Virtual conferences change the game

One of the reasons why I give presentations at conferences so often is because I submit proposals for presentations so often. One of the reasons why I submit presentation proposals to conferences so often is because speaking at an event helps you make the most of it. Speaking also gives you a very good excuse for going to a conference, which is important when managers decide who gets to go.

I just realized that virtual conferences are going to change the game a lot. And I love that.

See, with virtual presentations, you don’t need to build as strong a case for going to a conference. You don’t need to wait for a conference to share your ideas, and you don’t need the votes of a program selection committee to present something and invite people to attend. You don’t need to be a speaker or an organizer in order to reach lots of people attending the same event or interested in the same area. Yes, you’ll network much more effectively as a speaker than as an attendee simply because people will come to you with questions and ideas, but even if you’re not a speaker, you can build an audience by sharing your notes or interacting with others.

Virtual conferences level the playing field. Anyone can be a speaker. Anyone can interact. Anyone can create and share scalable value.

What do virtual conferences bring, then? Awareness of sessions that are out there. Energy and momentum. A critical mass of people thinking about things. What can we do to take advantage of that? How can we make the most of virtual conferences’ unique strengths?

Virtual conferences have their own challenges, of course. How do you interact with others? How do you engage people? How do you enjoy the serendipitous connections of hallway conversations? We’ll figure out how to do things like that well, someday.

There’s something pretty powerful in this if we can help people learn how to do it effectively. That’s going to be one of my goals, then. I know something about presenting remotely. People tell me I’m an engaging and dynamic speaker, and I love figuring out how we can all get even better. I am going to help a thousand flowers bloom. =D I am going to coach my colleagues on how to make the most of these opportunities. And then–who knows–maybe the world, through our examples!

What does that mean, concretely?

April would be a great month to experiment with. I’d like to set up two webinars on remote presentation, and offer people coaching and consultation as well. It’ll be in addition to my full project workload, but it’s play, so I shouldn’t go crazy. The webinar materials will also be reusable, so they’ll keep creating value for other people. Hmm… I feel a Crazy Idea coming on…

  • One of the primary drivers for virtual conferences is travel costs. The essential question is whether incurring the costs of physically sending a body to another city is worth it. (There’s less resistance to local conferences, although high conference fees can be exhorbitant).

    I support reduced travel, but worry about attention economics. Society doesn’t seem to have a problem with university students taking 4 years, in person, to learn a large body of knowledge. At the same time, my understanding was that an engineer’s knowledge set becomes obsolete within 7 years, so retraining or lifelong learning is required. This learning doesn’t happen within a few hours, and deserves more focused attention.

    I think the issue is that individuals get comfortable within a community of practice, and miss the opportunity to sweep in broader views and perspectives. In this respect, engagement in a crowd of new potential acquaintances is more intense in person than at a distance, virtually.

  • Here is a free Online event. This shows how good the quality is. Everything in the April conference is filmed with HD technology.

  • I’ve thought a bit about the serendipity of hallway conversations at conferences, and about the way that you might attend a topic you wouldn’t otherwise go to just because you don’t have anything else scheduled for that timeslot. It’s similar to the way you’d have serendipitous conversations in physical spaces.

    The Internet lets you pick and choose, which could be great for bringing together people interested in a niche topic and not so great at encouraging them to explore beyond that. ;) My workarounds for this are:

    – to regularly explore things I might not otherwise normally seek out,
    – to bring together different perspectives and parts of myself, so I help people bump into each other too (which is why I don’t organize this blog as an entirely topic-focused one)
    – to make it easy for people to come across me, and to reach out to others.

    Online conferences are certainly different, but they don’t need to be treated as a poor version of real-life conferences. =) I wonder how to take advantage of their strengths. Hmm…