On April 15, more than 1,100 people streamed into a sunlit atrium flanked with palm trees for a Women in CyberSecurity networking event: WiCyS Virtual 20. Moderators roamed the halls, guiding visitors to their destinations — an auditorium for keynote presentations, the networking lounge where attendees could mingle with their peers in cybersecurity, or the exhibition hall where they could visit company booths.

It was everything that you’ve come to expect from a conference, except that it was all virtual.

Like thousands of other event organizers, Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) had initially planned for an in-person event until the spread of COVID-19 made gathering in large crowds too dangerous, said the group’s executive director, Lynn Dohm. While she considered canceling, an outpouring of support from the cybersecurity organization’s members encouraged her to see what virtual events had to offer.

During a feverish three-week sprint, Dohm and a team of 26 volunteers worked with the virtual event platform vFairs to put together eight social gatherings, seven keynotes and 22 presentations over a three-day virtual conference. The results surprised everyone involved.

“People never expected the networking to be so robust; they never expected that in-person feeling,” Dohm said. “We had some people say it was like being at a real conference, except your feet aren’t sore and you’re not exhausted at the end of the night.”

Dohm’s experience coincided with a shift in the events landscape. It may be hard to remember, but pre-COVID-19, virtual events were a rarity. Marketers feared it would cannibalize in-person attendance, and most people associated virtual events with yawn-inducing webinars.

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Brian Nordli (2020, June 9). Women Changemakers in Cybersecurity by Brian Contos. Security Boulevard. https://builtin.com/marketing/virtual-event-engagement-strategies