tekom - Europe

"The tekom" 2020 – Member Survey Confirms Virtual Direction

Daniela Straub

“The tekom” – as members affectionately call the tcworld conference – is celebrating at least its 35th anniversary in 2020. So tekom is striking out in a new direction – 2020 is the first “virtual tekom” in the history of conferences by tekom. We asked our members what they thought. 1215 people in total took part – with surprising results: the feedback is highly positive.

In 2019, about 4000 people came to Stuttgart to participate in 130 lectures, workshops and meetups and attend the international fair with over 160 businesses represented. Employees, management, self-employed people, CEOs, students and university professors – all met at “the tekom”. As Herbert Herzke, tekom’s president, tells it, his first conference was in 1985. He participated as a guest together with about 100 other people in technical communication. A year later, 1986, he became Member No. 102. tekom quickly grew in popularity.

In 2020, everything changed – even at the beginning of the year, the tekom board of directors, executive office, employees and volunteers had no idea how corona would abruptly transform the world and familiar life. Then, everyone had to react on the spur of the moment to quickly develop creative solutions.

An association lives by working together – the virus made staying apart necessary. The usual “We’re going to tcworld” in Stuttgart was suspended after extensive consideration. So tekom is striking out in a new direction – 2020 is the first “virtual tekom” in the history of conferences by tekom.

We asked our members what they thought. 1215 people in total, 92.5 percent of whom are members, took part – with surprising results: the feedback is highly positive.

Survey result

An important aspect that has to make the conversion to digital for technical communication easier than for other industry sectors: 87 percent of people who work in technical communication already have a lot of experience dealing with software and technology or online events. Over half, 62 percent, use virtual communication (e.g. web meetings, professional networks) daily, another third at least once weekly. Whether online or in person, people are very flexible here in adjusting to the demands. 72 percent say that, depending on the topic, they will hold discussions either online or in person; only 20 percent prefer exclusively in-person contact. The same applies for online events: again, 72 percent say they find online events are just as good as on-site offerings, while only 17 percent oppose them; 11 percent like online events even better. Even if every 5th person asked (19 percent) prefers visiting conferences and fairs in person, 72 percent think the virtual tcworld conference is a good alternative – as the situation requires.

In general, 80 percent of people in the latest months of corona have found that working online (e.g. telecommuting/meetings/classes/training) presented no substantial problems, whereas only 18 percent report some challenges; there were no larger problems. For this reason, only very few of those surveyed had misgivings about dealing with technology at a virtual conference (4.5 percent) or bandwidth (8.5 percent). Getting employers to approve time off (16 percent) or assume the costs (21 percent) are an obstacle to participation for only a few. Likewise, the need for quiet in the office or home office (13 percent), motivation (8 percent) and concentration (11 percent) are not an issue for the majority of those surveyed. Acquiring knowledge is, for everyone, just as good as on site; only 2 percent see this as a challenge. However, networking, making contacts (43 percent) and exchange and direct communication (71 percent) are perceived as a challenge for a virtual tekom.

Survey participants see several points as value added for a virtual tekom: among these are the recordings of presentations being available afterwards (73 percent), less time required (68 percent), lower cost (62 percent), easier integration into the workday (60 percent), but in particular, the lack of travel expenses (72 percent).

Advantages of a virtual conference

The great majority of those surveyed approve of the solution of offering the conference digitally in 2020, the year of corona, and see the benefit in it – even though many would still like to come to "the tekom" in person:

  • "I think the idea is outstanding. We found a way of communicating with each other despite the whole situation."
  • "This is the best thing we can do at this time: This is the logical consequence of the corona situation and the ongoing transformation to sensible digitalization."
  • "In extraordinary times (corona), a virtual-only conference makes sense. It’s great that you have gotten this organized."
  • "Generally, considering corona, a solely virtual conference is better than being on site with masking and distancing. The number of on-site participants would be too limited."
  • "I think the offering is super. A trip to the conference at this time is out of the question for me."
  • "The savings in travel costs and time is also a little bonus that will certainly be good for many people at the current time."

Many are excited to see how it will go: "If everyone shows consideration and gives their best, this will certainly be an attractive and interesting event."
400 people surveyed, about a third, gained experience in tekom virtual events with tekom SummerCON. For many, tekom SummerCON was "a completely successful event."

Experiences and challenges

The main challenge of virtual tekom lies in interpersonal contact and exchange. This is how to arrange togetherness with staying apart, digitally – Michael Fritz explains in his address to the digital conference 2020 on YouTube (in German): "As usual, with 120 lectures on a variety of topics with the customary level of quality, there is a wide range of offerings and comprehensive information spread out over 5 days. To learn new things is the central aspect of tekom. In order to meet and exchange, network and experience the technical communication community, digital tekom will offer a full range of options: even during the lectures, you can all chat among yourselves and ask the speaker questions. In online discussion groups, people can have exchanges or relaxed meetings and conversations with colleagues in virtual cafés. The fair is also being presented digitally: businesses will show their software, services or consultancy virtually, and participants can get information about the offerings and seek advice via videoconferencing. The digital added value of tekom 2020: Presentations can be called up even after the conference for a certain period of time. And contacts gained won’t be lost: On the new tekom meetup platform, conversations can be continued past the conference."

Are you coming to the virtual tekom 2020? Will you be there too, for the "first time"? A quarter of those who took the survey (26 percent) could already say with certainty that they will be there; another 50 percent are likely to come as well. For tekom and everyone involved, the virtual conference will be a step further in history.