COVID Silver Linings

I know. Everybody has COVID fatigue, whether it’s talking about it, listening about it, or living with it. Everybody has an opinion, and some of them are even right. For all that has gone wrong, from “predictive models” (air quotes intended) to the negative impacts (which made Black Swan models look tame), there have been some silver linings. And for work comp, at least some could have a long-term positive impact on the industry. I’m going to focus on two as it relates to conferences:

  • Broader accessibility: Events that moved to virtual platforms, often transitioning to no-charge, provided an opening for a larger audience. The cost of attending an in-person conference, both in money and time, can be extensive. Companies have to be choosy with who they approve that expense for, which often meant only a subset of people that could receive value from the content were actually allowed to go. Interestingly, it was typically the same people every time, so that subset was static. By limiting the investment to just an hour or two in the comfort of your home (and maybe in your pajamas) as compared to a day+ of travel and handling e-Mails on your smartphone, this virtualization democratized the process greatly. I have heard of some events (conferences, webinars, happy hours) that had less attendees, but most actually had more than usual. And there were some unfamiliar names on the audience roster which, in this case, is a good thing. For the people that invested in themselves by attending events they otherwise would not have been approved to attend, their expanded knowledge will not only be an asset to them but to the industry.
  • More voices: If you’ve attended conferences before, you know that often the faculty can look very familiar (you know, the same people every time). I remember when I first started my public speaking career how frustrating it was to break into the “speaker rolodex” that conferences seemed to share. Speaker selection is sometimes related to the competence of the speakers but their willingness to travel is a key component as well (since most events don’t pay their speakers, you must have an employer willing to invest the travel dollars). Now that the only thing a speaker needs is a webcam and microphone, the door has swung wide open to more people. With a proliferation of events (virtual also reduces the expense and management time to host an event), there is a need for even more speakers. People not typically given a local/regional/national bully pulpit now have one. That means a more diverse set of faces and voices and backgrounds and ages and roles. This provides unique and fresh perspectives and even room for new subjects. It also allows people to discover new talents and for the rest of us to discover those that have them. Of course, some will be one-and-done. But I have already recognized some new presenters with real talent that will most certainly be added to the “speaker rolodex.”

For anyone that does not fit either of those categories but wants to, what are you waiting for? Don’t wait for an invitation – invite yourself.

If you are a “glass half full” kind of person, you have learned to count your blessings more carefully and consciously in 2020. Even if those blessings are fewer than before March, everybody can find at least one. For conferences, these silver linings (and maybe others you’ve noticed) should reap benefits into 2021 and beyond.

Mark PewThe RxProfessorEducator and Agitator