Aula Magna under konferensen ESIL2021
The ESIL conference was held with about 200 participants on site and about 300 who participated digitally. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Since the pandemic broke out in the spring of 2020, traditional conferences as well as events where participants usually are present ceased. This became obvious for Konferensservice, which is responsible for the operations in Aula Magna. After Specialpedagogikens dag 11 March 2020, it has been a year and a half almost completely without major events on the premises.

This autumn, the conference activities will start on the premises. In August, a dyslexia conference was organized, where speakers were present in the room but the audience followed the conference online. On 9-11 September, the large ESIL conference in international law could finally be arranged, after being postponed from last year. The conference was held in hybrid format with about 200 participants on site and about 300 who participated digitally from different places in the world.

Mats Lindberg
Mats Lindberg. Photo: Ingmarie Andersson

Hybrid events require a lot of planning

Mats Lindberg is group leader for Konferensservice. They have not been able to invest to switch to the hybrid format. Instead, they have used existing resources and modified and fixed with the equipment that already existed. Konferensservice has also hired the subcontractor Informationsteknik when more has been required to meet the customer’s requirements for delivery.

The main lesson is that hybrid events take much more time to plan than originally thought. There are more components that should work compared to a regular physical conference.
“It is important to create a feeling that regardless of whether you are on site or online, you are just as important and should be able to get the same amount out of the conference. The most difficult thing is to be able to maintain the focus of the online participants throughout the conference”, says Mats Lindberg.

According to him, an advantage of the hybrid format is that the conferences become more accessible to the intended target group. No matter where you are, you can join. The downside is that it becomes more expensive to hold hybrid events, provided you want to give participants the same status and good quality of the broadcast.

Worked well for the ESIL conference

Regarding the ESIL conference, Mats Lindberg believes that the hybrid format worked very well. Together with Medieproduktion at the university and the company Informationsteknik, they had built a production that took care of everything that concerned broadcasting, sound, image and image production. The digital platform Jirango also meant that the digital participants had as good a conference experience as possible. Here they could follow the broadcast, ask and answer questions, go into group rooms for discussions, visit the exhibitors’ digital stands, chat with other participants and follow the program and see participant lists.

Surprisingly good with hybrid format

Pål Wrange
Pål Wrange. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Pål Wrange, professor of international law, was one of the organizers of the ESIL conference. According to him, it worked surprisingly well to have the conference in hybrid format.
“It was excellent to maintain the conversation between panelists online and on site. One thing that worked a little less well was that the audience in the hall had to leave their questions digitally, because we could not use a microphone because of the risks with spread of infection.”

The hybrid format involved several challenges, such as making everything work technically, making sure that all online participants understood how it worked, and keeping in touch between participants who were on site and those who were online. But the reactions from conference participants were very positive, he says. There were almost no technical problems and everyone seemed very happy.

According to Pål Wrange, the hybrid format is expensive and a little awkward, but at the same time he sees several gains.
“We can significantly reduce the carbon footprint. We can also enable the participation of those who cannot afford or otherwise have the opportunity to travel and the recordings can be preserved for posterity”.

Pål Wrange believes that the hybrid format will become quite common for conferences when organizers and participants learn how the format works.
“However, it is important to note that hybrids can be made in different ways, with different levels of ambition and at different costs, and that each organizer must consider exactly which variant is suitable and possible”, says Pål Wrange.

Does not replace traditional conferences

Hybrid conferences are a complement to the physical meeting, according to Mats Lindberg. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Mats Lindberg at Konferensservice believes that hybrid conferences will be more or less a must in the future, because it provides a greater opportunity to reach the target groups. However, he does not think they need to be quite as advanced as the dyslexia and ESIL conferences. He also sees development opportunities for the format, for example to create avatars that take part in the conference, which creates an even stronger feeling of being in place. But such solutions are expensive.
However, Mats Lindberg does not believe that hybrid conferences will replace traditional conferences.
“The physical meeting between people is something we need to feel good. However, there may be a decline initially in attending all that is offered.”

In the early 2000s, when video conferencing became popular, the industry was worried that physical conferencing would fade away. On the contrary, physical activity increased and video conferencing almost died down.
“After the pandemic, I think broadcasts and distance conferences are here to stay, but it will be more of a complement to the physical meeting. However, it will probably take until the spring of 2022 before we fill the entire Aula Magna with conference guests”, says Mats Lindberg.

Read more about the conference ESIL2021 in this article: “Conference brought together experts in international law”