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Pros and Cons of virtual events

  • 1.  Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 07-29-2020 09:21 PM
    As long as I am checking my email inbox during the COVID-19 time, I am noticing advertisements on VIRTUAL EVENTS here and there. 

    Recently, I received the ASCE Virtual Technical Conference 2020 announcement! 
    Check the link here; https://vtech.asce.org/

    Looking at not having many options, what do you think of virtual events? 

    In my opinion, I prefer face-to-face conferences with all the actual networking.
    On the other side, do you think online events should be cheaper?

    Share the pros and cons of such events with the civil engineering community on this thread.   

    Hala Abdo, E.I.T, A.M.ASCE
    Road AND Drainage Engineer in Training
    FAM Construction - Fairfax, VA

  • 2.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-02-2020 06:21 PM
    Thanks Hala for opening this! I do think that virtual online conferences are quite expensive atm. I wish they were more affordable.
    Have you ever attended a virtually one? How did they do the networking? Was it effective?

    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Washington State University

  • 3.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-03-2020 10:10 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 08-03-2020 10:09 AM
    Hala, Tung,

    I agree that there are downsides to virtual events but I think there are a few unseen benefits and possible potentials of virtual events.

    • The most obvious being that it is easier to attend a conference that is far away or at a non-ideal time due to a lack of travel required.
    • Additionally, the overhead for virtual events is less, allowing lower prices.
    • Another benefit of virtual events is the ability to have all questions and voices have an equal say (in chatboxes and such).
    • If you don't find the lecture interesting you can always log off and find a lecture that does pique your interest.
    • I think virtual networking can utilize face-to-face interaction to allow connections that would have never occurred. Perhaps an event where you "speed date" 4 or 5 other professionals for a quick one-on-one interaction then swap contact info after. 
    Overall, I think people are still new to virtual events and therefore we haven't seen the true potential of virtual events. 

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Junior Engineer
    Brooklyn NY

  • 4.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-03-2020 10:49 AM
    Ohh! I like that speed-dating model for networking.

    Ari Daniels, P.E., M.ASCE
    Water Resources Engineer
    Center for Watershed Protection, Inc.

  • 5.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-05-2020 09:18 AM
    Thanks Daniel! You brought up some great points. I like the 'speed date' setup too. We did something similar during one of our alumni meetings and it was great. Everyone was put in a Zoom room with other 5-6 persons for about 10-15 minutes then we randomly switched to different rooms in the next rounds.

    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Washington State University

  • 6.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-03-2020 08:38 AM
    This is a great question for our time! I have been to many 3D (live) conferences, and I've attended one, and helped host one, 2D (virtual) conference. Truly, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. I'm an extrovert, so my preference is also for 3D conferences, but:

