Virtual conferences should be awesome — no travel, lower prices and international by default. However, they all too often end up being just another meeting. Why is that? And how might we do better?

A picture of two dogs on a video call

What makes conferences interesting: the talks and the interactions with other participants.

In theory, virtual conferences should be great at delivering interesting talks. Speakers don’t have to travel, so it becomes easier to book the best of the best in their field. Unfortunately, that’s part of the problem. Speakers can only come up with new material every so often, so we end up with the same speakers giving the same talks over and over again.

Besides the talks, the other cool thing about conferences is that you get to meet people and can have interesting conversations with them. But this aspect also gets lost in virtual conferences. You can’t overhear conversations and jump in, you don’t have to sit at a lunch table with strangers that could become friends and you can’t spot interesting people from afar.

What remains is you sitting in a chair in your office, watching a video by yourself. It’s just another meeting.

Screw this. We must do better.

When planning the UX & Product Conference, we set ourselves the challenge to come up with a format that is more interesting than the usual sequence of keynotes. We had three requirements:

  1. It must emphasize generating new insights for everyone involved
  2. It must involve audience members as active participants (if they so desire)
  3. It must create the opportunity for serendipitous conversations

The result: a new talk format that we call 1–2-Everyone. It’s one topic, two speakers and everyone has a chance to contribute.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Each of the two speakers has 7 minutes to pitch their view on a topic.
  2. Next, the two speakers engage in a moderated debate for 15 minutes.
  3. Finally, the conversation is opened up to the audience for up to 30 minutes of discussion.

We think that this strikes a good balance. Speakers still have space to lay out their views and arguments, but the purpose of the talk-part of the format is really to set up the debate-part. Since the two speakers will challenge each other and build on their points in that debate, the topic will unfold in new and interesting ways.

Involving the audience in the discussion accomplishes multiple things. First, it makes the format more interactive and engaging. Second, it allows for a more diverse set of views to be discussed. And third, it gives visibility to individual members of the audience and to their views. That loads a trigger for conversations in the breaks or after the conference. When members of the audience express their views in this forum, it makes them easier to approach later. It’s a conversation starter.

Should 1–2-Everyone replace the classic keynotes we see in most conferences entirely? Probably not. Some topics need the space of a 45 minute talk to be laid out entirely. But we think that it will make events more interesting, more colorful and certainly less repetitive.

At the end of the day, we hope that everyone will come out of events that use 1–2-Everyone a little smarter and a little more inspired than they would otherwise.

We will debut this format at the UX & Product Conference on February 4th. We hope that other conferences will join us in adopting 1–2-Everyone, and in thinking critically about how to deliver great guest experiences in the new medium that virtual events are.