Speaking at a virtual conference

Rolf Suurd
13 October 2020

Recently, AxonIQ's Event-driven Microservices Virtual Conference was held, and because of the pandemic 🦠, it was a fully remote conference.  We were (virtually) present, and we spoke about how to support multi-tenancy and reactive streams with Axon Framework in Spring Boot. This blog post will not be about the talk itself, but about our experience with this being a virtual conference. What are the pros and cons and should all conferences now be virtual?

 Preparation

In order to minimize technical difficulties and maximize audiovisual quality, the organizer requested all talks to be pre-recorded, while the subsequent Q&A session would be a live stream. Our initial thoughts were that it was a pretty good idea and it would make things easier. Also, it would enable someone that might be nervous about speaking in front of a (live) crowd to do this.

We bought a ring light 💡, a proper microphone 🎙️, and prepared our recording setup:

setup
( Office manager carefully managing the recording setup )

Next to being able to record, we would also need the actual talk itself. We prepared a nice presentation in google docs and gave it a few test-runs amongst ourselves. 

Pre-recording

The pre-recording itself was equally simple: just do the presentation in front of the camera 🎥. Making an error is not a  problem, since you can edit the video as much as you want! We even managed to have a professional-looking virtual background. After the entire thing was recorded, we also shot a short little "trailer" for our session, in order to start hyping up people to attend the conference.

recording
( CMO recording the talk )

The organization had an editor that would cut and prepare the video so it would have a nice intro and all mistakes edited out, so we just sent over the raw footage and with that, we were ready for the conference! All we had to do now is wait for it to begin... 📆

The virtual conference

October first came, and the conference started! 🎉 ...Or not. Due to technical difficulties, it got postponed for an hour. ⏱️ Luckily, by that time the technical difficulties were dealt with, and the opening was live-streamed, followed by the talks. There were virtual round tables that allowed for groups of attendees to have a video chat with each other, as well as live chat during each session. Which, when you think about it, is pretty interesting: during a talk at a live conference, it would be pretty distracting if everyone were to just chat or whisper to all other persons in the room, while during a virtual conference it's expected to have a live chat. Why? 🤔

And while we are at the topic of distraction, this is one of the biggest drawbacks of fully virtual conferences. Sitting behind your computer watching a session, it is quite easy to get distracted by something else. Sure, when you're physically at a conference, you can play with your phone and do other stuff, so the distraction is potentially there, but it seems easier to stay engaged with the speaker and their subject if you are sitting in the same room as they are. Maybe it's because of social control: all of the people sitting there as well might take offense to you playing with your phone.

Our talk

When it came time for our talk, the organization streamed the pre-recorded video and all we had to do was chill "backstage" like a rock-star 👨‍🎤🍸.

During this time we could engage with the viewers using the live chat. There was no way for us to see how many viewers we actually had at that time though, which would've been nice. However, there is no way to know how many viewers there would be in total, because this is a virtual conference with pre-recorded talks, and these are scheduled to be aired at different times, so people all over the world in different timezones could see them at a time convenient for them. Thus, the potential reach you have is absolutely stunning.

After answering a few questions during Q&A, we got asked to join the virtual roundtables to connect with other people and give our perspective and input on certain topics. This is always the best part of any conference, and the experience was very comparable to a live conference. We got to meet some amazingly talented people doing awesome work for the open-source community. 🤩

Wrapping up

So in conclusion, we feel virtual conferences are a double-edged sword: it enables you to organize conferences during this pandemic, and it is a great way to reach potentially the whole world with your content. Pre-recording the talks is awesome to be able to re-run it for different timezones, but the interaction with the crowd during the talk is gone: making a joke in a pre-recorded video is pretty awkward. 🦗🦗🤦‍♂️

Crickets

Being able to connect with people outside of the talks using video chat was the best part of the virtual conference. Meeting new people and learning new things are always the prime drivers of any conference, regardless of the subject. Even though this was pretty great, we feel it's still easier to start chatting with people when you are physically present in the same room.

All in all, the organization did an outstanding job, and we can look back at a successful conference where we got to meet new people and share our story with the world. We are looking forward to next year!

If you're interested in watching the talks of the conference, they will be available at AxonIQ's youtube channel. We do have our trailer and talk for you right here though:

trailer-1

 

Rolf Suurd - Fourscouts

 

Epilogue

What do you think? Would you attend a virtual conference sooner than a live one because you can join from home?  Would you prefer a pre-recorded talk or a live one? Let us know your opinion! The comments section is at the bottom of the page. 👇👇👇

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