RSA Conference 2021. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

RSA Doubles Down On Virtual For 2021 Conference

Expanded program, more interactivity and new sponsor opportunities as conference reaches out to global audience in its 30th year

David Braue

Melbourne, Australia – Feb. 23, 2021

The need to hold industry conferences virtually may have muted the water-cooler camaraderie of previous physical events, but the organisers of the RSA Conference are determined to play to the strengths, and demands, of virtual interaction as they gear up for their largest-ever virtual event.

Extensive learnings from the virtual RSA Conference 2020 Asia Pacific & Japan — held in mid-July 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was continuing to gain pace in that region and around the world — will leave this year’s USA event “looking and feeling a little different” when it starts on May 17, RSA Conference Vice President Linda Gray Martin told Cybercrime Magazine in a recent podcast interview.

The virtual event — which comes as RSA celebrates its 30th anniversary from humble beginnings in 1991 — will incorporate “a lot of similar elements, although they may look a little different as we adapt our offerings to the virtual world,” Gray Martin explained.

Changes such as the delivery of more than 300 sessions across 24 tracks, alongside a program of shorter but twice-daily keynotes, will supplement special programs like the Innovation Sandbox, interactive Capture the Flag sessions, and Digital Expo.

Traditional sessions will be blended with sessions incorporating live “fireside chats,” she said, noting that “we want to make sure that we maintain that ability to have spontaneous conversations, for questions to be asked of speakers, and for engagements to happen.”

“That’s what we all love about RSA conferences, so we’ve built those experiences into the overall programming and plan so we can harness the best of the digital platform to deliver that high quality, educational value that RSA is known to have.”

Accentuate the positives

Despite the slow movement back towards normal as the vaccine rollout progresses, the decision to keep this year’s event virtual was both hard and necessary, Gray Martin said.

“It does hurt not to be together physically,” she admitted, “but it’s just a sign of the times and we’re grateful we still get the opportunity to bring the industry together.”

Yet the virtual format also offers many positives, such as the planned addition of an as-yet-unnamed New York-based emcee, a roster of “special guest appearances,” and the ability for delegates to attend virtually from all over the world.

It will also facilitate many of the same sorts of value-added sessions that make the RSA Conference so valuable for many attendees — such as closed-door sessions for CSOs and other specific audiences.

Target virtual programs “have actually really thrived this year,” said Britta Glade, senior director for content and curation with RSA Conference, “with additional online elements adding things that hadn’t necessarily been done in the past — but that the community really wanted. They valued their experiences and the ability to share with one another.”

Given its traditional reliance on face-to-face contact, translating the sponsor-focused Digital Expo into the virtual world has proven particularly challenging: “It does look different in a virtual world, without a shadow of a doubt,” Gray Martin said, but the design of the virtual Digital Expo “will try to recreate that kind of expo vibe.”

The area will offer extensive value-add for commercial partners who will be able to engage attendees — both through live virtual meetings and video marketing content — in a range of ways.

“It’s not just our partners, but all the other companies that invest time and money in positioning their own activities around the RSA Conference,” Gray Martin added. “We really hope to be able to emulate that — and something that has been really heartening to the team is the support that we get from the industry.”

For all of the virtual conference’s logistical differences, Glade believes the content will ultimately speak for itself — particularly given the relevance and strong submissions in areas like the new track focused on securing the remote workforce.

“Every single one of us can have a conversation about what is resilience,” Glade explained, noting the efforts of the program committee to combine rearview-mirror introspection with sharing of presenters’ plans for building a more secure future.

“As an industry, we really epitomize resilience,” Glade explained, “and it was exciting to see that come through in the submissions that were made from the community. I believe you’ll see a very rich program that’s reflective of this fabulous theme.”

And as for next year?

“We certainly hope to be back in San Francisco in 2022,” Gray Martin said, “but I do think virtual will always be around — albeit it may look a little bit different if we get back to a physical state.”

“We just have to sit tight, wait and see — and be flexible and nimble, which are two qualities that we have really learned a lot about this year.”

– David Braue is an award-winning technology writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

Go here to read all of David’s Cybercrime Magazine articles.