When we clinked our glasses to toast to 2020, our diaries were full of personal and professional events for the following 12 months.
From weddings and parties to tradeshows and conferences, it hasn’t quite turned out as we planned, resulting in blanket cancellations and postponements.
Instead, we’re all professional Zoom-callers. Many have turned living rooms into home offices, and we’ve said the words, ‘you’re on mute’ more times than we care to mention.
While many professional events have had the luxury to go virtual, what has this meant for the learning and development of our corporate teams and also the future of training, in general?
The Importance of Conferences
Conferences have long been a popular way for professionals to share ideas and strengthen their learning and development. In addition to live content offered by speakers, networking is a key part of any in-person event.
There is a lot of content out there that focuses on how to replicate the lost learnings through virtual sessions, elearning, and reading materials. But replicating that quick chat over a beer in the exhibit hall or hotel lobby is a lot more challenging.
Whether it is an industry tradeshow or a large internal event, the need to create new relationships has not disappeared, even if the ability to do so in-person has.
Don’t Overthink It
Expecting 100 people on a webinar to organically connect in the chat bar is naïve, at best. Then again, so is expecting 100 people in a hotel conference center to do the same.
By thinking about where you connected with people at conferences, and applying the same principles to a virtual environment, you can go a long way to bridging the gaps.
Breaking large groups into teams of eight or less is a great way to build relationships and promote networking opportunities. For example, Zoom’s breakout room function is great for smaller presentations.
You can also design some short pre-work for teams to encourage them to connect virtually in advance, again helping forge bonds from a distance.
Encourage Audience Participation
People often fret over the lack of audience participation in an online event, yet how often do you see truly interactive in-person presentations?
Rather than trying to force unnatural interactions, finding easy ways to engage participants should be the primary focus here.
Having a section for questions at the end is great, but we’ve typically found that asking questions throughout can encourage conversation with the audience and stimulate the exchanging of ideas.
Including ice-breakers, polls, and a conversational approach between speakers may increase viewer participation.
Utilize Social Media
Social networking is a lot more than baby photos, cat memes, and LinkedIn birthday notifications.
Creating smaller groups (be it on LinkedIn, Microsoft Teams, or even WhatsApp) can encourage people to connect offline and to build one-on-one relationships effectively.
The focus here should be on smaller, more-focused groups discussing a particular topic. The narrower the focus, the more likely people are to connect offline and build real relationships.
The Benefits of Virtual
Despite there being numerous techniques to improve engagement online, virtual events haven’t quite hit the mark when compared to the real-life exchanging of ideas with like-minded individuals.
However, while there are certainly negatives, the switch to virtual has also created some huge benefits, which in-person events aren’t able to match.
As an Attendee
The first being, when can you participate in a 1,000-person-strong conference in your pajamas?! We’re only kidding… or not.
But on a serious note, being able to access a world of events from the comfort of your home offers endless opportunity.
We now have the ability to attend multiple events in one day – sometimes in different time zones and on continents – without the tedious travel.
As a Host
In addition, if you are hosting an event, you suddenly open your doors up to the world with less barriers, and the results show for themselves.
For example, TransPerfect holds an annual invitation-only conference called GlobalLink NEXT. This event unites everyone that makes GlobalLink—engineers, training staff, client support teams, and executives, along with fellow GlobalLink users from around the globe.
This year, we went virtual and saw attendees from every corner of the world attend our online sessions. Here was the audience split: APAC – 2%, EMEA – 36%, LATAM – 3%, USA & Canada – 59%.
Beyond this, we can also explore signing up for a wide range of subject areas and topics outside the usual for a more varied learning curriculum. Think of the all the possibilities!
This year has certainly opened many eyes to the opportunities of online events, and we predict many will be here to stay, even beyond the pandemic.
To help bridge the gap in your team’s training, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs further.