Virtual conference

Virtual conference

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

At this time of year, I usually attend a financial planning conference run by our professional body the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments (CISI).  Last year this was in the glamorous location of the NEC in Birmingham.  This year’s conference was supposed to be held in Milton Keynes and would have included a visit to the Red Bull Racing team factory.  For obvious reasons this was postponed and will now be held in 2021 all being well.

In order for the conference to happen at all, it was changed to a virtual conference so rather than the two-day financial planning conference I was expecting, I was now faced with a two half day virtual conference.

I’ve attended many webinars and presentations online, particularly since March, but I’ve never attended a virtual conference.  Going into the conference I had no idea how the format was going to work, and I was hoping that my broadband could cope particularly under the strain of my wife also working from home and by my eldest’s online college work!

The CISI used a service offered by Remo, a company that provides virtual spaces to “empower people to communicate, connect, and collaborate with each other just like they would in real life”.  I’m sure other companies exist that do a similar thing, but this was the first experience I’ve had of this type of format. 

The software allowed delegates to enter various virtual floors, and these are shown on your screen as a map of tables, and you can move between floors as required.  You choose a table to ‘sit’ at and converse via video with the other five people sitting around your table.  Only you and the others around your table can hear and see you which means that even though the virtual floor might be full of delegates you can have a private conversation with those on your table – just like you would at a normal conference using a table format for delegates.

If you don’t like the people on your table or the conversation has finished, you can double-click an empty chair on a different table and start a conversation with the people sitting there.

When a presentation starts on the floor you’re on, all the people on your floor automatically see a video link to the presenter who can also share slides and talk to other individuals. This is very similar to viewing a webinar or holding a Zoom meeting with a wide audience.  The software allows all delegates to pose questions and there’s a chat function that lets you chat to the whole audience, just your table or you can search for a particular individual. The Q&A function allows other delegates to see the question you’ve typed and vote on it.  This lets the speaker or moderator see which questions are most popular and concentrate on these if they’re doing a Q&A section at the end.

Remo also offers virtual offices and other venues for collaboration.  

I was impressed with the software and how seamlessly the whole virtual conference worked.  As you’re randomly sat at a table when you enter a floor it can be difficult to find yourself and we all found it easier if we’d earlier uploaded a picture of ourselves to our profile … it’s easier to spot yourself on the screen although at times it did feel like Where’s Wally.

As I’ve said before, conferences such as this one are an important part of what we do and are regularly attended by the planning team at Bloomsbury, as we’ve got an ongoing commitment to continuing professional development.  This enable us to be better financial planners and to make sure we are up to date on a range of topics and issues.

One advantage of the virtual format for this year’s conference was the ability for the agenda to include more overseas speakers who otherwise due to time or cost restrictions wouldn’t be able to attend a conference in the UK.  This year there were presenters from Australia, South Africa and the US but this is not always the norm.

My broadband held up and the virtual conference experience was very good.  Given the current situation, we’re all in, it was a great way of still being able to attend and hold a conference rather than it simply being cancelled or postponed.  In the future when things are back to whatever normal they become, I’d be happy to attend conferences using this virtual setting but my preference will always be for the normal in-person format.  However, if that’s not possible for whatever reason, this is an excellent substitute.