At this point, the idea of yet another virtual event may induce an eye roll. Yes, the past few months have been filled with a mess of virtual happy hours, conference calls and perhaps some cringe-worthy Zoom moments. However, fall 2020 boasts an impressive lineup of virtual conferences with enough high-profile speakers, cutting-edge virtual-event technology and networking opportunities to convince even the most remote-weary individuals.
From tech-focused exhibitions to intensive financial seminars, we’ve compiled the best virtual conferences to attend in the remainder of 2020. While most do have an entrance fee, you’ll save on airfare, hotel and incidentals.
After you scope out our lineup, continue reading to learn how to get the most bang for your buck at a virtual conference.
Hosted by America’s Small Business Development Coalition (SBDC) in partnership with the Small Business Administration, this conference is specifically formulated to meet the needs of small businesses. There will be a live program including giveaways, special guests and speakers including Shark Tank judge Daymond John.
Additionally, there will be more than 100 professional development workshops covering both COVID-19-related topics (like making businesses more resilient with an SBA disaster loan) and more conventional topics surrounding cash flow, business growth and leadership.
Under the theme of “Innovation for Good,” this year’s Fast Company Innovation Festival will shine its lens on the innovative companies, leaders, strategies and trends helping build a better tomorrow. This immersive multisession online experience will feature business leaders from companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, Wal-Mart and Verizon — and even celebrities like Robert Downy Jr., Janelle Monáe and Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Inc. Magazine’s Vision Conference serves to honor its annual list of the nation’s 5,000 fastest-growing private companies. However, in addition to celebrating those honorees, the event offers a general-admission option that includes MBA classroom-style courses, peer-led and -facilitated networking, roundtable discussions and sessions with A-list entrepreneurs who share their best tips for momentum and growth.
The eclectic group of speakers consists of founders across industries, including Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and Fest300; Beatrice Dixon, co-founder and CEO of the Honey Pot Company; and Ali Webb, founder of Drybar and co-founder of Squeeze.
Branding this year’s conference as one for “Remakers,” the 2020 World Business Forum is focused around “rethinking companies, reconnecting people and reinventing business” in light of the unique challenges this year has brought.
The forum’s 12 high-profile speakers are each emblematic of a theme, like Gen. Colin Powell (leadership), director James Cameron (creativity) and author Simon Sinek (management). Sessions cover leadership, the future of work and thinking strategically in a new world.
The CFO Leadership Council (CFOLC) hosts the CFO Leadership Conference. The event is part of its annual CFO Week, which is held in partnership with the MIT Sloan Executive Education and provides a slate of educational programming and networking opportunities for CFOs and other financial executives.
Sessions for the 2020 conference, also known as the “CFO Masterclass,” include “ask the expert” roundtables, keynotes and interactive workshops. Notable speakers include the CFOs of Mozilla, Peloton, ServiceNow, 23andme and WHOOP, as well as senior lecturers from MIT.
Another component of the CFO Week hosted by the CFOLC and MIT Sloan is the Four Day CFO Accelerator, billed as an exclusive program created for high-growth-company CFOs and senior financial executives. The intensive agenda includes deep dives into finance, boards & governance, IPOs, M&A, economic outlooks and other topics designed to help executives lead their organizations through disruption and rapid change. The accelerator is capped at 48 participants, so act fast if you would like to attend!
Attention tech-obsessed CFOs and entrepreneurs: This event is for you. Nicknamed “Davos for geeks” by Bloomberg, the Web Summit is the largest technology conference and is also considered to be the biggest gathering of entrepreneurs in the world. Notable speakers for 2020 include Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom; Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox; and Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures.
Themes for this year’s summit include fintech & commerce, business development and data usage. Think your startup is disrupting the industry? Consider applying for the Web Summit’s 2020 startup programme, which showcases young businesses to the world’s leading investors, companies and media. The event also features startup-specific content, networking and other opportunities.
For companies seeking exposure, look no further. The Small Business Expo is formulated for small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs looking to improve and grow. The event series, held virtually as well as live in cities around the country, provides attendees with business-focused workshops led by industry experts, connections with leading vendors and networking opportunities to build new business relationships. Of particular note? The virtual platform that presents an interactive, customizable exhibitor hall.
And (shameless plug alert), we would be remiss not to mention our own two events that have gone virtual: Oracle’s OpenWorld and the “NetSuite Now On Air” series.
After cancelling the OpenWorld event in Las Vegas this year, Oracle is hosting a series of free virtual events featuring keynotes, thought leaders, best practices and customer stories. Covering topics relating to human capital management, customer experience, enterprise resource management, supply chains and more, this virtual summit series is constantly being updated with new events, so keep checking back for the latest.
This new month-long immersive experience is built around helping businesses of all sizes succeed in a new reality and is partially programmed by the Brainyard team. Attendees will have access to 70+ breakout sessions with practical advice from NetSuite executives, industry experts and various businesses. Each week will focus on a different theme:
Week 1: October 6 - 9: Financials, budgeting and planning
Week 2: October 12 - 16: The SuiteCloud platform + Best of the Suite: Tips from the experts
Week 3: October 19 - 23: Elevate your CRM, commerce and communications
Week 4: October 26 - 30: Build resilience into your operations + make the most of your people, payroll and projects
When it comes to taking full advantage of a virtual conference, the bottom line is this: Treat it like an in-person event. Don’t let the fact that you are behind a computer screen affect how you prepare, participate and learn.
Here are some best practices for getting the full value out of your remote conference.
