I was privileged to attend the 22nd GTT User's Meeting these past two days. Due to international lockdowns, the conference was made virtual, so I was able to join from the comfort of my home.
It was my first experience of an online conference and I found it to be a highly effective means of sharing presentations and answering audience questions. The sessions were done over Zoom, and the audience were all muted. We were able to type in questions, which the speaker could answer live or by typing. Most of the presentations were pre-recorded and the quality was very good. I think it may have been more of a challenge for the speakers to gauge the audience and the level at which to pitch their talks, but on the whole, they did an excellent job. I thoroughly enjoyed the virtual sessions.
The thing that I did miss out on was the coffee breaks. Even though I don't drink coffee, my favourite part of a conference is to strike up random conversations in the breaks. GTT made an excellent effort to provide for this in Discord. There were live chat rooms for each of the speakers after each session for people to ask more questions, and additional "coffee tables" for people to gather and discuss. I think that perhaps the process was hindered by people being shy, as most of the chatrooms were filled with people on mute. A solution might be for people to turn on their video so that the speakers get some feedback as to who they are talking to. I ended up spending most of my time striking up private chats with different people, to see if I could find anyone interesting to talk to. Thanks to everyone who responded to me!
As a means of sharing technical information, I found the virtual conference to be very effective, but I don't know if there is a perfect solution to the "coffee break" problem. I think I will always miss the personal connection, simply because this is my favourite part. It was nice to at least virtually "see" a few familiar names and make a few new friends, but I look forward to seeing everyone in person sooner rather than later.