Virtual Legal Conferences: A Formula For Success

Surely there’s a way to hold a virtual conference that’s more interactive and allows attendees to be more engaged with both vendors and other attendees

Now that it’s obvious the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of slowing down in some areas of the country, one thing is clear: in-person legal conferences won’t be happening anytime soon. That’s why, for example, it was recently announced that one of the largest legal technology conferences, ILTACON, would be held virtually this year.

How Do You Make Virtual Conferences Interesting?

This got me thinking: how do you make a large legal conference interesting and enjoyable in a virtual format? Sure, you can still hold virtual CLE sessions fairly easily. After all, everyone’s “Zooming” (as I recently heard a more … ahem … seasoned judge call videoconferencing), and we’re all pretty used to online CLE webinars.

But let’s be honest, CLEs are only a small part of conferences. Certainly we go to large legal conferences for the seminars and CLE credit, but we also attend them for the networking, the fun nights out on the town that include dinner and drinks with colleagues, the inside scoop on the newest product releases, and to learn the latest on upcoming industry trends.

Unfortunately, most “virtual” conference platforms fail to incorporate many of the very elements that make conferences the most enjoyable. Sure, virtual CLE sessions and vendor “booths” allow attendees to peruse marketing materials and to chat via text messages with vendors, but even in those respects they fall flat. The feeling of true interaction and engagement is limited and the experience often feels very one dimensional, and — let’s be honest — boring.

There’s Got To Be A Better Way

Which is why I figured there’s got to be a better way. I mean, it’s 2020 after all. Surely there’s a way to hold a virtual conference that’s more interactive and allows attendees to be more engaged with both vendors and other attendees. If the Black Mirror writers could envision a way to allow people to interact more realistically in a virtual setting in 2011 (and so many of the technologies envisioned in that series have already come to fruition), then why aren’t more authentic virtual conferences a possibility in 2020?

The good news is that there actually is a better way. The bad news is that lawyers may be reluctant to use it. After all, the legal profession has historically been slow to adapt to new technologies.

That being said, the current pandemic has led to much-needed change and has resulted in a rapid acceleration of technology adoption by lawyers out of necessity. So I’m hopeful that because of the effects of the pandemic, lawyers will likewise be more inclined to rapidly adapt to the virtual conference format that I think is the best option available right now: attending a virtual reality conference via avatars.

There Is A Better Way

A few recently released virtual conference platforms provide the most immersive experience available. You attend the conference as an avatar that you create and personalize prior to entering.

Although the features of the platforms vary somewhat, generally speaking you’re able to navigate the virtual conference via your avatar and interact with others. You can attend seminars, and often are able to verbally chat with people sitting next to you or at your table. You can enter the exhibit hall, walk up to booths and speak with the vendors, and watch demos, videos, etc. You can also attend networking events and speak to and interact with other attendees.

In some of the platforms, as your avatar moves away from another avatar, the sound of their voice will decrease. Some of the platforms will allow webinars with slide decks to occur within the platform. Some make it possible for you to easily share contact information with other participants. Some permit private chats, while others have community discussion boards devoted to specific topics.

In other words, the features may vary, but the immersive nature of the experience will be far superior to that of a “flat” virtual conference that consists primarily of web links, Zoom meetings, and simple text-chat capabilities. While it may seem strange to attendees at first blush, I fully expect that in a matter of minutes, they’ll be fully engaged, and the uniqueness of the experience will fade. This will be especially so for the more tech-savvy attendees at legal technology conferences.

The Avatar-Based Conference Platforms

Because this is a fairly new concept, a huge number of options are not available. That being said, three of the best-known contenders are VirtwayTeeoh, and Whova.

All three use avatars and provide similar immersive experiences, but their feature sets vary. So if you’re planning a legal conference sometime soon, it’s important to take advantage of any free trials and to set up demos so that you can see the platforms in action. Make sure have a full understanding of how you’d like to use them and which features you’ll need prior to the demo so that you can ask questions and ensure that you understand all of the relevant features and functionalities.

Sure, the concept of holding a conference that uses avatars may seem unusual, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to attend a full-fledged virtual conference, as opposed to a simple online CLE seminar, any other way. There’s simply no benefit to attending a “flat” virtual conference if networking and interactive capabilities are absent, especially if you’ll be covering it as press, which I usually do.

So hopefully a few brave, adventurous souls will have the foresight and gumption to do something notable and will hold a virtual conference using avatars. I sure hope so. Rest assured, I’ll be keeping my eyes out, and if a legaltech organization announces plans to host a U.S.-based virtual conference in this manner, I’ll be the first in line to request a press pass.

So, here’s my only question at this point: Any takers?

Editor’s Note: This article is republished with permission of the author and first publication on Above the Law.

Posted in: Communication Skills, Conferencing Software, Continuing Legal Education, Distance Learning, Legal Profession, Presentation Skills, Technology Trends