Attending a Virtual Conference or Tradeshow Online
by Ellen Ambrose in General / 04.02.09
I discoverd on Apirl 1, 2009 that anyone with a computer can attend and participate in a virtual conference without having to leave their office or couch. I was very curious about the user experience and how an actual conference could exist where there is no interaction beyond what can happen over a computer screen.
Deep down I knew the answer because our core business model at MindBites involves learning how to do absolutely anything in video format, which also involves a screen and one way communication from the expert to the student. Learning through video is similar to what you would experience sitting in a conference room where expert panelists and cutting edge influencers talk about their learnings, thoughts and predictions. The one area that I could not wrap my arms around was regarding the Q & A that happens at the end of a panel, networking with other conference attendees and visiting company booths.
My first experience in the virtual conference realm was with the Digital Marketing World, Spring 2009 virtual conference hosted by MarketingProfs. The technology behind the conference was provided by inxpo.com, a virtual conference provider. The virtual experience was surprisingly like attending a conference in reality without the sore feet, lack of cell phone connectivity and battery power. From walking into the showroom floor (and even hearing the white noise sound of many people talking at once), visiting booths and attending the panels. It all felt very familiar.
The Q & A and networking part that I could not wrap my arms around was solved mostly by chat rooms. Each exhibitor booth had a separate chat room with staff manning the booth for people to ask questions and engage. There were many valuable tools available for free at each booth such as whitepapers, presentations and videos. Exhibitors easily grabbed 10,000 + names, contact information, job title and more from people registering for their booth contest prizes (i.e. free iphone, kindle etc.). Just in case you were wondering, I did give up the goods for a chance to win these nifty prizes. As a side note, one of the exhibitors contacted me via my cell phone and email just minutes after I registered for their contest.
For each panel talk or lecture, attendees had the capability to type in questions to ask the panelist on the fly. At the end of the panel, a moderator asked the panelist(s) the questions that came from the audience for a pretty realistic Q & A session. To solve the networking thing that happens at a conference or trade show, there was a networking lounge where people could come in and join the conversation in the form of chat. Attendees could communicate with one another, send their VCard, email within the system and probably more that I missed because it was my maiden voyage.
One thing that I especially liked about the virtual conference is that I could download the slide presentations from the presenters and at the end of the day, all the presentations are available on demand just in case you missed something or want to go back and watch again. If I had to give an actual percentage of effectiveness or real world experience I felt, I would say 80%. There is about 20% that you cannot replicate from human contact with one another. The expense that companies saved on Travel & Entertainment is huge, and quality information was exchanged and transferred effectively in this environment. Therefore, I would say that the experience was positive.
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