having fun at virtual conferences

Do virtual conferences work? If you’re googling this topic, you must be considering the option of a virtual conference so I’ll cut to the chase. Yes, virtual conferences work and yes they are worth your time, energy, and investment. 

So many of us have transitioned to remote work. During these challenging times your employees may be feeling stranded, isolated, and understandably adrift. Now more than ever, there’s a need to gather together to boost morale and engagement. You can do this by hosting a killer virtual conference for your company. 

What is a Virtual Conference?

A virtual conference can encompass everything you’d expect from an in-person company gathering, except you’ll be taking the whole operation online. You’ll be able to accomplish your goals, reconnect your employees with your current mission and re-affirm essential collaborative pathways.

From keynote speakers to breakout rooms, to team building activities – you can literally accomplish everything you’ve hoped for in an online setting. Okay…I admit you won’t be able to share a drink or hit the dance floor. But you can come close.

As you’d guess, given the world we’re in now, there’s been a leap forward with choices for platforms to plan and deliver your virtual conference. I’ll outline a few of the choices below that are reliable, appealing, versatile and easy to use. 

But first, let me explain why you can have a successful online gathering. 

Why Do Virtual Conferences Work?

In a nutshell, virtual conferences work because they can translate your entire company conference plan to an online experience. Virtual programs foster connection between humans surprisingly well!

Think of the things your employees are missing the most right now. They were probably really looking forward to the company event in Chicago or Los Angeles, or Nashville. We’ve all been understandably bummed when these gatherings were cancelled. 

Creating something to look forward to with a virtual conference will give your workforce back some of that missed feeling of excitement. You’ll be able to see each other, to talk, text, question, answer, and share laughs. 

In general, we all have a real yearning to interact with others and to stay connected. We’re hardwired to be creatures of community. A succesful virtual conference can re-create that feeling of interaction and connection so that your employees don’t feel stranded in their own remote islands of work. 

How Do You Plan A Conference?

Assuming you’ve now bought into the need to hold a virtual gathering, you’re probably feeling a bit bewildered and nervous. How the heck do you get something like this up and running? It does seem daunting. 

Here’s a guide to help…

Step 1 – Choose Your Platform

Similar to choosing your physical location for in-person company events, choosing your virtual conference platform is vital to success.

If you were planning a traditional gathering, a small group might choose a trendy meeting space accompanied by an interactive team building event; while a large group might need a hotel ballroom with 1,000 seats and a high profile keynote speaker. 

The same process of consideration applies to virtual conference planning. Consider your group size, your needs and your goals in the same way you’d always do this.

Choosing the most appropriate virtual platform will be easier when you keep your needs in mind as you browse through options. Three platforms I like are Accelevents, Webinarjam and Zoom. They all have pros and cons depending on your specific goals. 

Accelevents can help you transition your itinerary from an in-person conference to virtual. If you want to sell tickets, include a trade-show with vendors and booths, have a main stage and smaller breakout rooms this platform is a good fit. Accelvents works well with multi-day conferences. Their support team is great and that can be important.

Webinarjam is a really good webinar platform if your focus is on presenting material. There’s a great interface to include video, slides, powerpoint, Q&A and more. You won’t get the feel of small group interaction with Webinarjam. But if your conference typically takes place in a general session, (a/k/a plenary), then this is a great option. 

Zoom is still a leader and over the past few months they’ve made some great improvements. Zoom’s flexibility to cater to small, medium size and large groups is unsurpassed. You can make large presentations, allow for input via polling, Q&A and chat, share video, docs, and even send people to breakout rooms. Zoom is robust and reliable.

You can’t go wrong with any of these platforms. The key is just to find the best fit for your group. Take time to browse the options available and get a feel for each platform.

A professional event planner and/or an experienced facilitator can be a big help with conference planning. I don’t think you should move forward without one. The good news is, all of the best (legit) planners and facilitators are now fully up to speed with online, virtual conference resources.

Step 2- Create A Game Plan

Don’t make the mistake of being too informal with your virtual conference. Your program should be just as well thought out and planned as your in-person company conference would have been. 

Make a defined schedule encompassing your speakers, smaller group breakout meetings and other activities. Make sure to include scheduled breaks. Breaks can include pauses to the program and breakout rooms for catching up and socializing. 

For example you can create happy hour chat sessions at the end of the day for multi-day conferences. You can even set a time limit for these virtual rooms, (say 15 minutes), to keep things from lagging.

Step 3 – Hire An Experienced Team

You wouldn’t plan any type of large conference with professional help. The same applies in the virtual realm. 

At my company, Kidbilly Music, we’ve spent countless days and weeks testing online platforms, developing our online offerings and translating what works for us to the virtual realm. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the level of energy, interaction and spontaneity that takes place during our online conferences.

You can take part in an interactive songwriting session with over 1,000 attendees, allowing everyone to contribute and interact. In other words, we’ve moved our conference keynote sessions online…without missing a beat. 

Key elements are great audio for music, great video for staging, great interaction through polls, multiple choice questions, Q&A and open chat. Breakout sessions are easily led on Zoom and can interface with other virtual platforms so you can mix and match.

Make Virtual Work For You

The only thing we can ever count on is that everything’s always changing. Pivot, embrace the brave new world and you’ll find great rewards out there. Virtual conferences are here to stay and it’s not a bad thing.

Do I look forward to a time in the not too distant future when we can once again fly to a great destination, unwind at a hotel bar and simply chill together? Of course I do. But virtual is rocking too. Put your arms around it. 

Don’t be shy, get in touch if you need some help. 

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.