If you were traveling to a show, you’d build an agenda to organize your time. Do that now as well.
Set your priorities: What do you most want to learn about at the event? Which speakers or peers do you want to connect with? What, in your mind, will make this conference a success for you? Set your mission statement and use it to guide your game plan for the event.
Make a schedule: Building off your mission statement, create a schedule by prioritizing workshops, speakers and networking opportunities that align with your goals and aspirations. In many cases, you may find that you are interested in more sessions than you have time for. In that case, look into whether sessions will be recorded. If so, you can then gauge which will be better to attend live, where you may be able to ask questions, and set aside time for recorded sessions after the event.
Pro Tip: Was your company considering a live event before the pandemic? There are plenty of benefits. This guide from event expert and Brainyard editor Art Wittmann outlines how corporate events can pay for themselves, or at least generate enough revenue to greatly offset costs. In the virtual era, overhead is much less, so this could be an ideal time to test the event waters.
Research: Look into the speakers, subject matter experts and (if possible) other attendees at the conference beforehand. It’s helpful to have a list of questions you would like to ask and connections you would like to make prior to the start of the conference. Don’t be left with the feeling “should’ve, could've, would’ve.”
Learn the tech: Many conferences are introducing new platforms and apps to create truly interactive and smooth virtual experiences. Ensure that you have needed technology downloaded beforehand, and familiarize yourself with it so you can use the tools effectively during the event.
Set an “out of office” notice: Allow colleagues and clients to know that your response will be delayed due to your participation in the conference.
Block your calendar: Decline all nonurgent meetings so you can commit your time and focus to the conference sessions. Even if you have breaks in between sessions, that time may be better spent networking, cleaning up notes and preparing for the next presentation than scrolling through email.
Deal with the phone: We’ve all been guilty of compulsive phone use. While the mindless scrolling or quick notification check might seem minor, it adds up from an engagement perspective — and (hopefully) isn’t something you would be doing in an in-person situation. Consider setting your phone to “Do Not Disturb.” Or, take it a step farther: Place it out of arm’s reach to avoid temptation.
Edit availability on collaboration apps: Your notebook is out, your pen is poised, your attention is on the speaker. You are ready for this session … and then someone pings you on your team’s collaboration platform. As much as you might love to chat, now is not ideal. To avoid last-minute distractions, set your status as “Offline” or “Away” prior to the conference start.
Turn off email notifications: Avoiding your email will be near-impossible if you still have desktop alerts notifying you of new activity in your inbox, so be sure to turn off that setting beforehand. Don’t know how? Here are instructions for Outlook, Gmail, Zoho, ProtonMail, GMX and Yahoo.
Create a conducive environment: Find a quiet, comfortable place to attend the conference and ensure that you have needed equipment and supplies: a functional headset, food, water, coffee and pen and paper if that’s your note-taking vibe.
Avoid multitasking: This tip is a culmination of all of the above and can’t be overstated: Avoiding multitasking is critical to a successful learning experience. The science is pretty clear: Even the most skilled multitaskers experience excessive brain stimulation, resulting in negative impacts on memory and IQ, ultimately making it harder to learn new things.
Prep for social media: Many events have preferred platforms as well as recommended hashtags to engage with others via social media. Post thoughts on the presentation, screengrabs of the event and discussion points to interact socially with other attendees. Bonus: it helps your own social handles get exposure as well. If there are speakers you’d like to interact with, follow or connect with them beforehand, and keep their handles at hand.
Connect via mobile and desktop apps: Conferences are introducing technologies to facilitate virtual networking that’s on par with — or even better than — mingling in person at a reception, where you may be inclined to stay with people you already know. For instance, the Web Summit has implemented an algorithm for the event that analyzes interests, industry and current connections to recommend the people you should get in touch with. It then provides an in-app messaging feature to facilitate conversations. Use the conference tech to your relationship-building advantage.
Pro Tip: Conferences as retention tools? Yes. Training for their teams is high on the list of priorities for finance execs in our Brainyard Summer 2020 Priorities Survey. Considering how eager finance pros are to pursue learning, advance their careers and use their time wisely during lockdowns, covering the cost of a conference is a major retention win. See eight more ways to keep your team engaged.
Attend the informal sessions: Happy hours and breakout sessions can provide valuable opportunities to connect on a smaller scale with other attendees and speakers.
Don’t fear the 1:1: Consider setting up 1:1 appointments during or post-conference with attendees and speakers with whom you are interested in connecting.
Don’t be a silent participant: Use interactive features, like “raising your hand,” chat, question-and-answer sessions and polls. Engaging by asking questions and participating in discussions can help you stand out as a participant — and makes the session more enjoyable and educational.
Share your insights: Many virtual events now feature pre-event surveys, live polls during sessions and Q&As. Speakers and event organizers want your feedback on content, and a Q&A is an opportunity for you to get advice tailored to your company.
Are you video ready? Your remote work uniform at this point may be sweatpants and an old tee-shirt — and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, for a virtual conference, consider upping the ante. Dress the part to boost your confidence and to be ready if a session requests video participation from its attendees.
Click yes for the webcam: Many of us prefer audio only. But there are real benefits to being on camera; if nothing else, it discourages multitasking.
Adjusting to virtual conferences takes effort — minimizing distractions and discovering new ways to network and make connections can be a difficult adjustment. However, this likely won’t be a temporary change. As companies discover the benefits of virtual conferences, like cost savings, more attendees and sustainability, they are likely to become more commonplace. Learning how to get the most out of remote events now is a skill that will pay dividends in the increasingly virtual future.