back to article Dusty passports, smart tops and tracksuit bottoms: Are virtual events better or worse than the real thing?

Virtual events are cheaper and more accessible, but fall short in interactivity and networking opportunities, and have limited scope for sponsors to reach their audience. Content can be duller and shallower too - but virtual is here to stay, even when some face-to-face activity returns. The forced move to holding virtual …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I get the problem

    I give trainings. Excel trainings, mostly.

    Since March of last year, those trainings have been virtual.

    On the one hand, it's cool. I have a fiber link, so I can work from home. No traffic, no delays, and I have a kitchen that is stocked with everything I like. What could possibly be better, you ask ?

    Interaction. I miss being able to see who is struggling to understand. I miss being able to go over to a student's screen and check on how they are managing, what problem they have. I spend the whole day talking to a screen - and it's worse when nobody answers my questions. I don't know if they misunderstood me, don't know the answer, or can't be bothered to respond. When I am standing in front of them, they at least pretend to be thinking about the problem.

    There have been good groups. There have been people with questions, interrogating me on the finer points, requesting clarification. It is such a relief to have people reacting to what I say.

    But when I have spent a day talking to the void without any reaction whatsoever, it is very frustrating and infuriating and I hate the job.

    Thank God I don't only do trainings. I think I'd be going mad.

    1. AW-S

      Re: I get the problem

      Just like my Sunday morning radio show.

      Until that first email, text or whatsapp message arrives, you have no idea that anyone is listening. Once my wife gets up at 10:30am, turns on the radio and sends the studio a text, I can relax.

    2. hoola Silver badge

      Re: I get the problem

      Having been on a couple of these virtual events they are possibly better than nothing but one thing is absolutely certain, just because n1000 of people registered does not mean many attended., On the ones I was on about 10% of those alleging to have registered were on the calls.

      When anything is free it is very easy to sign and up and then not bother, more so if you are not binning travel and hotel expenses.

      One of the HPE events I attended they made a real effort to put the same session in multiple time zones to make it work. This included interactive demos you had to do a sub-registration for. On those the session often was marked as full in the event agenda but there would only be two or three on the call.

    3. HildyJ Silver badge

      Re: I get the problem

      Training small groups (or virtual school classes, which my sister teaches) seem to be the worst virtual scenarios, although in the present circumstances they are often unavoidable.

      For auditorium sized settings they make more sense but even there a video lecture followed by a Reddit AMA would be a better choice.

  3. IGotOut Silver badge

    Hand in can.ouck up flaws in design.

    Take a lovely swanky IP we once looked at.

    Had all the bells and whistles, but the I picked it up and the handset fell off. Did it again, same issue. Looked for a latch, nothing.

    Turned out they didn't think phones would be wall-mounted or used at a steep angle (a lot of people like an almost vertical phone to save desk space).

  4. Quando

    I'm on the 'prefer virtual' side - never got a lot out of big in-person events, certainly not enough to cover trans-continental flights and hotel expenses.

    The problem with virtual is timezones - trying to do a US West coast virtual conference in real time means shifting my day a lot, or just catching up the next day.

    The idea of running more smaller local events appeals to me - a hundred or two at a local event would be much preferred: stream in the main event with one local host to conduct a local discussion.

    Where the event is about enabling sponsors to spam people with crud then fair enough - virtual isn't going to work there when you can't force people to watch it. What a shame.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Works for the big splash events like CES.

      There isn't much difference between being at the back of the big hall listening to the Nvidia/Intel keynote and watching it on youtube

      So far I haven't seen a good interface for the equivalent of wander around the smaller outfits, look at the stuff and chat to them. We need the equivalent of a chat pop-up, but one that connects to one of the people you would send to the event rather than a chatbot or Indian call center.

      Smaller local events don't necessarily work. People in the field are spread over the world, I might want to be in small group discussing with somebody from another continent - this is the advantage of academic style conferences.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        There isn't much difference between being at the back of the big hall listening to the Nvidia/Intel keynote and watching it on youtube

        That may be true for most people. Personally, I find it difficult to concentrate on synchronous media. I can read all day, but watching a video for even half an hour is tiring.