    • There is a different level of connection possible when dealing with people in person. If attending a virtual conference, make sure video is possible for networking.
    • You "get to" travel. (There is a con associated with this also.) I always enjoyed visiting other places.
    • Less chance for technical issues. The virtual conferences are still often a little clumsy from a technical perspective.
    • {cough, cough} (Spread of disease was already a concern before a pandemic. Now it's just a deal-breaker. I don't care whether there are official restrictions in place. I'm not going to a large gathering until COVID-19 is a distant memory I get to joke about with people.)
    • Higher cost - the cost of the conference is almost always significantly higher for an in-person event, but there are also many ancillary costs like travel, food, pet care, etc.
    • You *have to* travel. Even though I like being other places, getting there almost always stinks. Air travel is just not going to be the same for a while, and driving limits comfortable distances. Of course, I don't want to be in a space with strangers now anyway, so...
    • Technical difficulties - these are largely avoidable with a little practice and planning, and a good service provider.
    • Lower cost - while the cost may seem high for these conferences now, having been on the back end of two of them, I think generally they are very cheap. Plus, you don't have the costs associated with travel, so the reduced ticket/registration price is actually a greatly reduced overall price. It looks like the ASCE V-Tech conference is roughly $50/day. This is a great deal, generally. Any in-person conference I have ever attended was minimum $125/day, and as much as $250-300/day. There is still cost to organize and deliver a virtual conference. (Can't use the free versions of anything, and there's a lot of staff time.)
    • No travel / You can attend from the comfort of wherever you are. This means so many different things to different people.
      • No risk of disease spread.
      • Eat your own food. This is lower cost, and much better for people with food allergies, preferences, dietary restrictions, etc. Try being gluten-free or vegan at a 3D conference. Then try that, with maybe 6 food allergies on top. Or try eating ethically! 98% of the time, not even the caterer knows where the food came from, apart from "the truck."
      • It doesn't disrupt your other routines or necessities. You can break for pet or child care. You don't have to hunt for a restroom. You get to sleep in your own bed.
    • Recordings! One of the biggest problems with in-person events is choosing which sessions to attend. With virtual conferences, often recordings of ALL sessions are made available to attendees. Of course, this benefit assumes you have time to go back and watch later. :-)
    • Can draw a much broader and/or larger attendance. A 3D conference in Australia is not an option for me, but I could attend online. A 3D conference in California would be an option, but a difficult one, but online it's easy. Between lower cost and greater geographic diversity, there is potential for a much greater attendance, and greater mix of people.
    • Networking takes real thought and planning on the part of the organizers. I rarely see this executed well. There are relatively simple ways to do it, but often the platform a conference provider uses constrains them in other ways, and the networking piece is the one i consistently see fall short.
    • Not everyone has good internet. This is still a very real problem in many areas. I live in a very rural area, and happen to be very lucky with 10 Mbps internet. There are plenty of people near me without broadband, or with very slow "broadband." If your internet is no good, your conference is no good.
    • It can be harder to stay focused/engaged with a smaller screen and no actual people around, especially in the middle of the day for me.
      • Coffee, or a little brief intense cardio exercise to get the blood flowing, can help.
    Also, one general consideration is that the online conferences probably have a naturally shorter sustainable length. That V-Tech conference looks like it's 4-5 days. That's a LOT of time to stay glued to your screen just watching other people. I haven't looked closely at the structure of that conference, but hopefully you can sort of pick and choose, and pay for only portions. Or hopefully they have a lot of active engagement planned. A long day of lectures in 3D is tough enough.

    Back to work for me!

    Ari Daniels, P.E.
    Water Resources Engineer
    Center for Watershed Protection, Inc.

  • 7.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-05-2020 09:18 AM
    Thank you Ari for the detailed answer! I'm glad that you mentioned 'Recordings'. This might be the best thing about virtual conferences especially really big ones. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is no longer a problem (speaking from my own experience) :)

    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Washington State University

  • 8.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-10-2020 03:42 PM


    This is a a very valid concern considering the current situation and no matter how much we like being Physically present in events and being able interact and socialize with other individuals, it seems we will have to wait a little more for things to relax. Considering the fact that this kind of situation can come again through some new strain in future i think companies will think hard of ways to make virtual events the new norm and The number of physical events will come down even after COVID ends.

    And it's obvious that new innovations will come up to make the virtual events more like actual gatherings by use of New technology. Technologies like Augmented reality and 3D glasses can very easily bridge the gap. Even now we do have Microsoft Halo Lens which can do the trick but it's very costly now. Facebook, Apple  and google all seem to be working on a similar technologies but under a 400$ ballpark.

    Mandeep Singh Kohli CP, M.ASCE
    Senior Engineer

  • 9.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-18-2020 07:10 PM

    As a former undergraduate and graduate student, then faculty professor in the US and other countries and finally ocasional speaker in engineering conferences, I don´t believe that virtual events can replace the effect of face-to-face interactions and community sharing during actual conferences.

    My opinion is not just related to the obvious convenience of technical and political networking during real events, but also to the importance of spontaneity in interacting with the speaker or presenter, and exchanging thoughts and opinions with colleges sharing the event, even during the presentations.

    Also when I attend a conference, my mind is set in a way that allows me to concentrate in the event and all that comes with it, during the days it lasts. Instead, the attention to virtual events on the part of the attendee, is frequently shared with other issues that are normally going on at the remote location (home, office, special facility, etc.) from where the attendee is connected.

