A virtuoso performance

‘Virtual meetings are not a virtual conference’

Midway through a recent planning meeting, our Head of Client Services nailed the challenge for many during the current crisis: virtual meetings are not the same as virtual conferences, he said.

Most people’s experience of virtual meetings is not dissimilar to face-to-face meetings. They often overrun, they sometimes lack agendas, they can be frantic, chaotic, lack focus and energy, and overlaid on top, virtual meetings have people dipping in and out with mute and connectivity issues.

This is not the model for a conference.

A conference has an agenda, content, a schedule, defined opportunities for feedback. A conference has: a clear purpose and goals; an important message to impart or share; a product or plans to launch; awards to celebrate; trade sales or more besides. We would not countenance chaos at a conference in the real world, nor should we in the virtual one.

Conferences are effective because they are produced. They have a producer who ensures that all elements work together: the content, the speakers, the delegate management, the schedule, the rehearsals, the production team. So why should virtual conferences lack the same?

To be fully effective, a virtual conference should be approached like any other conference.

Only when all the usual questions about audience, message, motive and means have been answered, should we start to think about logistics and technology. When we do, we’re taking all that works so well in a face-to-face event, and moving it online.

We’ll still have a producer, a production manager, maybe even a show-caller, working with speakers, prepping them, timing them, governing them. We’ll still have the roving microphones picking up audience questions. We can still have breakouts and workshops and seminars. We can still have networking and business speed-dating. In fact, it’s hard to think of something you can’t have in the virtual world that you can in the real – we could even use virtual reality to sit you in an environment.

All these things we can do through a combination of existing and new technologies, which audiences have become extremely familiar with through necessity. A conference can be streamed from an intranet, or a bespoke website to provide contextual content and materials. We can record the whole thing and make it available for those who could not participate live. We can invite feedback pre, during and post event, to shape future content – just as we would a face-to-face conference.

These hybrid events – using the same production techniques and expertise, but reaching audiences globally via the internet – can apply for anything from award ceremonies to trade shows with enough planning and consideration.

We are firm believers in the value of face-to-face events. Humans are troop animals. We thrive on contact. But times change and business must change with them. A virtual conference is as close as we can get to people sitting in the room and participating. The venue costs we lose can be re-invested in content and reach, or simply saved.

In whatever future we re-shape, the virtual conference offers fantastic benefits as an alternative or extension to your normal conference season. Don’t overlook this opportunity to expand your influence. And don’t confuse a virtual conference with a virtual meeting.