By this time last year tickets were being sold, the call-for-speakers was open and we had already announced at least one keynote speaker.
But, of course, this has been a very different year. We pushed the event we had planned for June back to July and moved it 100% online. We lost a handful of speakers, even a couple of keynotes, as well as many who had planned to attend in person but didn't think they would get enough value from an online event.
As it happens the move online went very well. While it will never be the same as an in-person event, we were one of the first to really provide an experience that many felt was very close! Many were able to attend who wouldn't have otherwise - so there were even upsides.
Since then several other conferences have iterated this format. As a community we have been learning.
So what will we do next year? We would normally have announced something by now, but this has been a year of constantly changing expectations.
When I first started thinking about writing this post, a couple of weeks ago, we seemed no better off than when we moved this year's conference online. Some of next year's conferences have already announced that they will be either fully online, or (at best) a "hybrid" event. This is where some people are physical present, while others attend remotely.
But while I procrastinated, we started to get news of a promising vaccine. By now, to cut a long story short (and not to reiterate the news we are all reading), this has passed its final trials and is being approved for production - and several other vaccines are also reaching similar stages.
Suddenly the outlook is looking a lot more promising!
But there is still a lot of uncertainty - especially regarding timelines, and distribution. Estimates at the moment, at least in the UK, range from next spring, to the end of 2021, for things "getting back to normal".
For a physical event, held indoors - in often crowded conditions - planning for next year is still hazardous at best! But next summer does seem to be in the sweet spot of those estimates. It is looking good that, between the results of the vaccine rollouts (even if not complete), and what appears to be a lower transmission rate during the summer months, there's a good chance it will be possible to hold an event the resembles pre-pandemic normals.
This would almost certainly still require extra precautions, such as frequent hand washing and sanitising facilities - opportunities to leave the building, open doors/ windows, where possible - and perhaps hard limits on the number of people that can attend in person.
In the reasonably worse case, where there are still significant numbers of infections, it is likely we'll still be able to hold a minimal in-person component, with the majority online - as some have even done this year, already. But as long as we pass that threshold, the rest is just degrees - degrees which should become clearer as we get closer to the event.
So the current plan is for a hybrid event - but one which we hope will be majority in-person. Even if we were 100% back to "normal", it would be a shame to abandon everything we have learned about running online events. There are still many who cannot attend in person - for many reasons, including travel and cost, on top of those who may not yet feel comfortable meeting in large numbers.
There are many details to be thought through and nailed down. We have yet to decide on a hard date - and even the venue is an open question (although the Leas Cliff Hall is still our first choice). But now we have set a direction we can start to work on those. We aim to make a more definite announcement in January. At that point we should, hopefully, have seen the initial stages of vaccine roll-out - and have a better idea of overal logistics.
So stayed tuned and listen for more in January.