What’s (not) hot at HOC, H2.0 and WindEnergy
Trade shows and conferences
How do you report on a conference you attended from your office chair or couch at home? Were you able to attend closely to each and every online presentation and workshop? I have to admit, I find webinars and online trade shows difficult to handle. I feel I have yet to develop a sense for how well (or not) attendees receive these offers, for the prevailing mood among exhibitors and speakers, and for where the real news is.
Take the Hydrogen Online Conference Oct. 8 to 9, 2020. Organized by Silke Frank and David Wenger’s start-up business Mission Hydrogen, the global event drew 77 exhibitors and over 11,000 visitors. Sounds like record numbers for the hydrogen sector, at least in the digital realm.
During the 24-hour event, well-known speakers presented their companies, innovations and products. Unfortunately, some of the most intriguing presentations took place when people in central Europe were fast asleep. One such presentation was given by Sascha Kühn, announcing kraftwerk will be making a comeback (see p. 6). Since his primary target market is now Asia, he spoke at 3:30 CET, a comfortable time for potential Chinese partners.
Luckily, as a member of the press, I had free access to the HOC 2020 presentation collection. Time constraints made it impossible to watch them all. Still, I took the opportunity to look around, quickly realizing that an online event offered little more interaction than a website visit. This despite the evident pains exhibitors had taken with their virtual presentations.
I suppose only the 24-hour show’s well-articulated, highly competent moderators, Frank und Wenger, could give an accurate account of the HOC’s actual size. Wenger, head of Wenger Engineering, had invited his thousands of LinkedIn contacts. Frank, a highly experienced face-to-face event organizer, also mobilized her network. In the end, the global hydrogen and fuel cell market crème de la crème attended. Which did nothing to convey the industry’s mood. At least not to me.
What are the hottest topics? How do stakeholders feel – emboldened or disillusioned? Which crucial questions are CEOs and engineers asking?
Not one of the online events I attended – HOC, H2.0 and WindEnergy – brought on that familiar rush of adrenaline that comes when standing in the crowd in the flesh, seeing and hearing breaking news: Look, this business acquired that one; hey, a chief executive changed jobs; wow, check out those new products. Somehow, sitting in front of my PC doesn’t boot up the thrill of it all. Something is definitely missing.
That’s not to say H2.0 in Husum wasn’t a great conference. Event manager Mai-Inken Knackfuß had deftly arranged for key stakeholders in northern Germany to put in an appearance. Even though Covid-19 is a persistent challenge for event planning, two state ministers travelled to the “gray town by the sea,” as Theodor Storm, German novelist, once said of Husum. And while Ulrich Walter moderated knowledgeably and skillfully, I still wonder whether any livestream attendees made use of the digital networking opportunity.
This is the key digital event challenge: Chance meetings and chatter are but two primary face-to-face event attractions. But how can you do that online? Who doesn’t enjoy a spontaneous conversation in the lunch line during a conference break? Or bumping into an old acquaintance who tells you they’ve changed employers twice since the last time you met?
And let’s not forget the legions of technical glitches lying in wait. One such technical snafu occurred in early December 2020. Hamburg Messe took too long installing digital presentation space for WindEnergy Hamburg’s online exposition. The result? Visitors couldn’t access artfully crafted exhibitor pages.
Considering all this, I say it’s time to get creative, inventing new, radical communication and showcase concepts. Simply transplanting face-to-face events to the World Wide Web doesn’t cut the mustard. I’m confident some start-up business somewhere will soon be breaking the ice.