Event planning went on a roller-coaster ride in 2020: Social distancing, regulations on group size, venues shutting down, and the growth of new communication technologies all changed the way that conferences work.
New solutions quickly appeared to enable virtual conferences through apps like Zoom and livestreaming tools…but that means that brands have to make key decisions about attending events when everything is so different. Is the conference still worth it when it goes virtual? Are there any advantages? Let’s go through several important questions you should ask when scheduling – or avoiding – digital conferences.
How Much Information Are You Expecting to Get from the Conference?
If your primary goal in a conference is to learn, then virtual conferences can be very valuable for you. Online conferences are a great way to pack in a lot of information in a very time-efficient way. They tend to move from session to session quickly, include easy-access online materials for follow-up, and can even make room for targeted Q&A sessions. In fact, virtual conferences can be even more effective at providing a lot of data at once than in-person events.
How Professional is the Conference?
Look for tell-tale signs that the virtual event is being organized by experienced professionals. Plenty of advanced scheduling time and frequent updates on the conference are good signs that it’s run by people who know what they’re doing. Conference websites should also lay out the event schedule very clearly, highlighting speakers, subjects, and summaries. Instructions for signing in and navigating the conference should also be clear.
If there isn’t that much information and planning seems to be a little last-minute, that’s a sign the conference may experience technical difficulties, have scheduling issues, or offer relatively little.
What is Your Level of Participation in the Conference?
Is your brand putting on a presentation, or are you in a more passive role for this event? There’s no right or wrong answer, but it does change your preparation and necessary skills. Creating videos, finding the right backdrop, checking bandwidth, and getting familiar with livestreaming tools can all take time – if you are taking on an active role, you need to find enough time, or get help from someone who has experience.
If you don’t have the experience and your schedule is tight, it’s fine to step down from an active role until you are ready. A poor online performance could damage your brand – and event planners will be grateful if you acknowledge that you aren’t quite ready. You could also consider working with a marketing firm to create a professional video you could upload ahead of time for your conference slot, which removes a lot of the livestreaming stress.
What Parts of the Conference Are You Specifically Interested In?
Virtual conferences are excellent for targeting specific sessions or speakers that you really want to get involved with. You can drop in and out much more easily than navigating a live event, only spending time on what’s important to you.
On the other hand, if you are interested in attending the entire conference from start to finish, then it becomes very important to fully block out your schedule, arrange your own meals, and prepare for each livestreaming session if necessary. If you have a team, you can arrange to work in shifts or have each team member attend the session that’s most pertinent to their work.
How Important is Networking to You?
We mentioned that virtual conferences often offer time for Q&A sessions, but this is usually the most interaction that viewers can get from the conference. Even speakers can’t easily talk with other speakers (who may not be available at all if they pre-recorded their sections).
If your primary goal in attending a conference is networking, make new contacts, or find potential partners and investors, virtual conferences may not have enough value for you. Virtual conferences are trying to overcome this with collaborative tools, but this can vary greatly from event to event, so have backup plans for networking and don’t feel bad about skipping conferences that don’t have what you need. Blue Atlas can help you find alternative networking solutions to complement online meetings.
Will You Be Multitasking During a Conference?
It can be challenging to multitask during a virtual conference, especially for those new to these kinds of online events. Generally, a streamed conference requires more focus and direct involvement to really get what you want from the experience. It’s a good idea to take notes, follow along with any materials, and use chat tools (if available) to ask questions and stay involved.
Don’t plan on multitasking at all during the virtual event. If your job requires multitasking – journalists covering live event news, for example – understand that virtual conferences may prove more of a challenge. Get rid of any unnecessary distractions before you begin.
Finally, What Expenses are Involved?
Virtual conferences are typically an excellent way to avoid travel expenses (and stay comfortable). However, if an online conference is charging you a fee to sign up, it’s very important you get value out of that conference. Free virtual events take very little investment to get into and are often a good idea. If you are asked to pay, then the conference really needs to have excellent speakers scheduled and smooth performance from experienced professionals to be worthwhile.
These questions can help narrow down your plans for attending virtual conferences. However, if you don’t have much experience in online events like these yet, we highly recommend getting involved in at least a few free conferences to learn how they work and what you can take away from them – it’s great preparation for the future!