Apr 29, 2021 • 1HR 5M

The Future State Of Conferences

Gary Vee Charges $50k To Keynote 💰

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The Future State Podcast - Modern business & future trends explored by Nick Walter (CEO of XR startup Voritc) & Danny Denhard (founder of company strategy and company culture consultancy www.focus.business and newsletter mustreads.co.uk).
Episode details

What Is The Podcast? The Future State - Modern business & future trends explored by Nick Walter & Danny Denhard.  

The Future State Of Conferences

This week Nick and I talk about the future state of conferences and large events.

Nick offers a number of quotes of the week alongside some great (& strong) opinions around what conferences were, why they aren’t going to be what they were and why the future state is going to be different

Nick and I discuss: 

  • Are in-person conferences coming back in 2021 / 2022?

  • Did the old conference work for anyone other than the organiser?

  • Who did great things with events and online panels in the lockdown?

  • The conference economics & secret: Price of entrance (high) x location x venue size (cram as many in as possible) & space x speaker quality x speaker logos x number of conferences = decent business

  • What “Physical exclusivity, digital inclusivity” is going to mean


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Quote Of The Week: 

Big physical conference are dead
- Nick discussing the future state of conferences and whether it can return to the huge glory days of SXSW & Websummit.

The Timeline ⬇️

  • Intro - Nick looking forward to the NFL Draft

  • 01:11 - Danny’s admission to being a germaphobe

  • 02:24 - Artfair and the social aspect of networking. Freeze art show cames as a recommendation from Nick

  • 04:06 - Large Conferences and events are Nick’s bug bearer

  • 05:02 - The question we need to answer now we have seen sports back in arena’s (including 20000 at UFC 261 in Flordia)

  • 05:34 - Danny retells how he questioned an event organiser about the safety precautions for upcoming in-person events

  • 06:04 - Will conferences return back to the economic driver they once were? Websummit and SXSW have a huge economic impact on Lisbon and Austin

  • 06:48 - Keynote for the future of work (link to hear Danny speak for free in June)

  • 07:47 - Nick’s second quote of the week: Too big - too busy “it’s cringey”

  • 10:57 - Why do you go to conferences? To learn or to network. Do people really want to network?

  • 11:18 - “Big physical conferences are dead”

  • 12:00 - Would you want to go to a conference where Gary Vee keynotes when a lot of the content is shared or be on social 24/7?

  • 12:49 - “things that make my skin crawl” rant from Nick

  • 13:56 - Nick tells a story from his past “Networking is like murder, it gets easier the more you do it”

  • 14:30 A-Rod’s recommendation - never ask before you interact with someone ten times (The Masters of Scale podcast link to hear more 💎 from A-Rod)

  • 17:00 - Danny shares his strong opinions on conferences including:

    • Danny drops the bomb that Gary Vee charges $50k

    • TED and TEDX have always been hybrid conferences and the TED ecosystem is pretty big

  • 21:37 - The problem with big logos and speakers from big brands - they never share any insights, the how or the budgets, case studies don’t add any value without insights.
    Danny rants at charging speakers to speak when they are going to add value 🤔

  • 25:15 - Nick asks “what attracts me as a speaker to talk at an event?”

  • 26:38 - I talk about the RIP TO THE CMO presentation and why you should have things to say and a style as a speaker

  • 27:27 - Nick praises me on my slides and my slideshare

  • 31:10 - Nick suggests: Speakers relations need improving, conferences need to foster and seek out the best speakers not the best logos. Good conference companies can become brands and gain trust that they bring the best speakers and best content for the audience

  • 32:51 - Nick nails it: conference and events companies have to evolve past “crappy tote bags and crappy talks”

  • 33:43 - Why Courier events, podcasts and their newsletter are great

  • 35:17 - Nick suggests Podcasts have greater appeal than events

  • 35:30 - Fora’s approach and the defected approach (link to Defected Records virtual event) to offering free live DJ sets - offering true value to their audience

  • 39:01 - It’s too easy to miss virtual events (even when you pay for it) and why this will be a challenge moving forward

  • 41:06 - Nick shares why they created their own platform Vortic.art & Hopin’s huge 2020 bringing together offline and online

  • 44:02 - I share what conferences were striving for better including TBD conference & being curated to be immersive & a 360-degree stage

  • 45:05 - The return of speaker investment - 40 hours of prep and design on decks for 15 - 45 minute conference talk rarely seems worth it

  • 46:50 - The different presenter styles

    • All Pictures and verbalised words

    • The overuse of GIFS - really became a trend in 2018/2019

    • Loads of data and graphs - Benedict Evans approach

    • My style. Loads of data, rapid-fire, to be consumed on the day and after the event

  • 49:00 Chris Towers (from Roar Media Event) quote on the future state of conferences
    “The future of conferences is still quite unclear for many of us working in the events industry - the constant change in narrative and guidelines over the course of the pandemic has made it near impossible to prepare or strategise.

    The only thing that is certain in my opinion is that there will be a sense of reluctance in the beginning of organisations sending their employees to mass gatherings of people; something we have been fine-tuned to avoid at all costs over the last year so will leave a lasting impression as such.

