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Are Online Conferences Worthwhile?

With large conferences going online for the foreseeable future, many ask if it is even worth it to attend in this new format. Last week I attended the Adobe MAX online conference. In this post we look my impression and what other online conferences can learn from Adobe.

Last week I attended the Adobe MAX conference. I have wanted to attend this conference for years, but it is fairly expensive as conferences go. I am not a true graphic designer, so I have never been able to justify the cost. This year, Adobe offered this conference, free of charge, to anyone, anywhere in the world! The caveat obviously being that it was delivered 100% online. While I had some reservations about this format, I am elated to say that I got a lot out of this conference. Let’s take a look at what Adobe did right to make this online conference successful.


Adobe MAX is a product-focused event. The keynote focuses on new features of their product like Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, etc… The keynote, co-hosted by Shantanu Narayen and Conan O’Brian, featured designers and staff who demonstrated new or upcoming features of their products. I found this just as useful, if not maybe more useful, than live keynotes I have attended. In fact, I have re-watched it a few times to review some of the demonstrations.

Concurrent sessions

online conferences - concurrent sessions

One conundrum about conferences is picking the sessions that apply to you and your job. I hate that moment when I am in a session and realize it is not applicable to me and I have to do that polite-as-possible exit and check my guide to find something else. Alternately, sometimes there are two sessions at once that I want to attend. Adobe MAX posted hundreds of sessions on-demand that I could watch when I had time. In fact, I am still catching up on a few. I hope other online conferences take note of this being a benefit to attendees.


Online conferences do not have ice cream social hours or big display booths like in-person conferences. None-the-less, Adobe found ways to interact with the audience. Live streaming sessions with question and answer opportunities gave attendees the chance to meet presenters and discuss the products and their features. Once again, I found this maybe even more useful than talking to conference presenters because of the on-line chat discuss the presenters facilitated. In some instances, it felt more like a conversation than a presentation.


This conference is known for giving out some pretty amazing SWAG. While there were not sponsored booths this year, Adobe did find ways to get some SWAG out to some of the attendees. My new tee-shirt and mask are a beautifully designed and will serve as a reminder of these times.

Final Thoughts on Online Conferences

Online conferences can be fantastic. Adobe MAX is known for being incredible, and they did not disappoint. If you are considering attending an online conference, I think you might be surprised just how much you can take away from these events.

If you happen to be attending ATD’s 2020 Virtual Conference this week, be sure to check out my colleague, Brian Washburn, presenting at 12:15pm Eastern, where he will be (virtually) talking about the 51 elements in Endurance Learning’s Periodic Table of Amazing Learning Experiences.

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