Following a Successful Digital Event, CoinDesk Banks on Hybrid Models as the Future

June 25, 2020

Each spring, CoinDesk, a media platform providing news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and blockchain technology, produces an event called Consensus. The three-day conference and expo is part of New York City’s Blockchain Week, which typically attracts more than 12,000 attendees. 

This year, COVID-19 forced all that to change, so CoinDesk made the decision to pivot the event to a digital format. The newly renamed Consensus: Distributed was held May 11-15 and underwent a unique transformation to go along with the new format. 

“Once a transition to a virtual event was apparent, we knew this was an opportunity to expand the scope of the experience,” says Peter Bordes, managing director of global events for CoinDesk. 

Among the first decisions organizers made was to broaden the event from three to five days. They expanded the event to include a 24-hour live broadcast produced in collaboration with partners in China, Korea, Japan and London, followed by four days of live webcasts. “Increasing the footprint to five days also opened up new opportunities to test new content formats and double down on workshops,” says Bordes. 

CoinDesk also increased the number of speakers to more than 300. “Since a virtual format removes the travel barrier and reduces scheduling conflicts, we were able to expand our speaker pool,” says Bordes. High-profile names among the presenters included economist Carlota Perez; former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers; Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets; and Yves Mersch, member of the executive board of the European Central Bank.

Another big change: Attendees got complimentary access. “With ‘free and virtual’ in our conference tagline, this immediately overcame the primary barriers most attendees face — registration fees and travel expenses,” says Bordes.

Ultimately, Consensus: Distributed attracted 22,500 attendees who engaged in more than 4,800 meetings and exchanged 35,000 chat messages. "The five-day format was hugely successful from a brand perspective,” says Bordes.

One of the biggest challenges for the organizers was keeping attendees engaged over the five-day period. To accomplish this, they worked to provide a wide variety of options, both in content formats — from keynotes and panels to collaborative workshops and virtual happy hours — and engagement platforms. 

“With content available via, Twitter and Brella, we provided attendees with the option to engage with Consensus in the manner they were most comfortable,” says Bordes. 

Looking ahead, Bordes is interested in testing out with new formats for digital events. “Breaking up events into smaller segments to be released over a longer period of time is an experiment I'd like to try with other events, outside of Consensus,” says Bordes. 

As to what Consensus might look like in 2021, Bordes says they will probably go with a hybrid approach that will allow attendees to attend in-person or virtually — or both. 

“I think event organizers would be foolish not to embrace the hybrid approach, but they also need to keep in mind that the virtual component doesn't just apply to attendees participating from their office or home,” says Bordes. “We have a strong focus on providing in-person attendees with the option to engage with content virtually as well.” 

Bordes uses as an example an attendee that attends the opening keynote in person but then has an early afternoon meeting off-site. 

“They should be afforded the opportunity to continue to engage with our content to and from their meeting and then we will welcome said attendee back to the networking reception that evening,” says Bordes. “Providing attendees with options while providing a holistic experience is key to the future of events.” 

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