I remember when email first became a thing. Software designers modeled templates on snail mail, and at first, users tended to type emails in the format of regular old letters. It took some time, but eventually, email protocols and etiquette developed independently of snail mail. Look at almost everything brought into the virtual world, and you’ll see humans initially interface with the digital version as if it were the analog version.
The same thing happened with virtual conferences. The first virtual conferences looked like in-person conferences because the schedules, timing, duration, formats, and speakers were similar. Mimicking in-person worked okay for the first few months of COVID lockdown, but then engagement trailed off.
Metrics showed that that attendees started multi-tasking. Instead of staying for the whole duration, people started logging in late, leaving early, or not attending at all. The first conferences were great and met a need, and now it’s time for a change.
Our industry is racing ahead with virtual conference innovation. We’ve reimagined the schedule, timing, and formats. Professional speakers have radically increased their presentation’s production value or have integrated much more audience interaction. Virtual networking events are evolving, too, and we see more connections, fun, and belonging. We are learning to engage in an environment where engagement can be challenging.
Now we see that some virtual conference innovations solve age-old problems experienced during in-person meetings. As we start to produce more in-person meetings, a great question to ask is, “what did we learn from virtual conferences that we can take back to in-person?”