NAATBatt held its third annual Workshop on Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries on Tuesday, July 14.  Because of the Covid situation, NAATBatt was forced to hold the workshop as a webinar rather than as a live event.  I was unsure exactly how that was going to work out.

In fact, the virtual workshop worked better than I expected and far better than I had feared.  185 people registered to attend this year’s recycling workshop, almost double the number that attended the highly successful second annual workshop in Buffalo last July.

The sudden move in the battery industry, and indeed in all industries, from in-person conferences and trade show to virtual webinars has thrust the entire meetings business into new and uncharted territory.  Already it is clear that even when things return to normal, industry conferences and trade shows are not going to be the same.  Many of the familiar conferences and trade shows that cannot make the leap, at least temporarily, to on-line format are struggling and may not survive.

NAATBatt’s experience, so far with two webinars since Covid, has taught us some lessons about industry conferences and trade shows.  Perhaps the most important lesson is that there are three things that attendees look for in a program:  content, business marketing opportunities and networking.  How well an on-line webinar can deliver those three benefits to attendees will be the measure of the quality of its virtual platform and will determine its overall success.

With respect to content, NAATBatt most recent webinar seems to have delivered a very satisfactory product.  The recycling webinar featured 18 speakers making relatively short presentations as part of four different panels none going more than 75 minutes.  The panels were spaced anywhere from 75 to 45 minutes apart, allowing attendees to attend to other business and avoiding the dreaded but now all too familiar “Zoom Fatigue” syndrome.

The panels themselves offered excellent information about the state of, prospects for, and challenges to lithium-ion battery recycling in North America.  Since last July in Buffalo, no other program has offered more information about that topic than the NAATBatt webinar.  A link to a recorded version of the webinar, together with all speaker presentations, will be provided to registered attendees within 7-10 days following the webinar.  Employees of all NAATBatt member firms who did not attend the webinar will, as a standard benefit of NAATBatt membership, get access to the webinar recording and materials starting between 30 and 60 days following the webinar.

The two other important features of in-person conferences and trade shows–business marketing opportunities and networking–will be a bit more challenging for webinars to duplicate.  As NAATBatt seems increasingly certain to move its Zinc Battery Workshop in November and 12th Annual Meeting next February to a virtual format, how better to provide these features to webinar attendees is a current, top-of-mind challenge for NAATBatt staff.  We already have some ideas.  But we greatly welcome your suggestions.

I had expected Covid to kill high quality conferences and trade shows in the battery industry.  NAATBatt’s experience with the recycling workshop indicates that it does not have to.  Still, NAATBatt has to become better at delivering high quality virtual programs that better deliver what attendees look for in conferences and trade shows.  Let us hope for everyone’s sake that our need to do so will be only short-term.