After recently attending a Connect via Hootsuite online Social Media Conference, I got thinking about virtual conferences, and whether our industry is headed in a direction where there will be a surge of online conferences, and what this could mean for conference attendees and planners.
The conference was very informative, and only half a day long (which was great!), but it lacked some elements that only a physical conference can offer.
I have compiled my list of pros and cons of attending a virtual conference below, which will let you know whether I believe they are something the meetings industry should move towards, or whether it should stick to what it knows best! If you have ever attended an online conference, let me know in the comment section whether you agree or disagree with my list, and what your pros and cons were.
- Conference resources at your fingertips: One great thing about online conferences is the access to conference resources such as session notes, sponsor information and industry documents right in the conference dashboard. They are easy to download, and are sometimes available to view before the conference begins, helping you get to the sessions prepared and ready to learn! Another bonus is that this material, for most virtual conference, stays available to the attendees for at least 3 months after the conference has ended.
- Attend a conference from the comfort of your own home: No need to leave the house for these conferences. Stay in your PJs, in bed, with a cup of coffee and you are ready to attend an online conference!
- Lower Costs: Online conferences will no doubt be cheaper to attend (all of the virtual conferences I have attended have even been FREE!). This pro, however, comes with a con: since these conferences are cheaper to attend, or even free, they rely on sponsors for each session, meaning that session content may be focused on the sponsor and their products. This could lead to less valuable sessions (in terms of educating content).
- Less Networking: My favourite part of conferences (and I am sure many share this opinion with me) is the socializing and networking with colleagues and friends from my industry. Networking can sometimes prove to be the most valuable aspect of a conference; gaining industry contacts and connections, getting new ideas, sharing pain-points and advice. Online conferences offer virtual “hangouts” or chat rooms, but they cannot compete with a the conversations and connections made at a physical conference. Attending a virtual conference means you also miss out on all of the post-conference dinners and parties!
- More Difficult to Stay Engaged: Staying engaged during a session at an online conference can be a difficult task as the speaker is not in the room with you, but rather just a voice coming through your computer. I would suggest attending online conferences that provide video sessions, as they are a bit more engaging than the audio-only.
- Sometimes it’s nice to just get away! It is nice to explore a new city, check out your colleagues facilities and learn from new people face-to-face.