Are virtual conferences worth your time?

Have in-person events had their time? Let's run through the various strategies and considerations.
A laptop which is showing a virtual conference; 6 people are taking part in the meeting, all from different places - Bee Digital Marketing

The pandemic has taught us to think more digitally… But does that translate to tradeshows going online instead of in-person moving forward?

If events weren’t cancelled in the past 2 years, some shows tried to go on by hosting events virtually… which has had a mixed reception.

Some say it failed:

“…the failure of virtual has nothing to do with platform technology, but rather the attendee psychology, motivation, and behaviour at physical B2B events.”

Others see the benefits but are still divided by the long-term impact, shown here in the Bizzabo survey:

  • 93% of event professionals plan to invest in virtual events moving forward.
  • 80.2% of event organizers were able to reach a wider audience with virtual events.
  • 96% of event professionals do not believe virtual events will replace in-person events.

Exhibiting cost A LOT too.

Also, there’s a lot of travel and logistics to sort out… and are you getting the right people coming by your stand?

You may already know what I think about tradeshows from the video Education Tradeshows SUCK… but the desire to go back to business as usual is a fascinating part of attendee psychology.

So, is it FOMO… or have we had time to up our tradeshow game now we’ve been on this global sabbatical? (Kind of.)

"...those who are spending a good bit of money will want to attend in order to ensure they are getting the best products for their companies. Educational sessions may be less important now that people are used to webinars. Meetings that are primarily educational, rather than trade shows, will be more often virtual."

Bill Conerly, Trade Shows Will Regain Importance After The Covid-19 Pandemic

I agree with Bill Conerly in this Forbes article about a hybrid tradeshow future.

The show must go on, right? Because of the networking opportunities.

This is why I’ve been sharing this quick (and dirty!) tip on how to quickly and effectively get teachers to your exhibition stand.

  1. Record a VERTICAL video of yourself at your stand inviting people to stop by. (Yes, VERTICAL. It takes up more real estate on Facebook and it’s more mobile-friendly for people watching it on their phones on the exhibition floor.)
  2. Upload it as a Facebook ad.
  3. Target an audience based on LOCATION to those who have visited ExCel London in the past day. (This will give your video ad maximum reach to trade show attendees.)

So are virtual events worth your time?

Some events have permanently transitioned to being online.

One of the main benefits of a “real-life” conference is the ability to network with other delegates. Indeed, it’s not such a flippant comment to say that sometimes the most important parts of any conference are the tea and lunch breaks.

Some online conferences build in networking as part of their timetabling.

Other events may afford opportunities for making new contacts in a less formal way.

For example, if the event is being held over Zoom, will the room be open before the start? Fifteen minutes for small talk can be useful for getting to know other participants.

Will there be opportunities to ask questions?

Another essential aspect of conferences is the chance to ask the speakers questions.

After all, each speaker has been invited onto the podium because they’re acknowledged as an expert in their field.

Therefore, being able to ask them a question is tremendously valuable.

Will the sessions be recorded?

There may be data protection reasons that the sessions cannot be recorded.

However, if they are, will you have access to those recordings afterwards?

Some online conferences offer a tiered structure, such as a small fee to have access to the recordings for a limited period of time, and a larger fee to have permanent access. 

Will the slides be made available?

More often than not, presentation slides on their own are fairly useless, especially if, rather than having text, they have pictures.

However, they may act as an aid-memoire and in that way supplement your own notes from the event.

Is the conference fee cost-effective?

In normal circumstances, attending a conference usually involves a whole separate layer of additional costs: travelling time, fares, and possibly food and accommodation.

A virtual conference allows you to do other work right up to just a few minutes before you need to get online, and with none of the other costs mentioned.

What other “compensations” are there?

I think most people would agree that in spite of the time- and money-saving aspects of attending a conference online compared to attending a physical one, they’re not as good.

Even with networking opportunities built-in, you don’t necessarily enjoy the serendipitous chats over a cup of coffee.

Therefore it’s pertinent to ask if there are any additional things on offer that go some way towards making up for that.

For example, is there a delegates-only Facebook or Linkedin group? Will there be a special conference price for speakers’ books, in the form of a code to apply at the virtual checkout?

Ultimately, as with all cost-benefit analyses, only you and your colleagues can judge whether the potential advantages of a particular virtual conference outweigh the disadvantages of not attending at all.