    I acknowledge that virtual events can be accommodated to a more convenient time during the day, and that the costs of transportation, room and board are avoided, but we engineers are often deprived from expressing opinions at home, so taking a trip to attend a conference is something we normally look forward to, just for the joy of having an opportunity to talk, discuss and being listened to by our peers.

    Horacio Ibarra P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil/Highway Engineer

  • 10.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-19-2020 04:44 PM
    Hi Horacio, thanks for your post.
    What caught my eye were your closing reflections.

    "but we engineers are often deprived from expressing opinions at home,
    so taking a trip to attend a conference is something we normally look forward to,
    just for the joy of having an opportunity to talk,  discuss and being listened to by our peers."

    Wow! What a piercing insight!

    When you have a moment, could you share some specifics about the above experiences?

    Stay Healthy!


    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 11.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-20-2020 04:55 PM

    Hi Bill. I appreciate your interest in my comments.

    I took advantage of the "Engineers Stereotype" – of us living in our own world that the rest of lay people do not understand – to close the comment with a jovial statement, which I consider relevant nonetheless. During lockdown we regularly have web meetings among family members living in different parts of the world, and we have a couple of engineers in the group. Every time the conversation shifts towards an exchange between us about certain technical topic, the rest of the participants start making fun of us, claiming that the meeting got hijacked, so we have to stop. Of course we are all joking, us engineers doing it on purpose and the rest of the family reacting on purpose too. The same happens in other chat groups with friends. Perhaps I am too passionate at what I do and it often shows.

    But for me the ASCE seminar is a very special event that would not be as enjoyable if it was held in a virtual format. And here is why.

    In 2014, while I was assigned to Panama as a regional manager for Latin America, I contributed to bringing the 2014 ASCE Conference to Panama. It was a very rare occasion of the conference being held outside the US and it was a sound success. Back then I was the president of the ASCE Panama Section, and we coordinated efforts with my friend Guna Kancheepuram, who acted as Chairman of the conference, with then president Andy Herrmann and with Pat Natale. The motivation was that the Panama Canal, designed and built by american engineers, was celebrating its 100 year anniversary.

    So many colleagues from Region 10 (the rest of the world), that could never get a US visa to attend a conference in the US, flocked in from all over the world. I had the chance to give a couple of speeches and made tons of friends and contacts.

    Perhaps someone could argue that the pure technical stuff could be well broadcasted and shared with even more people over the internet. But so could a simple technical paper in a journal.

    We are field people and being out in the field brings out the best of us. I would like it to continue being that way.

    Best regards,


    Horacio V. Ibarra, PE.
    Engineering Consultant

    Geotechnical/Tranportation/Waste Management
    Off: (507) 397-5126 

    Cell: (507) 6400 3887  

    E-mail: horaibarra@...


  • 12.  RE: Pros and Cons of virtual events

    Posted 08-21-2020 03:24 PM

    Hi Horacio,

    Thanks for the candid sharing of behaviors you have experienced during virtual communication with different types of participants during this CV period.

     The participant groups you noted are:

    1. Professional conferences virtually.
    2. Family members virtually.

     The downsides you note for #1 above are becoming common, suggesting the establishment of a "Virtual Conference Opportunities For Improvement Task Force." Perhaps you might encourage those who share the same downsides to initiate such a "VCOI Task Force" with ASCE as well as NSPE, ACEC, etc.

    The issue with #2. above is that it is organized, run and utilized by family and friends.
    Supported by the wisdom "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," unless you have an extremely high tolerance for 'pain:'

    1. Never, ever suggest changes, for any portion of this virtual chat-time. . .before, during, and after.
    2. Stifle your well-understood bias that for most all of life's challenges, engineers have the answer!
    3. Confirm that the virtual exchanges are NOT being recorded.
    4. For a few new points made by others, ask them "Really? That's an interesting point. Can you tell us a bit more?"

    Stay Healthy!



    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880