A Field Guide to Virtual Events

More recently, we’ve seen a big uptick in virtual events as show organizers pivot from in-person engagements. For organizers, attendees and speakers, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Let’s start with some of the disadvantages. At the top of the list – in-person connections and organic interactions can’t be replicated in a virtual environment. They are extremely important and, for many, the most valuable part of attending conferences. Also, the fact that you’re not congregating in a new location with others changes how you might learn and share knowledge. Frankly, it’s just more difficult to immerse yourself in the experience when you’re stuck in your own home or office staring at a computer screen for hours on-end watching talking heads. The energy of in-person events doesn’t translate to the virtual world. Finally, virtual conferences can be plagued by the same technology challenges that we all face working from home every day. Except with conferences, those connection issues can come from across the spectrum, attendees, speakers or the conference itself, and the number of people impacted can be much greater than in your average Tuesday team meeting.  These issues are frustrating and could hurt attendance and the reputation of the event if they persist.

Despite these challenges, there are a number of positives to virtual events.  Maybe most importantly is the broader accessibility of content and knowledge for more people.  By saving the cost of travel and the commitment of being out of the office for an extended period of time, companies can send more people to virtual events to accelerate learning with more staff members. Companies can save more budget and get a more educated workforce.  Because virtual conferences scale better than in-person counterparts, accommodating more attendees is relatively easy.

One of our clients, ExxonMobil, recently sponsored and attended a virtual conference, and they found that they got better engagement in some virtual networking sessions than they had at some past in-person events. We at Mod Op helped them develop and manage those sessions. We observed people in breakout rooms making better connections with more meaningful discussions because there were fewer distractions than at a live event. It seems counterintuitive, but the group feedback validated our observations.

Another advantage to virtual conferences is that organizers can easily make their content available on-demand after the show. By doing so, event organizers provide interested parties the opportunity to consume the content when it best fits their calendar. And events can extend the use of their content and generate an additional revenue stream in the process!

Regarding content, we’ve noticed some events offer attendees the option to consume audio-only material. This is particularly appealing in a work-from-home scenario in which someone may not be able to sit and watch hours of video but may be free to listen while multitasking with their other work. In our preparation for the event ExxonMobil attended, we focused a great deal of attention on avoiding technical issues that might derail a live, virtual event. For instance, we helped ExxonMobil pre-produce their speaking engagement and panel discussions, so we were better able to control the outcome, ensuring the production value of the content, and, in those cases, the audiences had no idea whether they were watching something live or recorded. We just know they went on without a hitch or glitch.

In-person events will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later. But, once they’re deemed safe, don’t expect them to replace virtual conferences entirely again. We have discovered too many advantages to abandon virtual events entirely. There is likely a place for both formats or maybe even a third format that aims to capture the advantages of both. If you’d like to talk about virtual conferences, feel free to contact me at [email protected].