After years of putting on a business suit and trying to find comfortable dress shoes to walk and stand for hours on end at big conferences, it was a joy to attend one with hundreds of hospitality and event professionals, in a dress shirt, bare feet and gym shorts, and still come away with meaningful networking exchanges and new business prospects. The world of amazing, productive, and engaging virtual reality conferences is here.

This particular virtual online experience was set up and managed by allseated. Even a quick visit to their website will give you a good idea of what they bring to the 2021 conference table.  There are several other platform providers in this space, but since this was my first conference, and it so impressed me, I’ll stay focused on allseated for this piece, and will offer some additional platform links at the end.

Back to the conference. The hospitality and event industry is not my area of expertise, but a colleague in that space connected me in. I expected a 20 minute investigation of the format resulting in a lackluster “OK I get it”.  You can imagine my shock when I logged out of the conference, and realized I had spent two and half hours there! Two and a half hours around attendees I didn’t know on a conference topic I didn’t know. Clearly there was something engaging about this virtual format. But before I give you my big communication business take-aways, let me describe the entry process and what you see on your screen:

After receiving and typing in your entry key, you enter your name as others will see it, a photo for your avatar “robot”, and your company logo.

Then a brief host tutorial video on how you move throughout rooms, including “transporting” to the East or West coast (where geographically aligned attendees are circulating.)

As you begin to move through the main hall, which looks a lot like a main conference floor from a typical convention, you can visit exhibitors (more on that in a bit), or interact with other attendees simply by clicking on their robot avatar, and then a “would you like to video chat with <   >?” prompt appears. If they accept you are launched into a Zoom-like screen with each person on-camera from their home or office. Now the conversation has a far more productive exchange potential thanks to the absence of loud music or general ballroom cacophony, or the need to keep your eyes darting around so as to not miss another desired attendee. You could also elect to find and attendee in the directory and exchange texts on where to meet in order to video chat (note video chat participants on the left side of screen below):

After my two and half hours there, here are my ten big learnings from my first virtual conference:

  1. You still need networking skills. The fact that the conference is virtual does not let you off the hook on the skills needed to approach a stranger and introduce yourself. That foundational piece of networking is still mandatory to get value in a virtual setting. This is especially important when you see two or more attendees gathered and you are prompted with “Want to join a group chat?” (Pressure is on…”who’s this new person?”)
  2. Your opening has never been more important. Your first 30 seconds with a new contact will say a lot about the amount of time you merit with them. For me, as a communication coach, I opened with “I’m not in your industry, but I’m fascinated by how a virtual conference is changing the way you communicate with your colleagues. I’d love to hear your perspective.” Boom…off and running. Remember the key rules – ask questions, and focus your conversations on THEM. Click HERE to see my short video on this.)
  3. Exhibiting has never been easier. Many of you reading this are familiar with the unenviable assignment of “working the booth” at a conference. Long hours on your feet, watching a parade of folks by your booth, with glazed eyes and deafened ears, desperate for a scrap of interest so they’ll approach you for information. In this virtual setting, when an attendee reached a certain proximity to an exhibitor area, the screen automatically starting playing a video or presentation prepared by the exhibitor. No more walking by a booth where the video loop was already in progress, or the crowd so deep it made  it impossible to hear the speaker. Every approach generates a clean start video. There was also an easy click icon for more information (eg: visit our website, download a .pdf, etc.). And if there was a virtual robot representative for the company hanging nearby, they may offer a “would you care to start a video chat?” which you can easily accept – or decline and no feelings hurt, since you’re not actually face to face.

Exhibitor Booth:

  1. Keynotes and panel discussions are a breeze. No more jostling into large convention seating areas lugging your bags of stuff. In addition to an agenda graphic at one end of the main hall, a moderator comes on the screen about 5 minutes before the featured speaker, and automatically interrupts any activity you’re doing (chatting, moving around), makes an announcement to head to the Main Exhibit Hall. Upon navigating there, you’re instantly “seated” and the countdown timer shows the time to the event. Caveat: I did not see the feature that allowed a Q&A, but I’m sure that is possible since there was a chat feature, that a moderator could have managed.

Keynote & Panel discussion:


  1. Have your information ready to email. Instead of sifting through bent and semi-damp business cards through hungover eyes the next morning, you can simply follow with emails via your video chat(s) for follow-up communication.
  2. After parties still happen!! At the end of the scheduled program, there was an after party, set on a beautiful virtual rooftop of a Mexican coastal resort . You could “walk” around and get a 360° view of the beach, ocean, or other resort hotels nearby. They even had a virtual DJ and music. An especially nice feature were separate chat areas where upon entering, the background music was automatically lowered so you could communicate in peace. And since many of these virtual platforms are the work of gaming designers, I could easily imagine a game area where attendees could play and compete.

 DJ and dancefloor!

  1. First impressions still matter! It still surprises me when I see zoom participants in poorly lit, or cluttered camera environments. Take the time to get some decent lighting at your work area so other attendees can clearly see and hear you. It’s an absolute must-have for a virtual conference.
  2. Virtual Hybrid conferences are the future. Hybrid conferences were all the talk of this conference. The general opinion was that the days of a few thousand people flying to a single location are gone. However, the current 100% virtual may quickly give way to the more preferable Hybrid, where instead of 2000, perhaps only 200 “key” attendees show up to a physical location, but thousands more attend through advance technological solutions to supplement the live presentation. Convention and conference centers would be wise to quickly evolve their facilities to enable this newer, techno-mandatory environment.
  3. The more interactive the better. Let’s face it, everyone is Zoomed out. These virtual conferences have so many innovative ways to engage the audience through discovery, exhibits, gaming, puzzles, graphics, polls and more. Conference planners need to put interaction at the top of the list.
  4. Meeting planners are the new Yodas. Never before has the expertise of the meeting and event planners been more valuable. Companies, associations, industry groups can’t envision these capabilities alone, and these industry experts are staying on top of all the trends and technologies to enable these conferences. This a brave new world with incredible possibilities and the event planning industry is in the white hot center of it all.

Verdict: The conference business is changed forever due to rapidly advancing technology and of course, global pandemic health concerns. But from a communication standpoint, people will be connected in ways that offer new opportunities, through video chats, immediate online product demonstrations, and even gaming. Undoubtedly there will still be opportunities for destination-based, face- to-face conferences (and masks will certainly stay, especially during air travel), but the tide is turning.

In the end, connection remains a basic human need, and virtual conferences are inventing bold ways to make this happen on a global scale.


Additional information: Major providers in the virtual platform space:


The Ganon Group offers communication coaching for executives and employees across all departments: C-Suite Leadership, Sales, Customer Experience, Technical / Product Development, to improve their communication and presentation techniques. We believe everyone can “up” their game when it comes to communicating initiatives and ideas within the organization, outside to new prospects, to existing clients, or to outside media and trade organizations.