If you haven’t attended a virtual conference before, it’s okay to be skeptical, but virtual conferences have the potential to reach beyond webinars and even in-person conferences. Skip the lines, travel expenses, and the waiting around, and jump straight to the features that make the biggest impact on your professional skills and opportunities.
Are you focused on networking or getting the scoop on industry trends? Virtual conferences offer the best of both. Webinars tend to involve one speaker and limited interaction, but virtual conferences combine networking opportunities and the best platforms for remote learning.
Our own annual conference—Netconnect—taking place completely virtually this year and quickly approaching (November 4), we want to make sure that everyone knows what to expect and is ready to get the most out of your virtual conference experience.
Here are just a few of the ways in which conferences provide more ROI (return on investment) than webinars and in-person conferences:
Better user experience
What is the worst part of attending an in-person conference? Chances are it’s the waiting—before sessions, between sessions, through long introductions, and information you already know. With virtual presentations, it’s like you can teleport from one presentation to the next and rewind time (of fast-forward).
Unlike one-speaker webinars, you’ll also benefit from a wider variety of perspectives and presentation styles. And while traveling on the company dime has its perks, online engagement is less disruptive, and you can build your professional skill set from the comfort of your own home. Be careful to schedule breaks for yourself and avoid video meeting fatigue.
More engagement and interaction
Some educational webinars are about as interactive as a years-old YouTube video, but virtual conferences attract and engage larger groups of active participants. Most online conferences include active forums and discussions on social media, which allow for conversations between dozens of people. It won’t be disrespectful if you’re live-tweeting or taking a phone call during the online presentation.
During an in-person conference, you might have a few minutes to interact with nearby attendees before and after presentations, but online conferences are much more open-ended. Although you see a lot of faces at an in-person conference, most attendees will only meaningfully interact with a few individuals. If you want to follow along with a hands-on demonstration online, you have a lot more space in your living room or home office, compared to a line of chairs in a conference room.
Virtual conferences are packed with information. Whereas a live presenter might unintentionally rush through points or waste several minutes fixing a problem with the microphone, online presentations tend to focus on what’s most important. Videos prepared in advance can even be edited for an even better flow of information and pacing, as well as helpful on-screen visuals. Added text and captioning can clarify points, and many presenters will also provide copies of their slides. If you want to research more about a particular topic, it’s a lot easier to use Google from home than relying on your phone and hotel Wi-Fi.
Whether there are dozens or hundreds in the audience, it would be rude to ask the speaker to stop the presentation while you go to the restroom. Online videos are a lot less awkward to pause, whether you need to get a snack or deal with a family emergency. However well you’re managing your work-life balance, the flexibility of a virtual conference allows you to juggle a variety of responsibilities. On the one hand, it’s less like a vacation than traveling out of town for a seminar. On the other hand, for family and stressed coworkers, it’s less like you’ve disappeared on vacation when you’re still accessible for much of the day.
Some extroverts thrive on the interaction of face-to-face gatherings, but online networks allow for a wider range of connections. In-person, a successful networking conversation often concludes with an exchange of business cards. It may be days or weeks before that business card is either used or lost. When the conversation happens online, it’s far easier to connect immediately on social media and discover other common interests. Group discussions are also clearer when participants have hours or days to respond to a written thread. When you ask an insightful question or suggest helpful resources following a presentation, that contribution has wider and more lasting visibility online.
What do you do with the information you gained from a conference? Too often, you wait and see what you still remember after you return home and catch up on missed work. With online conferences, you can immediately capitalize on lessons learned by seeking out further resources and contacting the relevant authorities. If you need to learn more about a particular organization or something mentioned in passing by a presenter, it’s relatively easy to find the right contact information online. If you want to follow-up on a professional networking opportunity, you can immediately draft an email or connect on LinkedIn. Since everyone is already interacting on their computers, there’s no harm in immediately following up on a lead.
There will always be interest in shaking hands and exchanging business cards at in-person conferences, but the virtual equivalent has distinct advantages, especially for specialized fields with national and global audiences. Even after many of the pandemic-related changes have been rolled back, some of the innovative solutions for remote collaboration are likely to persist–and we’re hoping virtual conferences are one of the things to stick around.
If you’re ready to experience how great an online conference can be, then join us for Netconnect 2021 (November 4)—completely FREE and 100% virtual. One full day of HR and COVID-19 best practices, compliance guidance, guest speakers, networking events, and in-depth Netchex system training.