James Williams

Much Ado About Virtual Conferences

Tags: conferences speaking

As in-person conferences make their way onto more schedules, though it hasn't totally eliminated virtual conferences, folks are looking deeper into what they like and dislike about the virtual format.

It's on that backdrop that speaker and conference organizer Austin Parker wrote a post, Virtual Events Are Dead, Long Live Virtual Events, where he discusses some of the ways the format doesn't work for speakers or the audience. I found his argument compelling because he's been a speaker and a conference organizer. On the heels of that post, Lian Li invited Austin to participate in a Twitter Spaces panel titled "Back to normal? Is this the end of virtual tech events".

The panel discussion is a good complement to the blog post but it clocks in at 90 minutes covering a number of viewpoints from almost a dozen participants. They talked about the virtual events they attended, what they like and dislike about the format, its future, and how they might be made better. I wanted to share the info with my team in a form that was a little more digestible so made a zine style sketchnote of it. I added a bit of content about the flipped classroom that one panelist mentioned.

Sketchnote cover image depicting woman on airplane and at home with a dog wanting her to play

My Experiences with Virtual Events and Outlook

I've only given one virtual talk during the pandemic and that was pre-recorded with me in chat responding to questions. It was fine. I've done a lot of recorded videos in my current and previous DevRel roles. One of the things I liked about that previous role were the opportunities we had to be creative. Our video team was open to putting narrative vignettes between instructional modules. Those were often harder to land than the regular content because of costume concerns, how it will read, specific cultural references, etc. But when it lands well, it's really fun.

I think sometimes there is a hesitation to go a little bit out there and instead play to the lowest common denominator.

The only actual "register and block off time" conferences I've gone to were Google I/O and Android Dev Summit. IO was the more immersive of the two with a online "experience" space that you could navigate a character around and interact with.

The first year we had it in 2021, I remember some folks lamenting when the adventure portion was shut down for the year. I had coworkers who spent after hours time securing all the collectibles fishing and bumping into the things. Android Dev Summit was a more generic playlist of talks experience. I watched a bit on the day but most I ended up catching a couple weeks later. I didn't feel the pull to "attend" that I did when it was in person.

I think the virtual genie is out of the bottle and we've realized that while in-person is more optimal, virtual remote events can produce a good experience with enough effort. I do think the number of virtual events will decrease somewhat but am hopeful that we, as a community, work to make them better and rewarding to attendees and speakers. I want to explore speaking at more remote local events and engage with developers that wouldn't usually be able to make it to the events I usually frequent.