We share some of the pros and cons of the Insurance AI and Innovative Tech virtual conference and ideas for moving forward in this virtual world.
As a consulting service provider, I participate in the conference circuit to participate in the dialogues around insurance and to connect and reconnect with others in the industry.
There is a certain excitement associated with these events, and most of us leave energized and ready to get back to our day-to-day challenges with a renewed perspective and determination. Our new virtual-only world has eliminated this opportunity but replaced it with a new one — the virtual conference.
In late May, the Centric insurance team attended and sponsored our first virtual conference, Insurance AI and Innovative Tech Virtual. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we knew it was going to be an entirely different dynamic than an in-person conference with its share of pros and cons. The event was a good experience, and we picked up several tips and takeaways to share.
Advantages of a Virtual Conference
Overall, flexibility, fit-for-purpose content and general convenience are the key advantages of a virtual conference. At the same time, networking is more challenging and requires the most adaption for a virtual format.
Virtual conferences offer incredible flexibility for participants. Like other aspects of remote working, the virtual conference had a wide variety of content that attendees could consume both live and on-demand. I found I was able to attend more of the presentations than at a live conference. While I did miss the energy of an exhibition hall and getting a chance to see reactions from others, I appreciated how efficient it was. And I was able to balance both my work and consuming the content easily.
All the speakers did an excellent job adapting to a virtual format and presenting in a way that lent itself to watching virtually. Some had the feel of a video chat, while others used a presentation with a voice-over. Both methods have a much better ability to re-watch than a recorded live event, which proceeds to be another advantage of going virtual. I suspect most virtual conferences going forward will be similar in this regard.
I tried to multi-task a few times but realized that I was missing out on too much. This led to discovering quite possibly the best conference feature of all time, and it only exists in an online conference format.
The discovery came during one point in the conference when in a narrative on obtaining business adoption for AI projects particularly drew me in. It was well articulated and had some practical uses, which I wanted to leverage. Had this been a live conference, I would have been scrambling, trying to take notes and simultaneously snap a picture of the slide with the key points.
Instead, I hit pause, digested the information on the slide and took notes. I went back and re-listened to a few points and then took a moment to reflect on them. At the end of the presentation, I realized I had hit virtual conference gold. I could even apply this “pause and reflect” concept to manage the inevitable interruption that comes from working remote.
I used this approach for the remainder of the conference and got more out of the content than I ever have at a live conference. It didn’t take much extra time at all. I highly recommend this tactic to anyone looking to make the most of their virtual conference experience.
Disadvantages of a Virtual Conference
Networking at a virtual conference is still a new concept and will need to evolve to be more effective. One of the big advantages an in-person conference provides is a natural way to interact and share perspectives. There are happy hours and plenty of conversation topics. For the most part, attendees are open-minded about meeting new people and sharing ideas. Centric has always valued this dynamic and has invested in conferences to help make it possible for others.
A virtual conference does not have these in-person advantages built-in, but it does have plenty of content to discuss. Although it is different, networking is still possible.
The main challenge is the chance to network is separate from everything else. Much like getting yourself to a happy hour at an in-person conference, you must seek the opportunity out. At the virtual event, you needed to download an app to access the networking space, then seek out people to meet and chat with. This disconnected feeling can deter many participants.
Things to Keep in Mind Moving Forward
Despite the inherent challenges, there was still plenty of networking to be had at this virtual conference. There are always motivated attendees who also try to make the most of their experience and continue to engage with an open mind.
As with any event, there are broader, online narratives and forums where people can discuss content. A virtual conference can be a great rallying point for topics. We found a good mix of people we knew and people we didn’t know who were willing to engage both through the formal networking area and broader online platforms, using mentions and hashtags.
Ultimately, I concluded that content in a virtual conference could be enriching, and virtual networking at a conference is a learned skill (that most of us are still developing). It will be interesting to see how virtual conferences evolve as we all build our skills in this area. Eventually, in-person conferences will return, but I suspect that virtual events will continue to grow. The skills we are developing around making the most of our attendance will translate nicely as this happens.