What is a virtual conference?
A virtual conference is a conference that happens online instead of in the “real world.” In the past, this has meant that real-world conference programming is adapted almost 1:1 to virtual platforms instead, with events—if not centralized on a central platform—taking place across the internet, with events like panel discussions on Zoom and keynotes on Facebook Live. They tend to follow similar formatting as well: keynote speakers, panels, and online happy hours all typically feature on a virtual conference’s calendar of events.
Like virtual events as a whole, virtual conferences are beginning to be more interactive for participants, with organizers taking advantage of events platform features like live text chat and the ability to create breakout groups to foster opportunities for participants to connect with each other.
Benefits of virtual conferences
Conferences are typically used to gather like-minded people in one place over a given time to forward a goal, explore an idea, or develop a set of skills. By hosting a conference virtually, organizers eliminate the logistics involved with in-person events, and it’s easier to include a milieu of participants whose attendance is no longer limited by distance, time, or cost of travel.
Virtual conferences are also far more flexible when it comes to timing: There’s no longer a need to have an exhausting day that begins with a breakfast event and continues until an evening happy hour—and that’s all before you catch up on the office emails. It’s a format that’s no longer possible with many working from home, and moving things online allows for conferences to become spread out over parts of many days or over a couple of weeks instead of consuming several days in a row. This means that there’s more opportunities built in for attendees to connect as well—and that’s where they draw the true value from the conference. (Virtual conferences can also expand on this by translating the event easily into an online community or mastermind group.)
There’s also a certain freedom in virtual conferences: Because they’re in their infancy, the sky is the limit about what they could be. With so many logistical hurdles out of the way—accommodation, transport, catering—organizers can focus on delivering value to the attendees instead.
Plus, rather than bringing home yet another tote bag full of printed leaflets and schedules you’ll never look at again, virtual conferences make it easier to have access to what you learned during the event. The nature of virtual conferences, as well as the capabilities of existing virtual conference platforms, mean conference-goers can access recorded speakers, panel transcripts, and other materials digitally long after the conference is over.
Examples of virtual conferences
Any kind of conferences have the potential to be online—and some have been in the space for years. X Prize founder Peter Diamandis’ Abundance Digital community hosts a virtual conference on Mighty Networks’ conference platform, and connections between attendees are reinforced by interactions within the online community outside the conference and also through subsequent courses and webinars.