        For me, live presentations much less taxing; back when I attended academic and professional conferences more regularly, I could easily take in a dozen presentations in a day, taking notes and doing follow-up research in the evening.

        Virtual conferences are simply out of the question for me. I wouldn't make it through a day.

        Of course, for some people, such as the Microsoft developer quoted in the article, the reverse is true.

  5. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    If it was so good ..

    We'd all save money by buying a few cans of beer at the supermarket and meeting up in a virtual pub at home rather than going to a physical location and paying 5 times the price for a pint. Online teaching would be as good as the classroom and there'd be no talk whatsoever of re-opening schools. And a sun-lamp and large-screen TV showing a tropical beach would be every bit as satisfying as a foreign holiday.

    No, personal interaction involves so much more than audio and video. It's about fleeting person-to-person glances, body language that doesn't work on a Zoom meeting. The ability to ask a quick question while working and getting a reply that saves 15 minutes had you had to look up the answer yourself. The ability to see whether the other person is interruptable or engrossed in something. Snatches of converstation about personal things or a bit of banter that are irrelevant to work but so important in bonding co-workers to create a spirit of cooperation. The atmosphere you get in a room full of people is simply impossible to duplicate in a screen full of people engaged in video-conferencing. Maybe there are even pheremones at play when people are in proximity.

  6. Keven E

    30 years ago

    Aside from... "...with a fax, followed up again with another fax." ...

    ... this may be coming relevant, again... someday... perhaps... sort of.

  7. MachDiamond Silver badge

    In person

    Virtual gatherings have no subtlety. For a one on one or a small group working on a project, it's not a problem. A big conference keynote is also not much different and maybe better online, but conventions are a different matter. As an EE/ME, I want to touch a vendor's products or twiddle the knobs on a piece of gear to see how it works and if it's of interest. I also want to quiz the staff at a booth if I'm see somthing cool. I also wind up making and renewing acquaintances at these events which can be the biggest part of going. Even getting out of the office and getting some exercise is part of it.

    Humans are social creatures. While much travel can be cut out, there is still an aspect of in-person interaction that the virtual world isn't going to be able to replicate.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: In person

      Some of us humans are pretty-antisocial creatures too! Who was it said "Hell is other people"? Conferences? Wandering around feeling depressed, followed by a boring evening in an identikit hotel room. Big crowds are never fun, small groups are sometimes okay, Zoom is god-awful. Even when the technology works for everyone it is so horrible and artificial I can't wait for it to be over. I get lots of invites for various virtual events - talks etc - and I've attended about 2 in the last 10 months.

      Curl up in bed with the cats and a good book.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aside from the travel, is there much difference?

    A lot of these events, virtual or in meatspace just end up being someone reading their Powerpoint slides to the audience, maybe with the addition of an annoying throbbing soundtrack in the background.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Aside from the travel, is there much difference?

      That is the part I usually like to skip, the important part is (chance) meetings with other people.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Virtual Conferences are good and all...

    .. but unless the conference organiser is shipping you a shed ton of booze and food the American ones just aren't the same.

    Used to love the trips over the pond for conferences, especially in Vegas.

  10. Gavin Chester

    One thing that annoys me is the virtual sponsor booths/ halls.

    Often when you go around the halls in a real conference you come across companies you have never heard of, and you usually try and see if they are relevant to you and your role.

    In real life I can look in from outside and decide if I want to "go in" and then get badge scanned and the emails for the next months, in exchange for learning about a product and getting some trinket my wife will disapprove of, or just walk by with just a vague idea what company does filed away for future use.

    In the new virtual world often the company has a buzzword laden "tile" (you know that small square they get on the Sponsor hall page to hook you) , and you often need to go into the virtual booth, (or go google them) just to find out what they really do beyond the buzzwords. They get a virtual badge scan, before you have even got an idea what they do, and have chosen to virtually walk out before talking to anyone.

    More and more I just avoid the virtual sponsor halls so I don't get the inevitable junk email about how we connected XYZ conference, when all I was trying to do was understand what they did. Its not great for sponsor that I don't go see them, , but at least its less plastic tut in the house.

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