Virtual London Tech Week is a sign of the future

London Tech Week will run a full week of events next week, with thousands of people attending from the comfort of their own homes.

The normally in-person get-together was made fully virtual because of the continued risk of Covid-19 transmission, and follows the success of an event held online in June.

This month’s London Tech Week began on 1 September, with three days of events: TechXLR8, The AI Summit and the 5G World Summit. The main event starts on Monday 7 September and will run the whole of next week, demonstrating how future events might look as organisers recognise some of the advantages of going virtual. These include more people being able to attend and a higher calibre of speakers.

In June, London Tech Week Connects was held over four days, using Zoom for presentations and event management platform Grip to support networking.

Organisers of the more traditional London Tech Week originally hoped to have some physical events, but with the threat posed by Covid-19 it is purely virtual. The success of the event in June made the decision easier.

Russ Shaw, founder of tech startup network Tech London Advocates and the founding member of London Tech Week, said June’s event was seen as a success, with two events per day over four days and about 8,000 attendees registered. It also featured high-profile speakers including Hilary Clinton and Cherie Blair.

“The platforms worked well, the speakers were all briefed, the videos were good and people were given opportunities to network,” said Shaw. “The feedback we got from people was very positive and we thought we could do it again in a bigger and bolder way as a springboard into 2021.”

Event management and networking

This month’s event, which is free to attend, is again using Zoom, but now uses Swapcard for event management and networking.

Two huge benefits that Shaw has seen from the virtual format are the ability to network with more people and the speakers available when they don’t have to be physically present at a venue.

“Getting some of these high-profile speakers is possible,” he said. “We wouldn’t normally get Hillary Clinton to come to London Tech Week, but she participated because she could do it from her house.”

For example, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is speaking in this month’s programme.

It is also possible for more people to attend. “It gives people a lot more flexibility and enables many more people to participate,” said Shaw.

But while virtual events of this nature may appear to the attendee as simply clicking into Zoom, Shaw said there is a huge operation to make it work. “What also sits behind these events is a whole production crew,” he said. “There are a lot of people behind the scenes managing all this. It’s a big production and a completely different way of organising an event.

“If you go in as a viewer, you go in, wait and open the screen and the event kicks off,” added Shaw. “If you go in as a speaker, it is very different. You meet the other speakers, the moderators and the production team.”

There is also a significant cost to production. “This stuff is not cheap and there is a lot of money that goes into doing high-quality productions,” he said.

Shaw recognised that most people still want physical events, but added that “most, if not all, physical events going forward will have a degree of virtual about them, so people from wherever they are in the world can have access”.

“You can see that the events industry will never be the same again,” he said. “There will be a physical component because people don’t want to give up on that, but I think everything we have seen over the past six months, digital and technology is permeating everything and people have learned how to do virtual events.”

You only have to look at the growth of video-conferencing supplier Zoom to see how people have adapted to virtual networking and events. For the quarter ended 31 July 2020, Zoom reported total revenue of $663.5m, up 355% year-on-year. The company’s GAAP income from operations for the quarter was $188.1m, compared with $2.3m in the second quarter of fiscal year 2020.

Shaw said he has organised many events on Zoom over the past few months.

Kick-off

This month’s London Tech Week will kick off what is seen as the more traditional annual get-together on Monday 7 September.

“This year has been such a strange one,” said Shaw, explaining some of the themes to expect. “A lot is focused on digital inclusion, diversity and digital skills – the people aspects of tech. This is intentional, because everything is virtual and we wanted to put the spotlight on who is driving this.”

There will also be a strong focus on innovation to reflect how much is going on in the tech sector during the pandemic. “As we come out of the pandemic we are really excited about the innovation of a lot of people who have been going away to think about and do things.”

Many sectors will change as a result of pandemic-driven innovation, and the acceptance of new ways of living and working, which has accelerated digital transformation. In the fintech sector, consumers have adapted to life with no branch access and limited use of cash, while hundreds of thousands of office workers are now operating at normal levels at home.

See the timetable for London Tech Week 2020.

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