In-person conferences were generally quite exclusive. Attendees had to have the money to travel, which often meant they worked for a well-resourced organization, and they were high enough in the organization structure to have access to the budget. Conferences sometimes excluded women with younger children because it is hard for them to travel. Sometimes young professionals don’t feel welcome. Many introverts steer clear of conference social functions because these big group events are awkward to attend.
Virtual conferences make conferences accessible to all. The usually lowered pricing means people at all levels can register. Attending from home means no time and travel hurdles to overcome for parents. The mechanics of digital interaction means that connections and conversations are more egalitarian – anyone who wants to contribute can. Virtual conference interactions are not just reserved for the “in-crowd.”
Virtual conferences are going to keep getting better and better. Yes, there will still times when meeting face-to-face is necessary or desirable, but now that we are proving we can provide conferences online that are much more accessible, will most members really want to go back?