Over the past few months we have seen a number of events cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and a number of events go virtual. Last week Salesforce announced all its events including Dreamforce will now be re-imagined and virtual. Because of this, I thought I would share some best practices and thoughts on virtual events to help you make the most of them.
Virtual vs In-Person Events
Firstly, let’s talk about the differences between virtual and in-person events. The biggest (and most obvious) difference is that it is generally a lot harder to network and meet new people. I have made numerous new friends and acquaintances over the years at conferences through just casual interactions. Queuing for lunch, waiting for a session to start or just sat next to someone at a session. You get to meet and interact with a lot of new people, which will obviously be much harder for a virtual event.
However, I would encourage you to use the remote nature of the event to your advantage when it comes to interaction with the speakers. It is not uncommon at an event to find it hard to ask a speaker a question or further information after the talk if there are a number of people all doing so at once. I cannot think of an instance where I have seen a speaker at a remote event not provide some form of contact details, so reach out to them if you have a question, comment, whatever. You are almost guaranteed to get a reply and it is a great way of making a new connection.
More Speaker, More Content, More Spaces
Virtual events however tend to have a much broader range of speakers and can accommodate a greater number of attendees. As an example, the talk I gave at the recent Xforce Summit had over 1,000 people attend. I don’t think I have been to a conference where any of the sessions for speakers outside a keynote had that many attendees possible. With no constraints on room sizes or availability, you are more able to attend any session you want. I have lost count of the number of times at Dreamforce I have been unable to attend a session because it was oversubscribed.
Finally, the biggest difference for most people is cost. Attending any conference can cost you for a ticket, travel, potentially lodging as well. All of these items add up and I know are a consideration for us when we look at events to sponsor and attend. Virtual events are likely to be cheaper (if not free like the Xforce Summit) for a ticket and also do not incur any of the associated expenses.
Allocate Time and Avoid Distractions
One of the primary benefits of events is that you have time away form your day work to focus on learning. It can be very tempting to work on other items in the background whilst dialled in to be productive. This type of multitasking does not work and should be avoided. If attending a virtual event, try to keep this in mind and focus on the session exclusively when possible. Just as if you were in a room during a talk you wouldn’t be doing something else, apply the same thought here.
One difference here though is you can take much better notes virtually than often is possible in person. Know how to take a quick screenshot for later and open up any additional reading material. This makes it easy for you to implement what you have learned afterwards.