Blake Dowling: The joy (and pain) of Zoom conferences

Who will go back to shaking hands and working the room at a conference near you?

June 2020 is here; I was looking at my BC (before corona) calendar; I was supposed to be on the road with my good (corporate) friends Datto in Denver this week.

I was thinking the weather in Denver would have been nice, their roadshows are great, and I love the road with Datto. They are our disaster recovery and backup partner in Connecticut, check us out on their podcast last year as we worked hand in hand after Hurricane Michael.

Oh well, no Denver this summer; it was not to be.

Instead, I received another invite to collaborate with the team at ACE of Florida Foundation on their summer symposium as a virtual speaker on cybersecurity.

If you don’t know about ACE’s mission, it fits perfectly in the “noble” category.

The Ace of Florida Foundation 2020 Virtual Summer Symposium partial speaker lineup.

From their website: “Adult and Community Educators of Florida Foundation, Inc. (the ‘Foundation’) was incorporated August 15, 2011 in order to support the growth of Florida’s economy by helping prepare more than 1 million Floridians who need to improve their literacy skills, who lack a high school credential, or who need to enter postsecondary programs and obtain workforce readiness skills.”

Me? I am up next? Sure, I am ready, born ready, let’s do this.

As I began my presentation, I was wearing my 2020 suit: A dress shirt, sport coat and jeans.

I have the comfortable surroundings of my own office to address the audience; their online platform had great audio and video testing capabilities (a soundcheck, if you will), so we knew going in that the audience would be able to see and hear me.

I have been getting a kick out of this pic during the testing process. It looks like I am about to have a stroke from nerves.

Ironically, despite the pic disputing this fact. as we dove into this talk, I was 100% nerve-free.

As I mentioned earlier, having a “home field” advantage is a clutch for a speaker, as far as being comfortable delivering the message.

And for the attendee?

Complete freedom to watch and learn when they want. Sessions are recorded and immediately available for replay.

No hotel costs, no travel fees.

Also, for the most part, virtual conferences remove the comradery and the networking, but there is still a strong upside here.

There is quite a bit of flexibility for the entity that hosts the conference, as well as for attendees and speakers.

The other side of the coin — as a speaker, you have no idea how your audience is reacting to what you are saying?

For example, I saw one person sign off while I was speaking. (Hmmm, did I just say something stupid?)

But then, I saw a “WOW. GREAT POINT” in the comments section; I was like, “hmmm, did I just say something smart?”

Not having a crowd to react to is tricky, but that is part of the virtual world we are in.

After the event, I spoke with the Executive Director of ACE of Florida. She said:  following: “ I was really nervous taking a 26-year face-to-face meeting event to an online virtual event.  You had better trust your IT guru when you do. Everyone involved in the planning of the event was surprised and extremely pleased with the outcome. Our event was a big success! Taking a chance of making it a virtual conference paid off.  We had several attendees say they did miss not ‘seeing’ everyone, but it was better than not having the event at all!”

The happy hour crowd in Israel as we conference hard.

We have all seen meetings, events, conferences go online, some better than others. The ACE event was an A+ for sure.

When COVID-19 goes away, I think the most interesting thing to see is who will keep the door open for online events? Who will go back to shaking hands and working the room at a conference near you?

Overall, I enjoy the world of virtual meetings and conferences, but without these real events in our life there is a void. Conferences I have attended over the years — from Jerusalem to Vegas to Orlando — put me in front of and beside people very different from myself; that’s where we really learn, where we really move forward as a global force.

I remember my conference in Israel like it was yesterday, we had a happy hour crew of folks from India, Vietnam, England, America, etc. who gathered every night and for all the differences, and learning we had even more commonality.

We are just people, after all.

While we are on the subject of “we are all people,” 2020 will go down as one of the worst. A brutal pandemic and the unacceptable murder of George Floyd are just two examples of our country at its absolute worst.

The time to grow together is here, and as the pandemic ends (soon, please) and hurricane season begins, let’s look out for each other.

As my wife always says, it takes a village to get things done.

What can we do to see that things change for the better? Do you know the term qualified immunity? Is it time to get rid of it?

Should we create a national use of force standard? Create a track for law enforcement careers that starts in middle schools? It’s time to act, it’s time for innovative ideas.

It is time for murder and injustice to end.

My prayers to everyone on earth for a better tomorrow. And for those in the Sunshine State, I hope to see you out there at a conference in Florida very soon.

Peter Schorsch from Florida Politics will be a speaker at the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Conference in August? Sounds like a plan to me; it will be the first in-person conference on my calendar (BC & AC).

Thank you for reading and stay safe Florida.


Blake Dowling is the CEO of Aegis Business Technologies, host of the Biz & Tech podcast, and writes for several organizations. He consults on cybersecurity regularly and can be reached at [email protected].

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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