    The future of conferences I am sure will reach the dizzying heights of Dreamforce circa 2019 at some point, but that will take time and trust which is where the emphasis will lie for us as organisers.

    Building that trust will, in the beginning, be the most important focus area putting delegate safety as a priority and reassuring that such is happening; not so much to convince employees (we can see from the beer gardens this weekend people are ready to get back involved!) but to convince employers that their staff will be safe and won’t be held responsible for spreading and labelled as a super spreader organisation.

    As with all events their look and feel will quickly evolve or devolve on the available guidelines at any given time and you can probably expect to see large swathes tuning in virtually vs attending in person which represents an opportunity in a sense that smaller conferences can become more global in reach.

    Hybrid offering should be the normal for at least 12 months from now you would think and the technology will improve as we go about that change just as web conferencing has over the past year.”

  • 49:45: Nick’s The Future State of Conferences - Aka Hot Takes

    • 1. Events companies that host events lack authenticity, community and genuine following - brands, agencies or media companies are better placed to attract like-minded people to events

    • 2. Small and intimate is the way forward - events that bring together like-minded people who actually want to be there, with good speakers and content, in a format that enables attendees to learn and take those learnings into their business so they can be applied.

    • 3. Physical exclusivity, digital inclusivity - a hybrid model that gives the attendees a real experience, with perks and benefits for being there in person. Inclusivity to a wider audience with online content available both live and post event. Potential for experiences at every level:

    • 3. Physical - highest price point

    • 4. Paid online attendance - entry level pricing for lower barrier to entry for those that can’t afford it. This would include live streams and interaction for the viewer so they still feel part of the conference

    • Free online - highlights of talks that if they resonate and the viewer wants more, they can pay for more access

    • 5. Reach out to your existing networks - Colleagues, business connections, LinkedIn - put the time in to give and follow the give, give, give, then ask. Build more relationships through posting meaningful content and so people are keeping you in mind and they are more likely to help rather than hitting someone up just because you need something. Be vulnerable, don’t always act in the way many do at events - be vulnerable and authentic and ask for help.

    • 6. Death to the flyer ridden, irrelevant tote bag and business card exchanges. These need to get lost and never come back (unless it’s a really cool goodie bag filled with super cool stuff rather than a stress ball)

    • 7. Corporates aren’t going to be investing as much in their staff to attend conferences - money would be better spent on coaching or mentorship programmes. Personal development, staff wellbeing and internal events that more staff can get benefit from

  • 57:11 - My future state of conferences

    • 1️⃣Hybrid approach

      • Why travel to speak? Unlikely

      • Can pre-record and offer a highly produced deck and presentation & then take questions at set times

      • Engagement is typically higher with hybrid - more questions, more Q&A, more conversation

      • Challenge of drop outs for organisers - opens up the ability to run events

      • Questions to answer:

        • Will people and companies pay for online presentations?

        • Will on demand video be more of a hook into other conferences?

        • Will attendees want to hear from Google, Facebook etc in the near future, they have been pandemic proof to a point

    • 2️⃣ Interactive

      • VR - Ability to be fully immersive and connect to those at the event

      • AR - Ability to allow more interaction, more CTA's, more ways to be connected to the event or the speakers - snapchat filters etc

      • MR - Way to connect to speaker, to the event, to the audience, to the sponsors

    • One challenge is to move away from covid in presentations unless its a success story (pandemic stories need to be referred)

    • 3️⃣ Live Sales

      • Where applicable "Sale in presentation"

        • Live QVC style selling available - so many times there is a fear to promote something, that's a captive audience

        • Exclusive to the audience - special deals. This will be something so many won’t be brave enough to attempt

    • 4️⃣ Exclusive

      • Invite only conferences in excellent locations

      • Likely to see this ramp in 2022

      • We will see a lot of retreats and exclusive get aways

    • 5️⃣ The un-conference

      • Un-conference - immersive experiences where you don't want to check your phone like at the cinema or theatre

Supporting Info & Insights

Hybrid Conference Tools

The Conference - Previous - Now - Next


  • Host as large conference as possible

  • Large event with number of speakers - no insights into the speaker or their company apart what their title is and the big recognisable logo

  • Affordable for businesses to invest into it

  • Panels weren't always useful as often too broad

  • Not so affordable for self employed

  • Events were category specific, become more niche more recently

  • Live presented content, then often speakers shared content post event, then some talks became available on YouTube


  • Obviously had to go online

  • Flood for conversations

  • Panels become normalised - especially Q2-Q3 202

  • Live and online - typically free

  • Some paid for conferences leveraged tech

  • Pre recorded and on-demand

  • Number of engagement elements not embraced from speakers

  • Audio poor - wifi issues


  • Hybrid

  • Polls, Q&A, reactions, interactive agenda's, more ways to get to know the speaker

  • Outdoor - smaller conferences

  • Large events likely go more niche and smaller & others will want to put on the largest expos they can

  • There will be a huge demand for very large events - super networkers will be craving it SXSW etc

Thanks from Nick and I for reading and listening to the future state podcast this week

🚨 Don’t forget to enjoy last week’s podcast 🚨 

The Future State Of Football