As originally seen on Forbes
“I have a great idea, why don’t we make it a virtual conference?” -Said about a million people without a great idea.
Forget virtual conferences, they have officially lost their luster. We have reached the doldrums of the COVID-19 quarantine. It’s no longer a funny situation, or a chance to see our life with a fresh new outlook. We are tired of zoom calls, conference calls, and phone calls. We are missing real interaction with people. We are in survival mode. So why are we bombarded with so many conferences that have decided to go virtual this year?
Money. This is the number one reason. So many organization depend on revenue from their virtual conferences to stay in business. I’ve received multiple queries asking if I would like to sponsor said conferences and have a “virtual booth.” I don’t even want to attend a virtual conference, why would I want to purchase a virtual booth at one? What is the value proposition? I get it, each organization wants to continue bringing in money through their conferences, but real in-person conferences aren’t happening for the next few months, and virtual conferences are a poor substitute.
Why are virtual conferences such a poor substitute? First, they fail to provide a captive audience for venders. I’ve had booths at conferences for years, but every successful sales person knows that most of the business happens away from the booths at the dinners and networking events after hours. With virtual conferences, you are missing out on both of these opportunities.
Second, virtual conferences can’t maintain the attention of attendees. When someone attends a real-life event they are committed. Sure, they can step away for a phone call, but they are out of their office and away from the normal work distractions. Virtual conference can’t hope to maintain this level of attention.
Third, my favorite part of conferences is the “bump” factor. You bump into random new people at the sessions and the networking functions, and these connections are often the most valuable part of the entire deal. Remember when we used to meet new people on a regular basis? That was awesome. Now we are so starved for human interaction that the take-out server at the sushi restaurant chatted with me for five minutes before she would give me my food. She wasn’t flirting either, she was just desperate for some human interaction that wasn’t transactional in nature. We are by nature a tribal people and we like to really get to know other people. It is something that has always helped us feel safe and helps build our self-esteem.
Sure, there are some benefits from a virtual conference; it’s cheap, easy to set up, and you don’t have to deal with large crowds. In a recent conversation I had with founder and CEO of Lexblog, Kevin O’Keefe, he stated, “Virtual conferences democratize the process to younger professionals to learn and gain passion... Might be a better return for companies exhibiting, too, as set up of talking to attendees at the virtual conference was pretty slick.” These conferences give lots of opportunities to learn that weren’t previously available, but this onslaught of announced webinars is exhausting. Kevin went on to say, “there will [most likely] be no large conferences this year and it’s very possible it will be the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022 before we ever have large conferences,” making use of the digital space may prove the only opportunity to meet with others in your industry.
In a recent poll of marketers working in the legal industry they were asked: What is your current reaction when you hear that another virtual conference has been announced? “If it's relevant to me, I welcome the opportunity to learn,” responded Gina Rubel of Furia Rubel Communications, and this was the most popular poll response. Close behind was this, “please, anything but more virtual interactions. I’m suffering from severe Zoom fatigue.” The other answers were split. Some appreciated the flexibility of the virtual conferences while others would rather attend in person but will continue attending virtual conferences until we know more.
Does COVID-19 mean the end of some organizations because they can’t hold their annual conferences? I hope not. I plan to continue paying dues in the organizations I depend on, but my business can’t afford to pay for virtual sponsorships that have an ROI that is also virtual. Have you attended some virtual conferences that have broken this mold? Is there a right way to hold a virtual conference that can still deliver major value? Let me know dayton@. In the meantime, do what you can to stave off Zoom fatigue and hopefully before we know it, things will open up again and we can all meet for drinks.
As originally seen on Forbes