Taking a Large Industry Conference Virtual, and Why Some Elements Should be Here to Stay

By Katie McGovern, Account Director

As we all have experienced over the past 16 months, change is hard. We’ve gone through personal and professional change that many now declare the “new, new normal.” While we are all moving into the next phase as the world opens up again, companies are strategizing what this next phase of work will look like. We have all grown accustomed to the virtual world, but there are some virtual conference elements that can only enhance the professional world 2.0. 

Our team at SHIFT recently worked with an industry conference that, until this year, has been held annually in San Francisco. Like other events around the world, the pandemic pivoted plans. The conference moved to a virtual setting, complete with video production, networking events, press coordination – the works. While some other events are looking at 2022 as a re-entry into the world, we made a list of virtual conference elements that should be here to stay. 

On-Demand Content = Flexibility 

If the pandemic has taught us all anything, it is that we truly value our work-life balance. We are all human with lives outside of our work. We have friends, families, children and others who depend on us. Offering content on demand allowed for attendees to watch a keynote after their kids went to bed. It allowed attendees to have networking sessions with someone halfway across the world with similar responsibilities. This would have otherwise kept them home. When planning for such an enormous virtual conference, we now understand that people value flexibility. Providing the on-demand content caters to the work-life balance they now enjoy. 

Streaming Accommodates All Time Zones 

Although in-person conferences have their perks, they don’t always accommodate global audiences. We learned from this conference that those who live outside the U.S. were happy to have the content online because they were unable to travel to San Francisco in years past. Having the option to watch the event keynotes, panels, etc. online allowed them to participate in the conference. It also gives the conference had a broader audience. 

Embrace the Innovation 

Tradition might mean that attendees expect a certain type of experience. And offering a new experience might cause some angst. But just as in-person events change over time, it is important to embrace the innovative aspects of a virtual setting. Although moving a networking event to a Zoom room, or leveraging pre-recorded content to announce news, might take away from in-person excitement, it allows for more people to be involved and do more at once. Attendees can bounce around more easily in a virtual setting than they can at a conference center. They have the opportunity to capture more content than they would if they had to run clear across a campus before the next session starts. 

Being open to suggestions, brainstormed ideas, and taking a chance on something that might not work might mean that a new tradition is beginning. We learned some new approaches to how industry events are organized. We will definitely implement some of those into future events. But above all, we learned that the pandemic taught us how to be nimble. The pivot to virtual gave us some interesting takeaways for the future.  

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