Virtual Conferences: Here to Stay?

18 05 2010

Like us you’ve probably noticed more and more ‘virtual events’ and online conferences cropping up, particularly in the web 2.0, social media and cloud sectors. Perhaps you’ve spoken at or attended one of these events or were wondering whether to include it amongst your targets for next year. Either way we’d like to share our two cents and hear your thoughts in the comments.

From a purely financial standpoint it’s clear why these events have evolved; production costs are vastly reduced, there’s no limit on delegate numbers and there’s a significant long tail effect following the conference as materials remain hosted online and social networking tools remain active. Virtual events also place fewer constraints on your time, as a speaker you can record your session when it’s convenient for you and delegates can view the sessions that interest them most in their preferred order; revisiting those they found most useful.

Many virtual events now have virtual networking lounges and various social media tools which stay active year long allowing you to chase long tail leads; in essence it’s the online version of a one-to-one event, or business ‘speed-dating’. Some end-users even prefer this as it’s very convenient and removes the face-to-face nature of ‘the sell’ and the pushy salesman in a cheap suit cornering you between conference sessions!

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However, the face to face nature and live networking is the primary reason many attend live events, and that of course is missing from a virtual event; they lack the live engagement and personal interaction that you get with a ‘real’ event. There is also a tendency to trade ‘attendance for attention’; while it’s a cost-effective way to reach a large number of your target audience, delegates are often distracted by things going on in their office so there is far less meaningful engagement. There is also no guarantee that the level of delegate that signed up is the one actually ‘attending’. Often a junior member of staff will ‘attend’ and gather necessary information to condense and present back to senior executives.

Clearly virtual events are continually improving, and some certainly rival the real world events they’re replacing, but we don’t believe they’re yet ready to take the mainstream. Virtual events may be a useful medium to get the due diligence for a product or service out of the way (case studies, track record, stats, service requirements, etc), but when it comes to closing a deal or making a sale, it still takes personal selling – networking just isn’t the same without a physical handshake and a business card to take home to your sales team.

We look forward to the day we can ‘jack in’ to a conference and feel the virtual warmth of someone’s hand (and the luke warm watered down coffee!), but until the technology is such that virtual events feel real and allow for face to face interaction we don’t believe they’ll be replacing any premium real world events.

Of course if you think we’re wrong let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of virtual events.

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4 10 2011
Virtual Conferences and Events – Does the Hybrid Model Work? « Speaking our mind

[…] spoken previously about the value of virtual events – you may remember we weren’t keen. However, the conference landscape trundles on and, like it or not, virtual events are here to […]

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