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Mon Jan 11, 2021, 07:45 PM

Dusty passports, smart tops and tracksuit bottoms: Are virtual events better or worse than the real

Virtual events are cheaper and more accessible, but fall short in interactivity and networking opportunities, and have limited scope for sponsors to reach their audience. Content can be duller and shallower too - but virtual is here to stay, even when some face-to-face activity returns.

The forced move to holding virtual online events in place of face to face – or run no events at all – began in early 2020, and will end in a ragged and uncertain fashion as conditions allow. This meant devastation for the events industry, but has not been without benefits for others.

Throwing a virtual bash

Attendees not only save on travel and subsistence expenses – often the largest part of the cost – but also many events that used to command an attendance fee became free, particularly vendor-specific conferences that are more about marketing than training (which is most of them).

The cost of running a virtual event is much lower, and limits on the number of attendees are largely lifted. “At Build, we grew from 6,000 attendees in 2019 to nearly 200k in 2020. At Ignite, we grew from ~30k to 266k attendees,” Microsoft’s corporate VP of global events Bob Bejan told The Reg.

Build is the key developer event for the company, while Ignite is aimed at IT administrators. There has also been more diversity, Bejan said. “At Build in 2019, 20 per cent of attendees were from outside the US. This grew to 68 per cent in 2020. From Africa, we had 24 attendees in 2019 that grew to 6,104.”


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