For many, conferences are the highlight of the year—non-profits earn their revenue, relationships are built and business concluded. Since we’ve pivoted to virtual conferencing over the last year and will likely soon transition to a hybrid model of sorts, many are asking: do such events still deliver a valuable experience? Are they worth the cost of entry for my business and me?
There are countless pros and cons to unravel, especially with how varied virtual and hybrid conferencing can and will be—from simple Zoom sessions to elaborate replicas of multi-room physical conferences (see INXPO or Cvent). Because of these differences, to me, the question of “Is it worth it?” really comes down to “Will I make it worth it?”
No matter if you’re a presenter, vendor or attendee, I believe with the right intentions and an engaged spirit, you’ll find these everchanging conferences more than worth it. Here are a few of the ways I’ve adapted my own conference approach:
1. Set up your own conference.
As conferences once again reinvent themselves to accommodate both virtual and in-person attendees, the multiday conference might not remain as common. Some companies, clearly sensitive to Zoom fatigue, have already stretched out their events over several days or even weeks.
Still, in this hybrid world of ours, where the boundaries of home and work have become increasingly blurred, a virtual conference can easily be interrupted by errands or family. It might even be tempting to schedule a full workday alongside the conference.
This is why my team and I, even if the conference is virtual, consider ourselves “out of the office” so we can be as present and distraction-free as possible. Additionally, opt for a change of scenery, even if it’s as simple as watching from your living room instead of your office or kitchen.
2. Find added value outside traditional attendance.
Keynote speakers can be a big draw, providing the added value of exclusive access while supporting the theme of the conference. Are these keynote speakers still valuable in a virtual or hybrid environment? I’d say just as much if not more—especially since conferences are now more affordable.
A common conference problem (a good one, I might add) is the alluring, yet overlapping line-up of speakers. Fortunately, hybrid and virtual conferences can do away with any time and capacity constraints, allowing attendees to listen or relisten to recorded sessions and providing speakers with increased reach.
Not to mention, you have a better chance of getting questions addressed during the Q&A and don’t have to fight the lines at the restrooms.
3. Engage with sponsors and vendors in new ways.
Vendors have continued to play a key role in the recent conferences I attended, improving both sponsorship dollars and content. As always, striking the balance between knowledge and self-promotion is delicate, but I found it to be easier in these new formats.
Additionally, while roaming the virtual aisles of a trade show isn’t comparable to being there in person, I had much more interesting conversations with vendors in the breakouts and round tables. This, I believe, is one of the benefits of moving to a hybrid model—one that can provide the ambiance of in-person events and the efficient connection of virtual attendance.
4. Hybrid networking and your “incognito” comfort zone.
For those less outgoing, virtual and hybrid conferences will likely be more enticing, especially with how agile online interactions are now. I personally loved the Connection Lounge on the C200 conference site built by StoryCraft Lab with Hubb. Built to simulate the cocktail party experience, with groups of people represented by clusters of bubbles, it reduced the hesitancy you might have in person when joining random, ongoing conversations.
Those more outgoing, or whose objective is networking, will want to be more proactive. It is easy to blow off the cocktail hour Zoom session, but that might just be where you make your best connection. Plus, just like the conference, your networking can be hybrid as well. If possible, set up non-Zoom meetings before or after the conference, or attend a virtual happy hour in person alongside coworkers or local industry leaders.
It’s tough to say what conferences will look like later this year and next. Virtual meetings continue to rapidly evolve and hybrid conferences, a likely best-of-both-worlds approach, aren’t universal or fully hammered out just yet.
One thing is for sure though: conferences are here to stay. And if you’re like me, you’ll continue to find value in traditional and new conferences alike.