conference in person, in a vibrant and welcoming city.

About the Author:

John has over 40 years’ experience in STM publishing, mainly at senior executive level. He lives in the USA having moved from the UK in 2001. His experience of working in both major English language publishing markets and his career covering almost all the major roles in publishing gives him an unrivalled view of the industry.

His corporate experience includes senior vice president of publishing (books and journals), online development, marketing, web development and international sales with Taylor & Francis and director of marketing, international sales and business development and electronic publishing with the Thomson Corporation. John was an early adopter of electronic publishing, creating the first journal to use PDFs to distribute content in 1997 and the first virtual e-book library in 1999.


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