(Exclusive Interview) Juraj Holub
“The future of events will be virtual”
Exclusive interview for Kongres magazine with Juraj Holub, the Chief Meeting Designer at audience interaction platform Slido, with the headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, has helped to make over 800.000 events and meetings more interactive. Over the years, Juraj has worked with some of the industry-leading conferences such as Web Summit or SXSW and has helped many Fortune 500 companies make their meetings more effective. For his work, Juraj received a number of awards in Vancouver (PCMA 20 in their 20s), New York (BizBash Top 500 People in Events) and Bratislava (The National Marketer of the Year).
Q: You recently hosted your first remote off-site event with 150 attendees. What were your first impressions after the event?
Our first impressions were WOW. We were able to attract 30 to 40 participants for the live part of the event, and it took a lot of resources and energy. In the online world, we attracted four times more participants, and we were able to provide valuable content to them. This was an eye-opener, as we did this with much less effort. At this point, we truly saw the potential of virtual events. From March till the end of June, we hosted over 40 webinars, where we had almost 4,500 participants. These numbers are unheard of, and we would not be able to achieve this in the live-events context.
Q: What will the future of events look like? (hybrid, online, live…)
I will try to be a bit controversial here. I think the future of events will be mainly virtual. The potential of reaching audiences is incredible in the virtual setting. The effort, the budget and the time spent are marginal compared to live events. I do not think that hybrid events will be the future because, with hybrid events, you have to create two different experiences. One experience for the people present at the event, and another experience for people watching online. That is incredibly difficult, compared to organising solely a live event or a virtual event. Live events are definitely here to stay, but they will be completely different. They will be smaller, shorter, and they will focus more on the networking side of events. That is something that you cannot replicate in the virtual environment.
Q: What do you think is the optimal length of an online event?
It should be as short as possible. We have seen a couple of event organisers splitting a whole-day event into four-hour segments over the course of two or three days. In my opinion, this is a great structure; do not try to execute an 8-hour event all at once. Participants will be incredibly tired, and their attention will fade away in the first third of the event. Instead of hosting a whole day event, try to split it into shorter sections and host them over the course of a few days.
Q: How do you organise an event with both on-site and virtual attendees, two radically different audiences?
You have to create two different structures and experiences for the participants who are present and for those who are watching online. You have to count on the staff, the programme and everything around it, just to meet the needs of the audience. There are plenty of hybrid events which were able to get it right. A great example is Gerrit Heijkoop and his company Live Online Events, who is incredibly skilled in bringing and incorporating the online audience into the live programme. He is almost like a commentator during a football match; he brings the audience on the stage, he asks questions for the online participants, and during the breaks, he creates another programme just for the online participants. This is very similar to a football match, where the commentator analyses the first half during the break and keeps the audience glued to the screen. You have to have a commentator so to say, in order to keep the people engaged, guide them through the event and provide extra content during the breaks.
Q: Could you give us some advice for engaging the online audience at hybrid events?
To elaborate on my previous answer, you have to think of the online audience and strategically engage them. The online participants are an equally important part of your meeting, and they should be given a voice. Use polls to engage both of your audiences and provide extra content (interviews with speakers). Make sure you have the tools to create a channel between the participants who are there physically and those who are watching online.
Q: How did you adapt to the new pandemic reality at Slido?
We were obviously hit by the pandemic in March. Mainly, the conference segment that we were catering to almost vanished. Around 25% of our revenues still came from events, and unfortunately, we saw a major drop there. However, the rest of our clients come from the corporate segment, and they were using Slido for all-hands meetings, Steam meetings and webinars. We have seen an incredible surge of 200% year over year growth, and this has been one of the fastest growths we have experienced in the past years. What we had lost with the conference and events segment, we compensated in the corporate segment. Just to add to that, this week we are celebrating the one-millionth event using Slido. It is an important milestone for us and a time to reflect on the past, but also to focus on the future and try to adapt to the current needs of users.
Q: Your company is present all around the world. Did the new situation change the way you work?
Yes, it did. For a couple of years, we were a remote-friendly company, meaning that about 30% of our staff worked from outside of our headquarters in Bratislava ( From the US, Asia, Australia, Mexico). Yet, as the corona crisis hit in March, we shifted to a fully-remote company. Every single one of us at Slido now works from his or her home. Till the end of the year, we will be working as a fully remote company, adopting the way we work and optimising the experience for everyone. Maybe some of us will return to our offices in 2021 or perhaps we will remain a fully remote company. Let’s see what tomorrow brings and hope for the best.