The last few weeks I have been pretty vocal about this topic, as if I am one to hide my opinions on some things. I do think this will become a split debate almost like a religious debate. There is clearly two factions to this problem, but I wanted to consolidate my thoughts on why I have issues with this from a few perspectives. I can look at this issue from more than one view. As a speaker, as an attendee, and as someone who’s company may be sponsoring such events. Most of my issues are around the social challenges with it, but also with the technical platforms currently available to pull off such things.
Why I hate Virtual Events as an Attendee
Pretty simply put…..I like most I have focus issues when just sitting at my desk. I do realize attention issues are there even in person in the audience, but it’s very different. You may have a phone and a laptop you are carrying around, but at home you have SO many more things to lose your focus. Wife, kids, four monitors of content, TV, radio, doorbells, music, literally everything can take your attention. I would argue while attending as a live attendee are somewhat distracted, it’s by only a couple things versus everything around them. As an attendee you also lose the ability to truly interact with the presenters or the sponsors. The chat rooms that some platforms use are frankly worse than AOL in the 1990’s. Basically they are shit, when we are used to threaded conversations on slack and FaceBook where we can branch conversations and add reactions to things. single threaded chat rooms went out with parachute pants.
Why I hate Virtual Events as a Speaker
This revolves 100% around the in person feedback loop. You have NONE, because of everything I said above. If you are presenting you can read the audience. You can see who is making eye contact, who is engaged, if your stories/andicdotes are resonating. You can tell if you are moving at the right pace, if people are getting lost. There is a LOT to be said for seeing your audience. Also as a speaker I love to ASK QUESTIONS of the audience to break up the monotony of a speech like presentation. Most good presenters truly engage their audience. This is very hard if not impossible to do on a recorded session, or on a virtual platform with afore mentioned 90’s chat room. Anyone that prefers recording and posting content may not be good at public speaking, or just more comfortable with a scripted delivery I’m not sure. There is a place for recorded on demand content for sure, but for public speakers it’s no replacement.
Why I hate Virtual Events as a Potential Sponsor
Disclaimer: This is 100% MY opinion and not that of any employer!
Putting on a potential company hat, this is a different issue. Sponsors spend a lot of money for “status” at events. It’s why there is 30×30 booths and 5×5 booths. You pay more you get higher billing and more in your package. Many of the virtual platforms appear to level set everything. Below is an example of a recent event. Can you tell which sponsor may have paid more than others? I can’t but if you can you win the prize, maybe they all paid the same…..we simply can’t tell their “level” of sponsorship. Let’s face it in the world os sponsorships, size matters to some.
Also some of the platforms the virtual “Show Floor” is the same issue as above. All the booths are the same size, and may have slightly different layouts when you click on them. Once again can you tell who may have paid more? If they did what did they get? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if things all “look” the same there’s no reason for vendors to justifiably pay more? What’s more important is outside of the logos, they are all the same color, format, size. Frankly it’s boring to look at and hard to separate them from one another.
Lastly as a vendor you put a lot of time into doing product demos. Many of the platforms don’t have this capability. Now I am working on a way to facilitate this myself for demos I may need to do with my company, but it doesn’t seem to play into the currently platforms. This is a big challenge to solve as this is why we spend so much time on demos.
While I may hate virtual events for a few reasons, I think it’s mostly because I think everyone has just jumped on the bandwagon way too fast. We are not ready to properly support these events in a way that benefits the attendee, the speaker, and the sponsors. Virtual content for on demand learning has always been around and will always have a place, but the specific aspect of a “virtual event” isn’t the same in my opinion.