Thoughts on my first virtual conference

I attended a virtual event this week. It was scheduled to last 3 hours. But I only stayed for 2.5 Hours. Below I describe the event from my perspective and after that some notes on how it could be made better.

The virtual event experience

The event home page had a welcome video that you could start when you got there. I didn’t have any idea what to expect so this was nice. It could have spent time discussing the mechanics of the site and how to attend the event but it just was a welcome video, welcoming me to the event and letting me know they appreciated me being able to attend.

Navigation on the site wasn’t that easy to figure out at first. It was at the bottom of the page not at the top or the side. And the navigation home button brought up a list of videos that you could watch (or attend). And that page was in front of the conference page.

I launched the 1st (actually 2nd after the welcome video) which was the CEO keynote session. I thought this was good and the occasional interruption by executives ringing the CEO’s doorbell asking for toilet paper was entertaining. Again he welcomed us to the event and discussed how the pandemic has changed their world and ours. He thanked the customers in attendance and made brief mention of the video (tracks) that one could follow. I don’t recall but the CEO keynote didn’t seem to have any (or many) slides during his session it was just like an informal talk (but) scripted.

It took me a while to figure out how to get back to the main agenda page but once there I proceeded on my chosen track to watch the next video. When I was finished with that I watched the other 3 track videos. The video tracks were not as good as the CEO keynote session and some of them had many more slides than they needed.

They also had a customer interview with an exec which was great and well done. Especially given it seemed to have been recorded over the prior 48 hours.

Somewhere in all of this, I happened to reach the Expo floor. It had a series of technical break out sessions and then the exhibitor buttons which had their own videos, reports, webinars that one could watch/read.

I watched most of the technical breakouts (at least part way through). The tech breakouts were ok, but also had mixed quality as I remember it. That is some having more or less slides and more or less webinar like.

I also watched a few of the exhibitor videos. Some of these auto started when you clicked on their expo buttons, some did not. Some videos were very loud while others were fine.

I’d say the mixed quality of the exhibits were similar to what one might see at any conference with bigger vendors having more polished content while smaller vendors had less polished content.

The conference had a public chat channel but there was one channel for the whole conference and it didn’t appear until much later (maybe when I entered the first breakout sessions or expo “hall”)

How to make our next virtual conference better

Below are my thoughts on ways to improve the virtual conference experience.

• Have real scheduled times to watch the videos/webinars/tech sessions. Yes there all online and can truly be watched at any time you want. But I expected a scheduled agenda with breaks between sessions and to have to pick which one I wanted to go to, meaning that some would have to be unattended. I would suggest that the videos only be available during the event at scheduled time slots and that the event organizers build in breaks between each session. They could always be made available at a later date under a conference media page for further viewing but having them scheduled to run in a conference room would make it more conference like. The tracks could be scheduled in other side rooms of the conference.

• Also, would it be too much to ask that they have some sort of video roll call of participants with headshots and maybe a title. Something akin to a conference badge. Perhaps they could show this during the breaks between sessions. Even if you rolled through the virtual badge shots quickly, during breaks, it would act as sort of an analog of walking from one session to another.

• I don’t know whether there was any interest in social media, but having a twitter, facebook, other social media event hash tag prominently displayed on the bottom 1/3rd or on some early slide deck would have been useful. To generate some social buz

• Also, at conferences, one can typically see a screen which tracks the social media hash tag. I saw none of this at the event. Having some small panel running social media activity might have led to more social media interaction. It could be along the side of the main page, viewable during all videos, breaks and other sessions.

• As for the public chat. I think it would have been better to have a separate chat channels for each video, breakout, exhibit, etc. rather than having a single chat room for the whole conference. It would have been great if the separate chat window popped up when you started viewing a video, breakout or entered an exhibit.

• Have lots more technical breakouts. didn’t see a great quantity of these maybe 5-7 tech breakouts and the 4 original tech track videos. Again separate chat channels so one could ask questions pertaining to the session would have been great.

• The exhibits were all other vendors (sponsors) showing there stuff. I didn’t see any show and tell for the conference event organizers that one would see in any conference if you walked out on the show floor. Would it have been to much to ask to have a virtual walk through tour of each of the conference organizers products and a couple of demos of their products/services. Just like one could see at any conference.

• The expo floor exhibitor sessions could be left available to view anytime the event was “open” but the tech breakout sessions would be available multiple times a day but scheduled just like any other event sessions. And it would be nice to have a separate chat channel for each expo exhibitor and tech break out sessions., so we could ask questions of their staff.

• Another thing available at most conference events is a social media booth where bloggers, podcasters, and vloggers could sit around and talk about the event and their products and whatever else came to mind. I didn’t see anything like this and having a separate chat window for these booths would be useful.

• Also, it would be nice if one could obtain vendor certifications or a detailed tutorials on some product/service.

• On a personal note, I am an industry analyst it would be nice to have a separate analyst track. I come to these events to have face time with execs and get a download on what their upcoming strategy is and how they did over the last year or so. Yes these could all be done offline but they could also be accomplished during the event with its own secure chat channel

• I’m also an influencer. So having a separate press track would have been great as well. Often the analyst and press track overlap for a couple of sessions and then go there separate (NDA) ways.

• For both the analysts and the Press/influencers having a live Q&A session with the execs, technical team, and select customers would have been great. But alas there was nothing like this. But with a separate secure chat room this could have also been done.

• I can’t stress enough that the conference event navigation needs to be better and more intuitive.

I know that there’s a lot here and there’s probably a whole bunch more that could be done better. Other people will no doubt have their own opinions. But these are mine.

It was the first virtual conference (I attended) and the vendor sort of played iit by ear and designing it almost in real time. Given all that, they did a great job. Now it’s time to do better.

I’m a conference geek. I go to an average of 10 or more vendor conferences a year so this is a major part of what I do.

IMHO, nothing besides ubiquitous, true virtual reality will ever replace the effectiveness of in real life conferences. That being said, there are ways to make current virtual events come closer to real conferences.

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I thought about sending this to the conference organizers but their conference is over, and hopefully next year it will be back IRL. But there’s plenty more virtual conferences left on my schedule for this year.

I would prefer all of them to be done better, for me, analysts, press/influencers and ultimately customers.

Were all in this together.

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