Why I Enjoy Virtual Conferences But Hate Webinars.

UviaUs Marketing Expert
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In the wake of COVID-19 affecting many conferences this quarter I wanted to share my thoughts on why this isn’t the worst thing for marketers. In fact, it may be the start of a new norm.

I have never personally attended an Apple Keynote in my life. However every year I look in anticipation of it. I get my french press ready, pull out my laptop and enjoy the program in my pajamas, eagerly awaiting the small improvements of my beloved Apple products. Let me guess… it’s going to be another “revolutionarily, innovative, most advanced, reinvention” of itself. While I could read the twitter feed or watch the highlights later, I enjoy watching the event live. Another example of something I’d love to attend on day in person is a TED event, but I still love watching speakers in the comfort of my bed, or if I’m being honest, even my bathroom. At the end of this I’ll share a couple of my favorites.

While I enjoy these virtual events and recorded sessions, I strongly dislike webinars (in general). Most of the time webinars are the remote equivalent of sitting in on a timeshare pitch just because you want to get out of the sun for a bit on vacation and get that free spa pass after. While the same benefits are there of tuning in virtually; wearing pajamas, no travel, information being distilled, it is not nearly as engaging. This boils down to 3 main things that virtual conferences excel or can excel at, while webinars don’t.

1. Virtual conferences are user-first

Speakers, developers, and designers are spending countless hours making sure the content is engaging. Their job is to command an audience of thousands and offer them value. It’s much easier to “walk out” of a virtual conference if you’re not engaged than a physical conference. Webinars often focus on selling, walking through a tutorial, or whatever talking points the poor presenter has given dozens if not hundreds of time to a mostly non-engaged audience. Webinars often have nothing new to say, whereas the focal point of yearly conferences is new ideas, new technology, new relationships and new partnerships.

2. Virtual conferences are more interactive and fun

With the advent of apps, AR, and unique direct mail kits, the cost associated with an event can be poured into creating an amazing user experience for the attendees. Virtual product releases are often a huge thing for companies. From the stage announcing the app is now live and you can download it that moment along with everyone and experience it in real time. (As long as you don’t force people to download the latest U2 album.) Imagine registering to event and the day before the conference streams you receive a personalized package. It has your name on the box and it includes the agenda, a list of curated talks that may be of interest to you specifically, gourmet snacks to enjoy and maybe even a bottle of wine for your own private happy hour. Imagine the type of box like Robb Vices creates, or the gift boxes they send to those attending the Oscars. Events also often have a live social feeds, leaving room for people to express their thoughts with everyone in real time on the event box they just received, talks, virtual workshops, ect. The virtual event might even include a “who’s wearing the best pajamas” on social… #slickjammies2020. Virtual conferences allow for people to be less filtered and easily connect during the conference.

3. Virtual conferences are great for sponsors

I know it might sound ridiculous but hear me out. In the last point I painted a picture of “attendees” receiving the equivalent of one of those extravagant Oscar gift boxes but that is a gold mine of opportunity for sponsors. Love it or hate it swag bags are an integral part of the event and conference culture. You may even have a sock drawer dedicated to it already. Swag can be fun and maybe if you travel often you can pick up something fun for your kids, or maybe add to your buddies beer cozy collection. Sponsors being able to pay to include information and branded material in that “attendee package” puts their message directly in the hands of the recipient. They can’t walk by, avoiding eye connect as they pass your booth for the 20th time. Of course you want to create the most relevant and engaging content to stand out. How to effectively do that is a separate topic we can talk about later. I may be creating a monster here but, it also creates opportunity for smaller companies who maybe can’t sponsor to make their own conference kits to send to companies and individuals attending.

Bottom line is that there is a huge amount of opportunity and value in making more of these conferences we attend and sponsor yearly, virtual. How that budget is currently spent on events could potentially be better spent in a different way than we are used to. Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing wrote a fantastic article to that point. As we grow in an ever-increasingly virtual and digital society, it’s a good time to embrace these types of conferences. So if you’ll be staying at home for a few conferences this year, see how you would make it better.

In the meantime, please wash your hands and as promised here’s a couple of my favorite ted talks, enjoy:

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