Online... Conferences?

May 16, 2020

Not something I'd imagine to be possible or even desirable, but here I am. In the middle of one, and having gone through a few before. And I have mixed feelings. It is truly a surreal experience. Incredibly alien to me, and I'm having a hard time processing it. This all feels incomplete, and I hope this act of writing makes it clearer for myself.

I don't think the subject matter is relevant. These Toastmasters conferences are, of course, public speaking conferences. Even on zoom, all the public speaking rituals work great! These people should be in front of crowds of hundreds of eyeballs, yet in front of a camera they sweat all the same. One can see on each of their faces the skill and comfort of their trade, as if they were on a real stage.

No. Public speaking online is not the issue. I still get touched by your speeches, you're still feeling whatever pressure you need to feel when delivering them. Public speaking online works.

It's not the workshops or the contests. Online workshops have been functional for many years now. And contests still deliver a great show, with the same quality as ever.

The lack of networking may be it. Yet, I have no problem with understanding this would be missing. It makes sense that idle time would be... truly idle. And I have no problem with that. My introverted side is not worried, and is content to resume networking when it will be possible.

What I feel confuses me the most is the struggle to fit them all in a package. The moderation which tries to turn optimistic by claiming "this would be a great event because it will be one of a kind" with disbelief. All the while proceeding to try and imitate the things which worked on a 2 day hotel retreat which only partially translate online?

Something in this wrapping doesn't hold when a one hour break for lunch is just like a regular walk to the kitchen. Moreover, none of this is specific to one event or another. A conference I've attended doesn't feel more comfortable with itself being online than any other. It is as if effort goes into hiding the fact that we are online.

Online congregations don't have to be that. Gamers can enjoy being online for hours on end campaigning against rival clans and having fun in both small and large groups. All the while networking and bursting into random conversations.

I mean no critique to any event I've been to per se, as I don't have a great answer on how the packaging can be made cohesive. I know not how to move from our familiar landscape to the online one. We've done a great job as a community with each individual element, but the whole still doesn't work. All I know is one day I may be in the organizer's shoes... and then, I wouldn't even be able to notice this perspective. Might as well think about it now.

EDIT: This post is about online events which last at least one day. For shorter events this confusion doesn't seem to manifest for me.