I attended my first, “proper” virtual conference recently and I was blown away!
It was unlike any other virtual conference I have ever been to before. It was live and interactive; I networked like I was in the room, met new people, listened to some great keynote speakers and even got involved in the Q&A, all from the comfort of my lounge.
It could not have been more different from other virtual conferences I have attended, which tend to run via a succession of webinars scheduled over a day, which you choose to log into. While doing it this way can produce some good results, I much prefer the opportunity to interact with other conference attendees and discuss the topic at hand, rather than experiencing a content download from a series of webinars.
So why is virtual conferencing on the rise and how can you use it to your advantage?
Firstly, having the right technology is key for it to work successfully. The best we’ve seen so far is a platform called Remo. You can check it out here.
This is what it looks like -
It is designed around facilitating networking and interaction. During the networking sessions, you can join any available table in real-time to chat with other attendees or discuss the topics at hand. Keynote speakers can then take the floor with a chat function to respond to any questions from the audience.
Having a reliable, interactive and fun platform like Remo can make a virtual conference a great, live experience which still feels intimate.
This is becoming important as traditional face-to-face conferences are starting to fall out of favour for a number of reasons.
I spoke to an HR Director of a large bank in EMEA about their recent leadership conference. It cost them approx. £250,000 – a quarter of a million pounds!
The conference was for 50 people over 3 days. It may have been a huge success but that is a lot of money to spend on a single event. The outlay needed to factor in flying 50 people across the world to a single venue, hotel costs, food, entertainment, speakers and don’t even mention the bar bills!
I’m not suggesting that we stop all face-to-face events but we do know that more and more organisations are reducing their budgets for such costly affairs. Taking these events online and making them virtual is a much more cost-effective option.
The reality is that a traditional conference means people need to travel and often, spend time away from home. This doesn’t work for everyone. Accessibility, home commitments and child care among other factors, means that some people will simply miss out.
I think it is great to see some conference events have a virtual option for those not in the room; usually in the form of a live video stream of the speakers, so people not in attendance can still see what is happening. This can’t replace the social, interactive element of not attending the event in person however.
We shouldn't ignore the rising concern about climate change and our future. This huge factor impacts the effectiveness of face-to-face conferencing in a few ways.
The first and obvious one is around how individuals make choices for themselves and how they can manage their own carbon usage (choosing not to fly or travel excessively, going paperless, avoiding single use plastics etc).
This means that some people will opt out of travelling for conferences altogether, impacting on their feelings of inclusivity and causing them to miss out entirely.
Looking at the conference itself, there is always an ample adornment of banners, pens, single-wrapped sweets, plastic bottles and paper; needless extras that will most likely be discarded the moment the conference ends. Hopefully with the rising exposure of climate change and the damage that little things like this create, the use of these will decrease.
So how can we make the most of virtual conferencing?
Internally in your organisation, there are loads of great ways you can have you colleagues come together virtually. Here are just a few of our thoughts for you to use as a starting point;
1) Company announcements and updates
Rather than a recording or webinar from the CEO, why not say your big announcement in a virtual conferencing platform like Remo. It allows the audience to then get into smaller groups to discuss what they have heard and generate questions to ask, which can be fed back live into the CEO.
2) World Café
Why not take the great idea of capturing ideas by writing and drawing all over a tablecloth in a group to a virtual table and use a GoogleDoc? Then, people could move between tables to share ideas and present them back. This is all achievable in a good virtual conferencing platform. Many organisations have already adopted World Cafes as an effective interactive discussion and creativity tool - now you can get the benefits of doing this live and virtually.
3) Company Happy Hours
Perhaps Friday lunchtimes could now involve opening a virtual conference room for anyone to pop in and chat to one another, involving people from all around the organisation and the world. This offers a great opportunity for informal networking, camaraderie and relationship building. It also helps your remote workers feel that ‘Friday feeling’ that you often get in offices and boosts inclusivity.
4) Actual Conferences
I know a growing organisation who, when they were small enough, would invite the entire organisation to get together face-to-face twice a year. As they are expanding, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this isn’t a practical solution anymore. They still meet in person once a year, but have increased their use of virtual conferencing, now holding one every quarter.
As you can tell, I am super excited about the prospects of how powerful virtual conferencing can be. It is a great all inclusive way for people to get together - those at the hub and those who are more remote. It is human, live, intimate and fun if you get it right.
If you haven’t experienced a virtual conference yet, you should! Go and give it a try! I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
And, if you need one to attend, The Virtual Training Team are planning to host our very own virtual conference on the Remo platform very soon.
We love designing and delivering interactive virtual training and we want to work with you to make your venture into the virtual world straight forward and enjoyable in a way that delivers the results you want to achieve.