#FinCon21 Recap: My Virtual Experience
And just like that, another FinCon is in the books. As I mentioned in my preview, although this year marked the return to an in-person event (taking place in Austin, Texas), I made the last-minute decision to go virtual. Of course, with approximately 20% of conference attendees choosing this option, there were plenty of tools and accommodations in place to give those of us joining from home as much of the experience as possible.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at my #FinCon21, including what I think were the highlights:
My Virtual #FinCon21 Experience
The virtual interface
Having attended last year’s FinCon X virtual event, I definitely had a leg-up when it came to orienting myself to the interface I’d be using for this year’s festivities. From the main online portal, you could make status posts that would be shared with all Austin and Virtual attendees, access the schedule of sessions, view said sessions, and more.
Starting with the first element on that list, it turns out that these social media-eque posts could actually be quite useful. In fact, I was able to discover that one of the co-founders of a FinTech app I’ve been following was a fellow virtual attendee! By commenting on her post, we were able to connect, potentially giving me a front-row seat to her company’s journey.
Meanwhile, I also loved that the schedule was readily accessible as, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what was happening when. This section also contained links and/or embeds to everything you’d need, making it a great central resource. I also loved that you could watch sessions in a mini-player while exploring the rest of the platform.
Speaking of sessions…
As part of the virtual FinCon package, a few select sessions were broadcast live from Austin. These were mainly the keynote presentations (including the Big Ideas speeches I mentioned in my “most anticipated” post) but included a couple of others as well. Just as you’d expect, these livestreams were high-quality and, frankly, were about as close an experience to being there IRL as you’re going to get. There was one minor hiccup when a session went over and promptly cut off at its scheduled time but, other than that, I had no issues. It was also nice to see what was going on in Austin even if I couldn’t be there in person.
Due to something called “bandwidth” (both literal and metaphorical), not every Austin session was live streamed. This, of course, makes perfect sense given the realities of technology and I don’t quite know why I didn’t realize this earlier. So, during session times, virtual attendees were treated to prerecorded presentations covering a variety of different topics. What was particularly nice was that, if you were checking out a session and decided to try something else out instead, you could do so — and without missing anything. Plus, with the sessions varying in length, there were some instances where I’d be able to consume two of them in a single one-hour session before moving on to the next activity.
From the prerecorded sessions I watched, I thought that the content was solid. Sure, it’s not exactly the same as being in person, but the knowledge and ideas being dispensed certainly didn’t suffer from the medium. And, again, it was nice to be able to rewind, skip ahead, or whatever else.
Obviously, while sessions can be prerecorded or streamed, the most challenging part of a virtual FinCon is recreating the networking experience that’s so key to the conference. Well, the team employed a super interesting tool to help virtual attendees mingle. Using a platform called Wonder, you could pop into a number of different meet-ups. After connecting your camera and mic, you would guide your avatar to one of the designated “rooms” (these were labeled for different niches or tracks, etc. depending on the intended theme) and join a circle. Of course, if you wanted to keep exploring, you could easily pop into other meetings as well or just hang out in the hall with a friend.
I have to say, this set-up was actually a ton of fun. Sure, the premise seems a little silly when you first get started, but the execution is really quite smart and worked well IMHO. This platform was also how I got to catch up with some friends I’ve made at past FinCons. It was really great to get to chat with them about the crazy year and a half we’ve had, how their endeavors are going, and whatever else. In that aspect, it really made me feel like I was getting the full FinCon experience, which I was definitely thankful for.
Beyond the Wonder-powered networking sessions, I also had the chance to chat with fellow virtual attendees via a planned meet-up. In this particular case, Justine Nelson of Debt Free Millennials was kind enough to organize a mastermind session of sorts for YouTubers and aspiring YouTubers. Impressively, around 30 people ended up coming in and out throughout the hour+ long hang.
This chat was not only a lot of fun but also gave me some new ideas. Plus, seeing as many of the attendees were new to YouTube or were still considering creating a channel, I was honored to share some of my insights and experiences over the past three years. So, I’d once again like to thank Justine for getting the ball rolling on this one as it ended up being one of my highlights for my week.
Finally, as someone who does a lot of financial app and product reviews, I also love exploring FinCon Central and making connections with brands. Of course, once again, translating this to a virtual setting is not an easy task. And, unfortunately, that reality showed.
Granted, just being able to see the list of brands that were there gave me some leads on what to check out. Alas, as far as actually connecting with these companies, it was pretty hit or miss (mostly miss). I heard this from several others as well who were disappointed to find that many of the brands simply didn’t have time for virtual attendees and would tell them to visit the booth instead. Personally, just hearing this, I didn’t bother too much with even trying. Still, as I said, I do intend on Googling some of the brands that interested me and I’m sure that we can find other ways to connect if needed.
Did I make the right call?
For me, yes. While I absolutely missed the in-person element of FinCon and had moments where I regretted not going, I ultimately think that the virtual path was the correct option for me this time around. The more casual virtual approach worked well, while also saving me money and drive time. Also, looking at photos from the event, I’m not sure I would have quite felt comfortable as I ease my way into remembering what “normal life” consists of. So, while I’ll definitely be looking to return to that in-person life next year, I’m satisfied with my 2021 pick.
Speaking of next year, while #FinCon22 was to take place in Long Beach (which, if you’ll recall, the doomed 2020 edition was supposed to be), the latest communications suggest that’s now a bit up in the air as there’s a lot to figure out. Personally, I’d love a Long Beach edition as I know this would make it easier for my California friends to attend, but I also wouldn’t be opposed to it being a bit closer to my neck of the woods — Kansas City, perhaps? In any case, I’ll be keeping an eye on developments for next year and looking forward to enjoying the full experience once again.
Overall, I’d say #FinCon21 was another success on my end. Being virtual did make for a different experience, to be sure, but I was definitely impressed with what I was able to enjoy and accomplish during the conference. That said, there’s still plenty of FinCon fun left to have as there’s a lot more content for me to consume. So, until next time, happy Con.
Also published on Medium.