Do you find yourself thinking, “How will conferences and other business events be replaced now?” Lately, I’ve been finding out, and it’s largely been a positive experience.
ATR is a member and supporter of many organizations, and we attend everything from local networking events to national conferences. If you know me, you know I’m a social person. I enjoy being out, meeting people in person, and making those personal connections.
October is conference season! I recently attended the Silicon Valley Business Awards ceremony where ATR was honored to be recognized for our contributions to the Hispanic business community. I also attended the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s National Conference, along with 6,000 others, and Manpower’s more intimate Annual Supplier Diversity Forum. Currently, I’m looking forward to the annual NMSDC Conference on October 26th through the 29th.
Let me be clear– nothing is going to replace actual human contact. Nothing. I miss everyone, even the airport! And I know I’m not alone. But what’s been happening in its stead has had its own benefits and even charms. I want to acknowledge that and share my experiences.
What Have I Discovered?
- Organizations are stepping up and moving forward! I am truly impressed and thankful that so many organizations are moving forward under the circumstances. I can only imagine the effort that creating a virtual conference takes. If it is uncharted waters for those of us attending, it is surely even more so for the planners. Everything is new, particularly the technology. A big thank you to the speakers and panelists also. Public speaking can be daunting under any circumstances. Making the effort now is just extra. I am grateful to you all.
- It’s a time and cost saver. No travel. No airfare, hotels, or meals. No lines getting into and out of sessions. No waiting for everyone to settle in and quiet down before things can begin. No line for coffee or lunch. As much as I love people, we tend to gum up the works a bit, don’t we? As much as I miss the interpersonal connections, it’s impossible to deny the benefits of extra time and money.
- I am getting more out of each session. Let me clarify. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention or learning before, it’s that I am able to focus better now because I am not taking notes. I know that everything is being recorded and will be available for playback, often nearly instantly. That means I don’t have to write down things that I want to follow up on later. The logistics and costs involved with trying to provide the same for an in-person conference understandably made it unrealistic to do and usually just plenary or keynote sessions were recorded. This is a really nice benefit of the virtual environment. I feel more present and am obviously less distracted during the event.
- Information is at my fingertips. Everything is online and easily accessed. Attendee profiles, company information, anything I can think of seems to be a click away. Plenty of information at prior conferences was also available digitally, but it just never felt as convenient as it has recently. I don’t know exactly why, but I have a few theories. One is obviously because the whole thing is online, so I’m already there. If I’m watching a panel discussion and I want to know more about the speaker, I click and, voila, more info. I also wonder whether the platform or app is easier to use.
- There is still a feeling of community. I was definitely not expecting this, but some level of this feeling has been present at each conference. How strongly is a function of several things, including the size of the conference or whether it is local or national. Conference organizers were the starting point, projecting energy, enthusiasm, and a feeling of community. But it’s also a function of how useful and user friendly the conference platform and communication tools are and how engaged and willing to participate the attendees are. Taking advantage of chat functions, break out groups, and other connecting features makes a difference. It’s up to us to help build this feeling, but I was really pleased to find something to build on and others working to do so as well.
What Can We Do to Make Virtual Conferences Better?
- Prepare. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Several conferences have automatically linked to this. Make sure all your social media is ready for scrutiny. Check to ensure that your company’s website is working – no broken links, no missing info. At the very least, make sure your main pages are optimized and accurate. Make sure any conference-specific profiles are complete. Your online presence is the only presence at a virtual conference, for you personally and your company. It is probably the only way that most or all of the attendees will ever get to “see” or “know” you. Don’t blow it!
- Learn how to engage using the technology that is offered. Take advantage of chat features and other online feedback and communication tools. Share a quick thought or note of agreement or thanks. A “live” audience automatically provides this kind of feedback to speakers through verbal and nonverbal cues likes nods or murmurs. I’ve seen the chat/scroll feature act in this way. I felt connected reading comments that echoed my thoughts. I also thought it was a great way to let speakers know they were on target, and to say thank you. This isn’t the same as asking questions; it’s more about sharing reactions.
Hope for the Future
All of my recent experiences have made me hopeful about the future of the virtual conference world. First, I know that it is still early. Conference organizers are learning, innovating, and improving the experience as I write this. The technology will get better. We’ll get better at attending virtually. There are some real benefits to doing things this way. I think that even when in-person events return, there are aspects of the virtual experience that we will want to hang on to or recreate somehow.
In the meantime, I am learning to appreciate what I’ve got and looking forward to another great experience in two weeks. Please, share what your experiences have been so far and let me know if you’ll be at NMSDC – let’s connect virtually!
Feel free to reach out to me to continue the conversation.