Virtual Conferences: Knowledge Co-Created in Real Time

Written by Arianna Rehak on June 6, 2018

The virtual conference that held for the first time in November shared the same characteristic of pretty much anything we’ve ever done: it was an experiment. We had no idea what was going to happen (something I am far more willing to admit after the fact, as the ol’ fake it till you make it adage rings a particularly resounding bell.)

What we knew is that we had spent our first year in existence having extremely compelling conversations with the association community, and we wanted to create a space to see those come to life.

You see, every individual article that we’ve ever published has the potential to be expanded upon. What you’re seeing encapsulated in each 500-word post is only a part of any story, and it’s also entirely rhetorical. You can’t ask a blog post a question. You can’t challenge its notions. You can’t expand upon its ideas (save for the “comments” section, perhaps).

But what if you could?

What if the ideas contained were actually intended to be seeds of a larger discussion? What if you could bring an entire industry together virtually with the intention of each individual not just passively consuming the content, but actively contributing to it?

In a nutshell, that’s what our SURGE virtual conference is designed to do. Our first time out the gate, we invited several of our past article contributors to craft sessions. We identified topics that we knew the community was interested in (data is a beautiful thing), and brought in folks who had unique perspectives to share. The whole purpose of the sessions was to stoke meaningful discussion in an attendee chat that ran during the conference. We then went through the chat afterwards and identified valuable insights and resources that were added in by attendees, and included those in eBooks made available to all.

So essentially, our attendees were there to learn, but they were also there to contribute to this larger body of knowledge that was being co-created in real time.

Does this have the potential to push an industry forward? You bet.

Now you’re taking people who have been independently trying to solve the same problems, and creating a space for them to share and learn from each other. Doing this in the virtual space, there are no geographical constraints, and everything is documented.

This can be a true breeding ground of progress, and what we’ve come to realize is that it’s a huge opportunity for associations; we feel very strongly that virtual conferences are a game changer. It’s a new way for your members to learn, and to engage with your passionate community, and to co-create knowledge. It’s a source of content for your organization. It’s also a source of revenue. And perhaps unexpectedly, it’s a source of excitement for all involved.

The mission is to stimulate innovation in the association industry. One way we do this is by housing strategic discussions, but we’ve realized we can play an even more active role. With that in mind, we’re going to start making a point of opening up our metaphorical hood and showing you what’s under. In this particular case, what we’ve learned is that venturing into virtual conference territory can be really overwhelming, and we want to help.

So with that in mind, we’re in the process of putting together an introductory course on how to produce a virtual conference. The course will air live for the first time on July 20th from 1-2PM EST, and a live chat will run simultaneously. The team will be in the chat answering questions, and attendees will be able to discuss with each other as well. After the live event, we’ll send an eBook out to everyone with key takeaways from the course, because we want the lessons to be immediately actionable.

Since we’re still in the process of crafting the course, and we want to make sure the lessons are on point, we’ve written a few questions to help us understand what the community is most interested in learning about. If you’d like to attend, we’d love for you to fill it out, and of course, we hope to see you virtually on July 20th!