Conferences and events have been crucial to my sense-making of change over the years. I have been attending them as a speaker, delegate, blogger and sponsor! If you are looking for some reasons to attend a virtual conference, here is my experience soaked five.
Having attended several virtual events over the last few years, I can tell you that well-designed virtual conference events bring a ton of value. Of course, I do not get the sights, smells, sounds of an ‘in real life’ conference in a virtual one. But their absence is more than compensated by other benefits. I shortlisted five reasons to attend a virtual conference from a longer list that I drew up with a ten-minute quiet time.
Five Reasons To Attend A Virtual Conference
For starters, a virtual conference gives me flexibility. The single biggest real estate space is the one on my calendar. In the attend-in-person times, to block three full days for an in-person conference was a proposition that involved some adroit maneuvering.
But a virtual conference gives me the flexibility to pick and choose sessions, topics and speakers in line with what my goals are. It forces me to get laser-sharp with my objectives and helps me flex the calendar well. Attending a virtual conference is not at the exclusion of all else!
For the same reason, it's been my experience that better speaker diversity is possible in a virtual conference. When speakers realize its only a few hours they need to take off for presenting their thoughts, there is a greater chance for them to bespeak.
Plus, virtual conferences are easy on the wallet. The real costs and opportunity costs added up to a good amount in the attend-in-person format. At a fraction of the cost, I get more than my usual value!
2. Background research and efficiency
In a virtual event, I love the fact that I can dig into background research during the conference. I have access to my notes from earlier times and search the web for more data about what’s been spoken about. It lends depth! The ability to zone out and home in is an efficiency booster like none else.
I have been better off with theories, latest research papers, and people connections, all made possible by virtue of it being virtual. These have come alive during in-person events as well, but with far greater effort.
Sometimes it can be distracting, but most other times, it is extremely useful. I am just not left with what comes from one person or a small group, but I get a wider context.
3. Devices & efficiency
That leads me to a tactical point: devices. At home I put all the necessary devices to use well. Right from the chair and table to the screen and phone! I used to hate fading sauce stain adorned ones that came without arm support! Accessing Twitter or making live notes during the conference for long hours was near impossible. Of course, there were conferences like SHRM that had marked out spaces for bloggers that I used to make full use of. Alas, such events were few and far between.
Being able to access my devices leads me perhaps to the most important of them all: the backchannel. Every single successful online event that I have attended has a thriving backchannel.
A thriving conversation on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and other places adds richness to what comes from the stage. Virtual events have come alive because of these backchannels. Virtual events that co-opt people who share their take, make meaning-making rich.
5. Bespoke connections beyond the business card
Virtual conferences have helped me build bespoke connections. In my case, lasting friendships rarely started with an exchange of business cards. Exchanging ideas, observations, questions have established the foundations. Friendships tend to become intimate with continued conversations even though they began with a simple exchange online.
Exchanging ideas in the moment, because of being able to access multiple platforms and devices is a big win for me. In an online event, I reach out to and connect with people I want to, with a specific message immediately.
Anecdotally, the online connections I have made in the last decade have turned into deep friendships that have lasted. Some have gone on without ever meeting in real life!
“But a virtual event in COVID times?”
I have had this response when I tell people that I am attending a virtual event. Of course with a ring of disbelief to it.
I think it is absolutely important to attend now, more than any other time. Here are my reasons.
The world is without a playbook to deal with a pandemic. We have had pockets of successes and oodles of failures in reimagining work.
But most of all, we have swathes of “I don’t know what to do” or “I don’t know if what I am doing now is good in the long run!"
These need a coming together and exchange of ideas. We cant solve this problem with pulled drawbridges and cropped connections.
Every single sphere of life and work is getting altered in ways that were wishful in January 2020. Even if what we are doing now seems to be working, the chances that the approaching changes will pull the rug out from under our feet is real, for we don’t know what we don’t know!
Choosing the event
So, how do you choose which event to go to? I ask myself the following questions.
1. What is(are) the topic(s)? How relevant are they to my current or future objectives?
2. Who all are speaking? Who all are going to be part of the conference?
3. Has the conference been reimagined for digital?
The third question is particularly relevant given the number of events and conferences that have just have a change of place. That is moving from a place in the real world to one in the virtual world.
Some further questions, conversations, and reflections along these lines settle it for me.
Over the years, I have cherry-picked conferences and events to invest time and energy on. I have been going to SHRM events for years, both in India and overseas. Disclaimer: I have been an invited blogger for most of these events.
This year, SHRM Edge, a two-day virtual conference with four focused conclaves is scheduled for July 29-30. It has an interesting speaker line up and offers an opportunity to come together and converse. It sure looks promising!
One more thing
I do not foresee us ever going back to pre-January days of plane hopping to attend conferences. I mean, working remotely and attending virtual events and conferences will be an option for most large conferences in the future. We better get better with making the most of virtual events!