Virtual conferences lack the benefits of face-to-face networking, and the excitement and fresh perspectives that come with being in a different city or country. Even at the best of times, business conferences can be a little dull; virtual conferences run the risk of boring people to tears. Those I have attended over the past few months have certainly varied in quality.

Having the right technology – from the platform to mics and lighting, and knowing how to use it — is critical. Because it is difficult to keep a virtual audience captivated, professionalism and content quality are vital, as are the presentation skills of the speakers. Having said that, I find live events more engaging than when I know its pre-recorded and some of the less-than-polished presenters come across more believable than those that are over-practiced and slick. In addition, presenters seem to “perform” differently when they have even a few humans in front of them as an audience. It seems to lend an air of authenticity to their efforts.

There’s no question that adding life to virtual events is a challenge, but I’m convinced we will see ongoing evolution in this space as organisers learn more about keeping people engaged and present so that they can extract maximum value from these events.

Among the key takeaways from the recent sessions I attended is the increasing need for automation platforms that enable companies to onboard a broad spectrum of products across direct, indirect and internal channels. Organisations are seeking to centralise relationships and standardise integrations with their partners and channel programmes.

The pandemic has changed the way the world works, and how markets operate, highlighting the need for more streamlined ecommerce solutions, digital marketplaces and automation. Many companies have responded to COVID-19 with innovative pivots that push them into new markets, and we have seen big changes in the technology sector during 2020.

Securing mobile workforces is another key theme of the moment. With constantly evolving cyber threats, organisations are seeking better ways to be cyber resilient and support employees working remotely. Industry experts are also witnessing a need for online brand protection as live impersonation attacks become more prevalent.

Understanding security awareness and training and how it can improve an organisation’s security posture – the overall security status of its software and hardware assets, networks, services, and information – is high on the security agenda as these are the measures required to protect businesses from cyber-attacks that are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

While the number of online conferences and webinars has skyrocketed, it’s becoming tougher to find the value, given the networking challenges, limited social opportunities, and the fact that there is less accountability when it comes to motivation and paying attention. However, adopting a more ‘can do’ attitude will help us to gain more from these sessions. Be ready to take notes, ask questions and engage with others.

One of the obvious upsides to conferences going digital and virtual is being able to attend events that were previously prohibitively expensive. For example conferences being held in locations such as Las Vegas. The travel time alone would the same as attending a two-day event and the opportunity cost was hard to justify. I particularly like the fact that online events now make content like videos and presentations, available for weeks, months or on occasion, indefinitely. This is a massive upside from having to pay full attention for days on end. Being able to refer back is almost priceless.

In the past cost, family and work kept people from attending conferences and other educational work events – perhaps virtual conferences will level the playing field.