2021 conferences: a crowdsourced list of must-attend events

2021 conferences: a crowdsourced list of must-attend events

Survey results: Virtual networking, learning, and convening

Our third annual list of crowdsourced conferences is different from the first and second. But that probably comes as no surprise; 2020 has changed everything. The coronavirus pandemic put in-person events on hold, and conferences moved online.

Budget and location are less of an obstacle for virtual events, and it would be easy to fill up calendars with webinars, livestream discussions, and online conferences. And while this newfound accessibility is welcomed by many, it’s easy to see that something is missing. Physically removing ourselves from the day-to-day, traveling to a new place, and settling into a quiet hotel room are powerful environmental cues that help us focus. And real human connection is never the same on a screen. Our 2021 crowdsourced list is smaller than previous years; we’ve carefully curated a selection of events to help you cut through the seemingly infinite options.

Luminary Labs conducted a survey from October 22 through November 18, 2020, to find out what works at virtual events, what conference attendees miss most, and how businesses are planning for the year ahead. We also asked Lab Report readers and our extended network to share their must-attend events. The following is a narrative snapshot of the responses we received, followed by a curated list of crowdsourced conferences.

Virtual conferences are accessible and easy to attend.

Almost all respondents (95.5%) have attended at least one virtual conference or event over the past six months. Nearly one-third (31.8%) have attended 11 or more virtual events — that’s an average of two or more events each month.

Since many virtual conferences are free or lower cost, and location is no object, these events are more accessible than ever. One respondent said they “have loved being able to attend so many more conferences this year because they are online.”

Without the “serendipity” of in-person events, it’s harder to connect.

Nearly all respondents (95.5%) attend conferences and events with networking in mind. But many respondents said networking is the part of virtual events that doesn’t work. Without the serendipity of hallway conversations, chance encounters in the coffee line, and hands-on demonstrations in exhibit booths, it’s hard to make connections.

Learning (90.9%), competitive or industry intelligence (68.2%), and inspiration (68.2%) are also high priorities. And since many virtual events are delivered as webinars or livestream panel discussions, many respondents said they are able to get the information they need from online conferences. However, several people noted that it’s sometimes hard to focus; there are more distractions at home than inside an auditorium or breakout room.

While fewer than half of respondents (45.5%) attend conferences to make deals, those connections are critical. One respondent said “conferences are really important sources of revenue and employment for small businesses.”

Social media is the new conference hallway.

In the absence of in-person conferences, many respondents are turning to virtual meetings and events (81.8%) and social media (77.3%). Others are turning to articles and publications (59.1%), newsletters (45.5%), or video and audio like podcasts (45.5%) for information. “Twitter is far more effective than virtual conferences when it comes to engaging with interesting people,” said one respondent. “That’s the entire reason I go to conferences.”

Looking ahead to 2021.

Respondents plan to continue attending virtual events next year. Half of respondents (50%) are planning to only attend virtual events in 2021. Nearly one-third (31.8%) said they planned to attend conferences in-person or virtually. Once it’s safe to gather in person, some respondents said they plan to test the waters with “small and local” meetups before returning to large-scale events.

The budget outlook is mixed: More than one-third (36.4%) expect to have a smaller budget for travel and professional development next year, but nearly one-quarter (22.7%) expect to have more to spend. Nearly one-quarter (22.7%) aren’t sure what to expect, and 18.2% expect their budget to be about the same.

We expect virtual conferences will continue at least through the first half of 2021. When we can safely convene in the same place, we’ll look forward to wearing name badges and bumping elbows with new connections. Until then, we’ll see you online.

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Sara Holoubek
Founding Partner and CEO
Jessica Hibbard
Head of Content & Community