Nick Morgan, on the Conversation Starter blog at Harvard Business Publishing, wrote a recent posting titled “Three Ways To Make Conferences Better“. To summarize, Nick’s suggestions are:
- Tell a unique story
- Make attendees active participants, rather than onlookers
- Leverage the gathered group to give something back to the community in which the conference is held
Nick’s blog posting served as inspiration for me – I’d like to cover ways to make virtual conferences better. Virtual conferences (along with virtual tradeshows, virtual job fairs, etc.) do allow attendees to participate – in fact, some of the more interesting “content” in a virtual conference is the free form text chat that occurs in areas like the Networking Lounge.
And by its nature, a virtual conference gives back to the community in the form of carbon emission avoidance, time savings, convenience and productivity gains. As for telling a unique story – that’s something I have not seen virtual conferences achieve. But at the same time, I don’t think physical conferences do a good job of this, either.
Without further ado, here’s my list:
- Leverage a Requests For Proposal (RFP) Tool for attendees – in a b-to-b virtual conference, you often find that the exhibitors offer a common set of products and services (they’re direct competitors). As an attendee, the virtual conference affords me with a convenient and efficient means for comparison shopping. So if I’m in the market for blade servers, I might want to spend time visiting numerous booths, downloading product collateral and chatting with some booth reps. Instead, what if I could fill out an online form (within the virtual conference) and tell prospective vendors what I’m looking for? Perhaps I need 1U blade servers with redundant power supplies and are remotely manageable. I fill out my RFP form, check off the exhibitors that I’d like to receive my request and click “Submit”. I then receive responses within the virtual conference environment from exhibitors – and start to create my short list, based on those responses. As one can imagine, such a tool could greatly benefit attendees and exhibitors.
- Play some games – making games available within the virtual conference creates a sense of fun, which increases attendee satisfaction – this, in turn, increases retention and session time (attendees remain in the environment longer). And of course, you’re not hosting the game solely for the sake of fun – you’re forcing participants to perform desired activities (e.g. visit a booth, view a Webcast, etc.) in order to advance within the game. Again, win-win scenario – attendees and exhibitors benefit.
- Incorporate social media – attendees at physical conferences generate lots of Twitter, Facebook, etc. updates from their PDAs. In a virtual conference, it’s all too easy to remain well-connected with your social networks. That being said, don’t force attendees to leave the virtual environment – instead, provide interfaces for them to post a status update directly from the virtual conference platform! They should be able to tweet directly from the virtual conference, update their Facebook wall, etc. This provides a convenience to the attendee and generates no-cost “PR” of the virtual conference across social networks.
- Embark with an Aardvark – a new service that describes itself this way — “just send Aardvark a message through IM, like you do when talking to a friend. Aardvark figures out who might be able to answer, and asks on your behalf — Aardvark is the hub.” While it might be interesting to consider an integration directly from the virtual conference to the Aardvark service, it’s the concept that most interests me. And that is, tapping into the collective wisdom assembled at a virtual conference in order to help attendees answer questions. After all, most b-to-b virtual conference audiences login to the event with a common set of business or technical challenges.
- Blog posting: Three Ways To Make Conferences Better
- Blog posting: Virtual Events And The Power Of Social Media (authored by me on my company’s blog)
- Blog posting: Cisco has integrated Twitter into their Cisco Live Virtual event
- About Us page: Aardvark