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Virtual Before Virtual Was Cool

Posted By: Deborah Lane
by Deborah Lane, Learning Tech Lane

Virtual meetings are very much a thing right now. Every day, it seems our calendars are full of Zoom video conferences, Microsoft Team get-togethers, and GoToMeetings. Rather than being a new trend, virtual meetings and conferences have been around much longer than our current COVID-driven reality might have you believe.

How much longer? The first video call was in 1927, according to the folks at Bell Labs. For U.S. businesses, video conferencing really started taking off in the mid-2000s. You could say I have been virtual before it was cool. I have been creating, facilitating, and producing virtual conferencing and training since 2007, using a variety of platforms. Prior to that, I designed and delivered face-to-face training for organizations. Time for a little truth in advertising: I’m currently contracted with COAA to assist with their Owner’s Training Institute courses. I also produced their virtual Spring Conference last year.

The advantages of virtual are significant. People appreciate the ability to collaborate productively without having to take time away from the office. Organizations like the monetary benefits of reduced travel expenses. 

The benefits of virtual meetings are probably familiar to you. Virtual conferences? Maybe not so much. With a lot of corporate travel on hold right now, virtual conferences are often replacing in-person events. You may be wondering if attending a virtual conference is worth the investment of your time and money. The answer is yes! With some caveats, of course.

The need for professional development does not stop just because travel does. Virtual conferences are a way to continue your professional growth while keeping the opportunity to interact with your peers that COVID might otherwise deny you. Well-designed virtual conferences build in plenty of opportunities to network with other attendees as well as the presenters, vendors and conference organizers. Conference takeaways usually include resources and other relevant materials that have been specifically curated for the subject matters discussed at the conference. You may learn about other professional development opportunities the conference organizers provide. Often volunteer opportunities are presented as well.

So how do you pick the right conference for you? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Who is the conference organizer? Are they recognized as a thought leader in your field?
  • How is the conference structured? Is it all live or will there be opportunities to access content on demand? For live sessions, will your schedule allow you to attend all the sessions in which you are interested?
  • Are continuing education credits offered and by whom?
  • Are the presenters considered to be subject matter experts in their fields?
  • Will you receive any takeaways like those listed above? Do you think they will be useful for you?
  • If the conference is mostly live, make sure the organizers have scheduled sufficient breaks. At in-person conferences, you have the chance to move around between sessions. Breaks are needed in virtual events too.
  • Are there significant opportunities to interact with other attendees, presenters, etc.?
  • Did the organizers schedule time for fun? In-person conferences always do, and well-designed virtual conferences will too.

I have been on both sides of the virtual conference experience: behind the scenes as well as attending. I can promise that if you choose your conference experience thoughtfully, you’ll enjoy an impactful and exciting opportunity for growth. And any techies you know may even think you’re cool!