I learnt about …

Rethinking conferences in a remote only world

I recently attended the fully virtual Microsoft Build conference. There is no way I would have been able to attend the real “physical” conference due to the location, financial commitment and time required however this gave me an opportunity to benefit from something normally out of my reach.

The conference as a whole was excellent despite the limitations of not only being virtual but also mostly broadcast from homes. The idea of running each talk multiple times to suit people in different time zones was brilliant and the variety of subjects and presentation styles was great. No doubt this was challenging for the speakers however I was able to choose talks which suited my time availability.

Nearly every talk had a Q&A session at the end driven by the chat channel linked to the talk. This proved much more useful than I expected. I was able to get a few specific questions answered after the talk.

A couple of the sessions were more around skills - I did a sketchnoting one and a creativity one - and the use of chat here, particularly in the latter, really made the sessions engaging and helped build an energy to the presentation.

There was an article I read shortly afterwards that talked about rethinking the way online conferences are done. This proposed that the sessions could be spread out over a longer time period as there was no longer a requirement for people to travel and be in a specific place for a specific time.

It also suggested that the talks could be pre-recorded with a live Q&A after with the speaker. For some sessions this would be great as it would mean that the speaker could prepare their answers while the talk is going on which could lead to a better engagement and answers. For Build, despite others being available to help, it often felt at the end that they were under pressure to find the questions people asked and try to answer them unprepared - with little room for curation and thought.

I hope we are going to see conferences evolve and become even better experiences. There is plenty of scope for improvement and it could open up knowledge and opportunities to those who could not access them before.

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A month long conference is a neat concept