15 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Next Virtual Conference
Living in the reality of Covid-19 means many of the events we attended last year will now host their conferences virtually. To help you prepare for this new reality Unleashed would like to share 15 tips to get the most out of your virtual conference.
Let’s start with what a virtual conference is. In many cases, a virtual conference is going to be a web-conference, an all-encompassing term to describe the processes of connecting individuals or groups from separate geographies utilizing the internet, online programs, and a learning management system (LMS) to have live presentations, training webinars, collective meetings or video conferences. Web conferences allow for real-time communication. This can be from one sender to many receivers or from multiple senders to many receivers and any variation in between. Essentially it is a way for content, whether it be text-based messages, voice, or video chat, to be shared simultaneously across many geographic locations.
Now that you know what a virtual conference is, you might still be curious as to why you should attend. Right now, there may not be another choice. A virtual conference may be the only way to get information that will further your personal or professional growth or get vital updates about your industry. However, there are many other upsides to attending a virtual conference, such as lower cost, more flexibility, and being able to digest the information presented for a more extended period of time.
So let’s get started on how you can get the most out of your next virtual conference.
1. Set Goals
Before you register to attend any form of professional gathering, you should ask yourself, “what do I want to gain from this event?” The answer to this question will lead you to your conference goals. Because a virtual conference tends to leave more opportunities for distraction, it is important to clearly define the goals for each event before you attend. If you feel stuck or need help with setting goals, ask your manager or peers for assistance.
2. Use LinkedIn
Before most conferences, you have the opportunity to obtain an “attendee list,” a list of everyone that signed up for the event. In most cases, it is free if you go directly to the event organizers. This list normally includes attendees' full name, email address, and company. If you use conferences to network, this list is gold. Go through the list and connect with your peers on LinkedIn. By connecting with your peers, you will gain someone to talk about the conference content with and set up foundations for lasting relationships.
3. Invite Your Office
Conferences are often used to share ideas, best practices, and new techniques. While you may learn everything in a day, it may take longer than that to implement the new skills or mind-set. Just like starting a new diet or workout routine, success is often linked to a strong support system, so if possible, make one out of your coworkers. Many virtual events offer free or reduced admission, take it as an opportunity to invite a member of your office who can then help you make a success of your virtual conference.
4. Share on Social Media
LinkedIn is known for its professional networking, but it is not the only digital connection platform. If you have an active Facebook or Twitter following, consider sharing your plans to attend the virtual conference. Sharing the events you are attending will help event organizers with promotion and may connect you with someone also interested in the conference material. You may even inspire a friend or two to attend, giving you one more contact to enhance your virtual conference experience. Lastly, connecting with the conference organization will alert you to any last-minute changes or event updates.
5. Connect on Event-specific Forums
Many larger conferences offer their own forum for attendees to connect and get to know each other before the conference begins. It is great to take advantage of this for traditional conferences, but it is crucial to use it when going virtual. Doing so will make you more than a user name and make others want to build a professional relationship with you both during the conference and after.
6. Dedicate Time to Attend
When you sign up for a traditional in-person conference, you generally block off the entire day to attend sessions, meet with other attendees, and digest the information from the valuable speakers. You must continue this practice when attending a virtual conference. Do not fall in a distraction trap. Get the most out of your virtual conference by devoting time to its success.
7. Make a Plan
Before the conference, you will receive a list of sessions and their schedule. Take a moment to research each session and its speaker, then choose the sessions that you want to attend. Once you have chosen your sessions, put them in your calendar as you are committing to be engaged in that subject at that time with other attendees. Many people fall into the “I’ll watch it later” trap. If you do that, you will miss out on interacting with an engaged group of peers, getting your unique questions answered, and giving valuable feedback to make your experience better next year. Stick to your plan.
8. Understand the Conference Tech
Virtual conferences need an array of tools to share and engage with attendees. The three most common technologies each conference will utilize is a content sharing platform such as SharePoint, video conference platform like Zoom and possibly an LMS like Moodle. It is important to know what technologies the organizers are using to prepare for each session. If you need to download extra software or reset a password, you could miss out on valuable insights and information.
9. Test your Technology
Before the event kicks off, take a few minutes to test your computer set up. Make sure to test your internet speed, listen for obnoxious echos, and have the correct sign-in credentials needed for all accounts. Taking these steps will save you time later and make the conference more enjoyable for everyone.
10. Dress the Part
Sometimes it is hard to get our head in the space needed to learn, innovate, and socialize when we’re in bed rocking a t-shirt and morning breath. It’s pretty unimpressive over webcam as well. A more valuable tactic is to get up on time, eat a healthy breakfast, and dress as you would for any event with your professional network. It will help you conquer your conference goals and prepare you for the unexpected video chat with the CEO you’ve been trying to connect with for months.
11. Prepare Webcam
Speaking of that unexpected video chat with the CEO, it is important to set up your video and audio at a professional level. Place your camera at eye level, find natural light, and remove any clutter from your background. While you may not plan to show your face and space, it is better to be prepared. You will make considerably deeper and lasting connections by being more than a username and voice.
12. Turn Off Notifications
When you attend a traditional event, hopefully, you have the opportunity to turn off your notifications and put your phone on silent. Part of the conference experience is “getting away from it all” to focus on the material at hand. You still deserve that, so set up an out-of-office message, put your phone on vibrate, and turn off the outside world (if you can) to make the most of your virtual experience.
Attending an online conference gives attendees more of an opportunity to shy away from the limelight and hide their valuable opinions. To get the most out of a virtual conference, you must avoid the seduction of seclusion. Participating in polls, trivia, or Q&A’s makes a great shared experience for everyone who attends. Synergy is the superpower that makes conferences a must for many people and organizations. Without a collective input, there is far less benefit for everyone involved in the virtual event.
14. Connect with Vendors
Vendors are known as both the worse and the best part of a conference. We all love the free swag but not the attention. More than that, vendors often have a solution or a suggestion to solve your organization’s needs. Sometimes a conference is the only opportunity you have to put a face with a product. While a virtual conference doesn’t offer the same level of swag, many vendors are putting their tradeshow dollars towards free trials, services, and tutorials to help you and your business succeed. Instead of avoiding vendors, seek them out, put a face with a product, and see what they offer. Of course, we recommend connecting with Unleashed if we are attending the same virtual show.
15. Continue the Conversation
Conference success is often not determined at the event but weeks or months later. Whether you connected in person or online, the relationships built, and the knowledge gained is what truly determines how valuable a conference is. If you stay in-touch or put your newly gained skills to work six months later, you will have gained the true value.
As always, whether virtual or in-person, the value of a conference is still often up to you.
Now that you know what a virtual conference is and how to make it successful, feel confident in registering for the events you love attending every year. The Unleashed team hopes to see you at an event online soon!