Virtual is BETTER than in-person for events

Heh, OK…..After reading that title, I can imagine chips being installed on reader shoulders all around the world.  :)  I am not saying virtual is better in EVERY way, just in some ways.

Have you noticed that people who oppose virtual events often focus only on the ways that in-person events are irreplaceable?  I believe they are right, but that does not mean in-person is the ONLY solution to EVERY collaborative/networking need.  Just because A is better than B in some ways does not mean that B is not better than A in others.

This post examines all the ways that virtual events are better than in-person ones.

1. Multi-threading

In a virtual event or even in an in-person event with a virtual channel, there is the opportunity to multi-thread.  Think about it this way, verbally we can only watch/listen to one person at a time.  This is called single threading.  Everybody listens to that one thread.  In a virtual environment though, the technology allows for multiple people to communicate at the same time.  “Listeners” can then jump from one thread to another as they find something interesting.  I am not talking about different presentations here, I am talking about different conversations about the SAME presentation.

Twitter Chats are a great example of this.   Each Twitter Chat normally has a moderator who announces the topic.  From there different people submit ideas and different people reply or build on those ideas.  It is a free for all.  The most interesting ideas/threads get the most interaction.  The less interesting ones drop off.

2. Ease of switching

If I am at a conference and I don’t like the session, I have to make a visible show of walking out.  Perhaps there are other sessions, perhaps not.  I may have to wander into the lobby and see if the other few people milling around might want to engage in a discussion.

Online, if I lose interest, there are a myriad of other information sources to which I can turn for more interesting, educational, stimulating content.

3. Greater volume of content

This is obviously related to switching, but the sheer amount of content that can be made available via a virtual environment vastly eclipses what can be brought together into one physical location.  This allow much more choice and much better match with time spent vs. information sought.

4. Greater geographical diversity

Travelling costs money and takes up time.  The further people have to travel, the more of both required.  Thus, US events tend to attract US participants, European events tend to attract Europeans, etc…   Having spent some time working abroad, I have experienced first hand the value of opinions from different cultural perspectives.

While there are still timezone issues even online, we are much more likely to get an international crowd to our meetings

5. Niche topics

In order to maximize attendance, conferences often create a very broad topic.  The sessions then need to appeal to a broad range of the different types of people who are attending. Thus, niche topics are challenging.  Online, attendee costs are lower and they are not need to spend travel time.  Thus, our attendee pool is significantly larger.  This economy of scale can make more niche sessions viable.

We should be seeking ways to combine in-person and virtual experiences to best meet the needs of our audiences.  It is not “either/or”.   In person events should not feel threatened, they should be excited about new ways that they can provide value to their attendees.

This post was inspired by reading a Jeff Hurt blog post called “Since When Did Virtual Not Become A Live Experience?

3 responses to “Virtual is BETTER than in-person for events

  1. Great points Robert. I like what you say at the begginning too: “I am not saying virtual is better in EVERY way, just in some ways.”

    For meeting professionals, I think it’s about picking the right tools for the right delivery system at the right time. The goal and strategic need of the meeting are so important in this choice.

    Thanks for sharing this and furthering the discussion.

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