May 23, 2021RFID Journal has been hosting virtual events for more than a decade, so when COVID-19 hit, it wasn't a big change for us to go completely virtual during the pandemic. We recently concluded our four-day RFID Journal Digital Summit, which was attended by more than 500 people. The feedback we received was great, but there are certain things virtual events can do well and others only a face-to-face conference can deliver.
Education can be delivered online fairly well. We had 25 speakers in three tracks (you can view the recorded sessions by visiting this page and following the links to the individual tracks). The presentations were informative, and attendees were able to ask the speakers questions directly. But the ability to meet people and have spontaneous interactions does not exist online (at least not on the platforms I have experienced), and it's difficult to "walk" a virtual exhibit hall and get a feel for sellers. As for the sellers, it is hard for them to show products and have people discover them online, nor is it easy to convey integrity and commitment via Zoom.
At a physical event, you might start chatting with someone while waiting on a line to get lunch, and you might learn that they have a shipping issue similar to yours and hear how they are going about solving it. Or you might stroll into a booth and discover, during casual conversation, that the exhibitor has worked on a project very similar to your own. You might get a good feeling about one exhibitor and have a sense that another was perhaps exaggerating about what their solution does.
Very often, companies attending RFID Journal LIVE! find that there are RFID products they didn't know existed. One year, Mike O'Shea, who ran Kimberly-Clark's early RFID efforts, found a company that made a device which could be hung on a belt and produce serialized RFID tags. Kimberly-Clark ended up using the system in a way the exhibitor hadn't thought of, but it solved a critical issue for the company's deployments at third-party sites.
I sometimes hear from people who claim they don't need to go to events, that they can conduct their own research online and find the products and services they need. In my opinion, this approach is short-sighted. For one thing, meeting potential partners face to face—talking to them and shaking their hands—gives you confidence in those with whom you are working. For another, you rarely find items online that you are not looking for online, and you never meet someone who has already solved the problem with which you are struggling.
We've received a lot of positive feedback regarding our decision to hold LIVE! 2021 on Sept. 26-28 (it was originally scheduled for April). We are, of course, monitoring the progress of vaccinations against COVID-19, and we're checking updates from local, state and federal public-safety officials. What's more, we've been working with the Phoenix Convention Center to enact health and safety protocols to make sure that attendees and exhibitors are protected.
I think it will be good for buyers and sellers of RFID solutions alike to get together face to face. So I hope you will join us in Phoenix in September—and in case you can't, we'll continue our online education with virtual events.
Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.