The Value of Virtual Conferences

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to scrap plans, postpone events, and reschedule meetings. Many people have gone so far to say that 2020 should just be canceled. However, others refused to let the pandemic win and, instead, opted to pivot their plans. For industry conferences around the world, that means trading their once packed trade floors for the dreaded virtual conference.

But, should virtual conferences really be dreaded? Sure, at first glance, the idea of trading “networking” dinners and evenings at the bar for long days in front of a computer just waiting for a virtual visitor sounds brutal. Industry conferences were once an opportunity to get away from the office, build valuable relationships with vendors and reconnect with old colleagues. Moreover, these annual events provided companies the chance not only to exhibit their products to new audiences but also to present themselves as thought leaders and pioneers in the field through presentations and breakout sessions.

With the traditional trade show on hold for the foreseeable future—even SXSW has gone virtual for 2021—is there any value in attending a virtual conference? After pivoting our own plans in 2020, MBB has exhibited at a few virtual conferences this year, and we were surprised to learn that maybe they aren’t so bad. Maybe, just maybe, there is some value in a virtual trade show.

Here are our three takeaways:

Attendee analytics beats sorting business cards

If you started your career at the bottom of the totem pole like the rest of us, you’ve likely been handed a stack of business cards from a coworker post-conference and been asked to transpose the contact information onto a computer. Sure, times have changed with electronic badge scanning, but nothing beats receiving the attendee analytics from a virtual conference. From finding out who visited your online booth to how long they stayed and what they clicked on, you are instantly set up to convert the visitor to a lead. Even better, the conferences sales cycle of networking, traveling, recovering, transposing and finally following back up is now shortened from what took almost a week to now possibly just minutes. That means the visitor is still engaged and, better yet, might even remember e-meeting you.

Time is truly of the essence

Cutting out the travel and sleep is a clear time-saver for a virtual conference, but there are many more benefits to consider. For example, as an attendee, you don’t have to spend hours and hours pacing the tradeshow floor trying to get to all the booths or wait behind slow walkers as you try to make it to the bathroom in time. You can spend as little (or as much) time in an exhibitor’s booth as you would like, and you’re not stuck making small talk when you’re simply not interested. The best part of all is the ability to attend more education sessions than ever before and attend sessions that you actually find valuable. No more feeling guilty for being that one person who stands up and walks out in the middle of a presentation, even if you are pretending to get a call. Now, if the session isn’t what you thought it would be, just exit and find another one.

Spend money where it matters

Exhibiting at conferences is expensive. There is simply no way around it. From travel expenses to ordering booth materials and paying for shipping, it adds up fast. And that doesn’t even include the amount you pay to just attend or exhibit at the event. So, it is easy to see how much money can be saved when a conference goes virtual. We won’t get into whether the registration fee should be reduced, that’s not our battle to fight. The upside of saving money on travel and materials is that money can be used more appropriately to market your product at the conference. From sponsorships to paid social, there are always numerous ways to raise awareness for your brand at a conference.

There are many, many benefits of attending an online conference, but the number one reason we love them is you don’t have to worry about finding extra room in your suitcase for all of the tchotchkes you’ve collected.

So what’s our recommendation for those looking to bail on a conference that’s gone virtual? Give it a shot first. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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