Attending virtual conferences (on testing)

I’m busy right now. Very busy. But I miss going to conferences. I miss getting some new ideas and insights into areas of IT and testing that I’m new to. Luckily, I stumbled over a free, virtual UX conference while checking up on UX articles on SmashingMagazine.
free virtual conference

I immediately signed up. Virtual conferences, how cool is that?! After that I also found OnlineTestConf, another free, virtual test conference. So I signed up for that one as well.

I figured that I could listen to smart people talking, while working and being at home. Since I’ve never tried attending virtual conferences before, I thought I’d make a small guide for others new to the format. So if you are curious about them but haven’t gotten around to try them out yet, this post is for you.

1. Sign up

Joining both virtual conferences took a maximum of 2 minutes. I went to the conference sites, reserved my spot, filled out a form with some personal information (My name, company and e-mail) and.. that’s it!

register virtual conferences

2. Choose your sessions

2 seconds after I received confirmation mails in my inbox, with further instructions about the when’s and the how’s of the conference.

virtual conferences sessions
Agile UX had a lovely overview of the different sessions.

Agile UX had made it so easy to add sessions to my calendar, and that was extremely pleasant! Not only would it make it easier for me to remember to attend the conference. It would also save med some calculation of whether I could actually attend the sessions due to me being a different time zone.

Online Testconf supported adding the whole day to my calendar, so at least I knew when the conference began. Unfortunately I couldn’t add specific sessions. They did however notify me of their Slack channels, so I could join the community some days before the actual conference started.

virtual conferences testconf 2017 slack
The different Slack channels from Online Testconf

Alright! After a few minutes of reading about the different sessions, I was ready to go!

3. Attend the sessions

Both conferences used the app Zoom for distributing the conference, and that worked great! One of the conferences started while I was still at work, so I listened with my headphones on while working. Later I biked home, still listening through my phone.

Agile UX started with a few technical dificulties, which where quickly solved. Communication between participants, speakers, and helpers took place on Zoom’s chat channel. Since the chat was all collected in one place, communication was a little hard to oversee. It also felt more like a webinar than a conference, because they didn’t solicit sociality between participants. Speakers were however good at answering most of the questions they received.

Online Testconf had several Slack channels, where attendees could ask questions to specific sessions, and even though it looked a little confusing, it proved a good idea as the sessions passed by and the chat channels filled up. The people behind the conference answered questions immediately. They also did a nice little thing where they asked the attendants to take a selfie and post it their selfie channel. Seeing real, live people from around the world made the conference seem more “real”, so that was a nice touch.

virtual conferences testconf selfie
Selfie-time at Online Testconf

Afterthoughts on virtual conferences

While I wouldn’t trade a real-life conference for a virtual one, it was still a very cool experience. As with any other conference, some sessions were more interesting than others, and some speakers were better at communicating their message than other.

Focus on words and storytelling, not on graphics and slideshows

In general, the virtual conference format calls for some alternative preparation for the speakers (And the conference helpers). I often listened to the conference without looking at my screen. That meant that I usually did not see the slides the speakers had prepared. Therefore, speakers who were good at telling about their subject came through with much stronger presentations, than the ones who relied on slides.

Pros

  • It’s easy. I did other things at home, while listening to the conference.
  • You can attend even if you’re very busy and don’t have time for travelling
  • If you’re active on the conference’s chat, you still get to socialize with people
  • The distribution software was surprisingly stable, and worked well across platforms.

Cons

  • I miss the physical socializing and meeting new people during and after talks and workshops
  • The format requires the speaker to have a presentation that is not dependent on graphics.
  • Technical issues – there were some (Microphones not working, power point not showing) but mostly the conferences went smooth.

Links to test-related, free, virtual conferences

  • Agile UX Virtual Summit 2017 (The conference in question from this post. The link will probably change for future conferences)
  • OnlineTestConf (The other conference in question. A virtual conference on more traditional test-related subjects.. for those of you who are not as thrilled with UX as I am)
  • StarWest (A physical conferrence streamed online, not a virtual conference per se)
  • StarEast (A physical conferrence streamed online, not a virtual conference per se)
  • SustainableUX (Online conference with a focus on helping beneficial non-profit organisations)