2020 saw an immense change in traditionally in-person conferences, with new regulations and worries over coronavirus infections leading many to switch to online events – for better and worse. While the future is still unclear for these kinds of conferences, it’s important for every business to understand if virtual conferences are right for them, and how exactly they differ from physical venue experiences. Here’s what you should know.
Virtual conferences are renowned for their cost-saving capabilities, which is why some conference were going digital long before the days of COVID-19. Those running the conference save a lot of money on venue costs and labor. Participants save money on travel expenses and meals (although sometimes “online ticket” fees can apply), and costs don’t scale up when you add more participants. There’s usually not much need for rentals, extra staff, or entertainment, either.
While everything can happen on a much lower budget all around, it’s important to make sure your brand has the in-house technology to successfully stream and record for virtual events. Some upgrades may be required if this is a new frontier for your company, and Blue Atlas Marketing is happy to help if you need a strong start.
Preparation and Technology
Preparation is important for both in-person and virtual events, but the process is different. For an in-person conference at a venue, it’s important to have all mobile devices and audio/video equipment ready and working. Presenters need to be coordinated and have any extra materials ready. Technical issues should be worked out beforehand, which can mean testing and time commitments.
For the virtual version, this preparation takes place in the digital world. Technology must be tested and ready, but now it’s the apps and platforms used for livestreaming, webcams used for video, and the internet bandwidth necessary for a good connection – different requirements from A/V equipment, but just as important. Security is also more of an issue.
In both cases, preparation and timing are important: It’s a good idea to arrive at least 15 minutes beforehand (even in online sessions) to start making sure everything is working and available.
Scheduling and Sessions
Scheduling at a venue requires assigning different sessions to different conference rooms, and making sure that conferences don’t overlap, with the necessary downtime in between to allow for take-down and setup. Scheduling during a virtual conference is very different – while there is some time between sessions for preparation, most focus is on making sure that everything is signed into the correct meeting on the right platform, and knows how to use all the necessary tools. There’s also no need to move between conference rooms for speakers or participants.
This makes virtual conferences much more versatile when scheduling…in most ways. One key advantage that in-person conferences have is that they can schedule multiple sessions at the same, occurring in different rooms, as necessary. This isn’t as viable for online conferences.
Virtual conferences are extremely flexible and don’t require the time commitment of in-person events. You or your team can drop in on the specific sessions and speakers that you want to interact with, then work on other projects for the rest of the conference. This is a marked difference from in-person conferences, which often require longer periods of participation and less productive waiting.
Also, remember that travel is no longer a factor in virtual events. You can easily participate while at work or from home. This means you don’t have to take time off work to attend, which can be a boon to busy entrepreneurs. Also, if something unexpected comes up, it’s a lot easier to skip the conference and watch videos or review slideshows when you have time.
Interaction and Engagement
In virtual conferences, interact is based on the digital tools that the conferencing platform allows. That can include chat tools, Q&A sessions over livestreaming platforms like Zoom, and annotations on digital media. Otherwise, interactions in virtual events are very limited, and in many industries participants (often still getting used to the digital tools) are more reluctant to ask questions or engage than they would be in a physical environment.
This means that participants have to carry a lot of the engagement themselves. This means note-taking, asking questions, sending direct message for clarification, and other activities that will increase the value of the conference.
In-person conference, on the other hand, allow for much easier conversations, casual chats, and various types of networking. You get lots of eye contact, body language, and easy plans for after-event happy hours. If this type of in-person networking is where your business excels, then virtual conferences will be a challenge. Some virtual events are trying to remedy this by helping people split off into different virtual meeting rooms, but that’s a work in progress.
Follow-up to in-person events is primarily digital, so there are few differences here. In both cases you are likely to receive/send emails, receive video downloads of the event, and often get PDFs of the slideshows, etc. The big difference is that virtual conferences may send a lot of this data before or during the conference, saving only follow-up emails for afterwards.
Virtual conferences are more affordable, more flexible, and easier to set up with the right experience. However, they also require new expertise in internet management and digital platforms, as well as plenty of preparation and focus. In-person events remain better for networking and socializing, which means that brands interested in networking need to put plenty of effort into follow-up contacts after a virtual event (there are also, sadly, no goodie bags).
Overall, virtual conferences offer plenty unique advantages, especially for growing companies, but they do need investment in the right skills and can take some practice. Fortunately, 2020 is the perfect time to start that practice: If you’d like to learn more, Blue Atlas can show you a roadmap to get started.