The meeting industry: We are all in pain, I see that. Not all of us have moved fully into online meetings yet, and I understand that. But we need to sit down and evaluate what we are doing. Are we rolling towards the abyss? Meeting professionals, doing classical onsite meetings and events, are very detail-oriented and very much aware of the importance of networking. Not always the case with events where the fun and wow factor were more dominant, but at most conferences, tradeshows, meetings, seminars, etcetera the “meeting among participants” was a cornerstone of success, the proven number one reason why participants came: To meet other people. If you ask participants: To learn from speakers always comes second.

Now the meeting industry is going online. I ­consciously say “going online” and not “pivot to the virtual” as I strongly believe the online meeting can be a real meeting, not a virtual one.

Let me explain. You have real people (not avatars) coming together with real speakers to listen to a real presentation and ask real questions leading to real answers, and some real learning happens. Nothing virtual about that.

Highly interactive or slightly active. But then it gets even worse, and that makes me worried about the industry. I see meeting professionals, large brands, and even tech-savvy influencers doing webinars, webinars and more webinars. Sometimes a nicely produced studio webinar and sometimes a simple webinar. Speaker and slides in a webinar.

I see “Highly interactive webinar” with only the chat box used, and participants may vote twice? Or we have 12 speakers in one hour? Sometimes there is even a professional MC (Master of Ceremonies) introducing the speakers or doing an interview. Highly interactive? I don’t think so. “Slightly active” sounds more like it.

Forget the inter in interactive as the participants cannot see how many are present, let alone see who is there, or, God forbid, can connect with anyone. Even the word participant itself is misplaced – “the audience” is closer to the truth. And the audience kept on listening.

Webinars, webcasts, web streaming galore! Sometimes even prerecorded. Ask yourself: What has become of me? Did I become a TV-producer? Did I become a teacher, or am I still a proud meeting professional? An organiser of gatherings of humans? The creator of connections, the builder of relations, the instigator of collaborations?

The holy trinity of meeting value is networking + learning × motivation. What happened to our number one? Where did we lose networking? Webinars? Come on. Seriously?

Are we just doing the easy thing? Or are we unconsciously doing a sloppy job online to protect our onsite past respectfully? I don’t understand it. To me, the industry seems suicidal. Because we don’t know what lies ahead?

Whatever lies ahead of us, online meetings and online events will remain part of what we do, more than ever. Let us prepare for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best one. With all those “zero-networking webinars”’ we are destroying meetings and scrapping our job.

We can do it. It is not rocket science. Go for 50 per cent of the time in small breakouts. Small group conversations are the golden nugget in online meeting design.

Be a Robin Hood! Steal minutes from your speakers and give them to your poor participants, each gets 50 per cent. Build that into your script, make it happen. We have to do it, or people may lose their appetite for meeting other people. That will be bad for the meeting industry and our jobs, bad for the economy and humanity.

Don’t accept webinars as good enough. Don’t let your AV-company turn you into a video producer. Say no to talking heads. Don’t accept voting and a chat box as interaction. Don’t accept a platform that doesn’t allow for small group conversations. Fight back and demand networking. Fight for your participants and their need to meet.

Good news: Zoom now allows for participants to choose during the meeting which breakout room they want to join.