Virtual Vs Physical Writing Conference

Joan Jedy

Virtual Vs Physical Writing Conference

Published: June 20, 2020

Last weekend I took part in my first virtual writing conference. I was both a panelist and in the audience for some sessions. I have attended physical writing conferences in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton and there is a definite difference between the two. In my opinion each has its own pros and cons.

There is a lot of coordinating and cost for the organizers of the physical conference. They have to find a venue usually a hotel with boardrooms. This allows the panelists and attendees to book a room and stay close to the conference. There are usually guests of honour who have to be paid. Besides monetary costs it takes a lot of time to figure out the panels: subjects, panelists, and the timing of sessions to accommodate writers or editors publishers who are on more than one panel. They also have to recruit volunteers to look after the rooms. These volunteers make sure the moderator runs on schedule, the audience clears out in time for the next one, and there are fresh glasses and jugs of water for each new session.

There are also costs for the panelists and audience members of the physical conference. If they don’t live in the city where the conference is being held they have to travel which entails gas, hotel, and meals or plane tickets and car rental plus hotel and meals. If a presenter wants to be in the audience of any of the sessions they have to pay the registration fee just like everyone else. There is the also the extra cost of a banquet ticket if one is planned.

I live on Vancouver Island and in order to attend a physical conference I have to drive 1.5 hours to the ferry, and to make sure I get on it I have to be there about an hour early or pay for a reservation. Then it is almost two hours ferry travel to Vancouver. So that is four hours. If I am going to Calgary or Edmonton, it is another day’s drive. I could fly which is quicker but I would still have to pay for the ticket and to rent a vehicle to get around once there.

Like the physical conference it would have taken a lot of time to plan the arrangement of the panels and panelists of the virtual conference. Monetary costs were probably low because there was no venue, no banquet, and no guests of honour.

It cost me, and everyone else who took part, nothing to attend the virtual conference either as a panelist or an audience member. I had no plane ticket or vehicle gas and parking to pay for, no hotel room to book, and no new clothes.

The length of the physical conference has to work around the time frame of the panelists and attendees. Unless they take a day off work the first panels can’t start too early on the Friday because of ability to get there. For that same reason, it has to close early on the Sunday so those leaving can start their long drive home or get to the airport in time to catch their plane.

Because there is no travel involved, the first session of a virtual conference can start around the time people get home from work on the Friday. The only thing everyone has to remember is the difference between time zones. Being on the west coast the morning sessions started very early for me. The evening sessions ended before my supper time.

When it was time to be a panelist I set my computer up and clicked on the link a few minutes before the session was to start. Pictures of the other panelists showed up on my screen and we visited a few minutes before the moderator started the session. When I was in the audience I clicked on the link and waited for the panelists to show up on my screen.



For a virtual conference because it is basically a shoulders and head shot I just have to wear a good top and comb my hair. I have to make sure there is no light like a window behind to put my face in shadow. Also, depending on where I am I could have some unexpected interruptions—pets, children, phone ringing.

Getting ready for a physical conference I have to pack enough clothes for the weekend. If I am on a panel I have to make sure I have all my material with me when I leave home. If I forget anything, I am out of luck. No packing for a virtual conference and all my material will be in my house somewhere.

At a physical conference there are many panels taking place at the same time which can be frustrating if I want to attend more than one of them. For this virtual conference only one panel was offered each hour so I was able to take part in as many as I wanted. When I finished my panel or the presentation was over I could leave my office and pet my cats, pick strawberries, sit on my deck, or train my chickens to run an obstacle course.

The downside to the virtual conference is that the only people I see are my fellow panelists. I don’t see the audience expressions so there is no interaction between me and them. I like to watch them to see if they are bored or glad that they came. I am happy to see that ‘ahah’ moment when something I say answers a problem they have been having.

At both conferences there is time for the audience to ask questions. When answering a question at a physical conference I can speak with the audience face to face, I can judge to see if my answer is making sense. The questions at a virtual conference are typed so I don’t see the person asking. When I answer it I am only looking at my fellow panelists.

Part of the fun of going to a physical conference is the contact with my fellow writers. We can meet for meals or a drink or have a quick chat between panels. I can walk through the conference centre soaking up the writing atmosphere. I meet readers, talk about books, and get feedback on my own books. It is wonderful when someone comes up to me and tells me they enjoyed a presentation I made or want some advice, or liked one of my books. This does stroke my ego because we writers need to have our egos stroked once in a while. We spend months, years alone writing a book, wondering if a publisher is going to like it and if a publisher does, will the readers like it and if they do will they tell us. It is a great feeling to go to the Venders Room and see my books displayed on my publisher’s table. Even better to have someone buy one of mine and ask for an autograph.

During a virtual conference, there is a vendor’s room showing a picture of all the panelists and their books. There is also a chat room where authors and readers can connect.

There are a lot of differences between the two conferences. Most physical conferences have been cancelled for this year or turned into a virtual conference which is perfect in today’s time of lockdown and social distancing. In the future I am sure they will return as writers and readers decide what they like best: the convenience of the virtual conference or the comradery of the physical conference. I like both and if, in the future, I am able to attend either of them, I will.



-Joan Jedy

June 20, 2020

Tags: #JoanJedy #Blog #Opinion