GET THE MOST FROM EACH VIRTUAL SESSION

You probably know how to make the most of your time at a conference in person. Lots of advice exists for networking and learning at those events. Virtual conferences are quite a different experience, even though the sessions are similar on the surface. Follow these steps to put yourself in the right mindset to focus, engage, and absorb information from the online conference sessions you attend.

Put It on Your Calendar!

Block time on your calendar to show up for the live session if you’re available, and don’t book something over it. 

Check Your Email

When you register for a virtual conference, they typically send an email confirmation with the information you need to attend. If you don’t see it immediately, check your spam folder or, in Gmail, your Promotions tab.

If your confirmation ends up in spam, add the email address to your whitelisted contacts to make sure future emails land in your inbox. If it’s in promotions, move it to your primary inbox, and mail learns that’s where you prefer to receive emails from that sender in the future.

During the week of the conference, keep an eye out for reminder emails, even if you think you have what you need to attend. If you don’t see anything, recheck your spam folder, in case information is coming from different emails. You may receive information from both APRA and Endless Event about newly added sessions, networking opportunities, or crucial updates nearer the event date.

Make Attendance a Priority

If you register for a virtual conference session, take the event seriously and participate. If you’re registering so you have access to a recording after, schedule time to watch it.

Let your family or other housemates know when you’ll be busy with the conference, so they leave you alone. Claim a room or area of your home and ask them not to disturb you while you are there.

Similarly, schedule the time off work just as you would to travel to a conference. Plan to hand off urgent work to someone else, and let co-workers and clients know the days or hours you won’t be available.

Turn Off Distractions

The temptation to react to notifications on your phone or computer while you’re working from home is way stronger than when you’re in a room full of people. Eliminate those distractions to stay focused during online conference sessions.

  • Set “Do Not Disturb” or “Focus Assist” on Your Computer. Push notifications (the ones that pop into the corner of your screen) are probably the worst distraction while attending a conference via your computer. Turn them off for the hour or the day to avoid distractions during conference sessions.
  • Turn on an Email Auto Responder. Set an email “vacation reply” like you would if you were traveling away from the office. It lets you comfortably ignore your inbox and focus on the conference.
  • Limit Notifications on Your Phone. Allow exceptions to the “Do Not Disturb” setting on your Android and iOS devices so you can set it to do-not-disturb but still get a call from your partner or kids in case of an emergency. Or just limit notifications for apps like email, Slack, news, and social media.

Use Interactive Features

Interaction makes the session better for everyone — including the host, who needs a moment to breathe once in a while to keep the session going. Some conferencing services include interactive features, like “raising your hand,” chat, question-and-answer sessions, and polls, so advantage of them to interact with hosts and other attendees and stay engaged with the session.

Interacting virtually can help you stand out the same way it can at an in-person conference session. Ask thoughtful questions or share insightful responses to hosts’ questions to let other attendees see who you are.

Take Notes & Review Them 

When I attend a conference, I use the evenings after a day of sessions to decompress and let everything I learned soak in. Six or eight hours of online workshops and lectures is a lot to take in. (who is the "I" in this statement?)

It’s easy after a virtual conference session to just step back into your life — check emails, wash dishes, make dinner, watch TV. Instead, give yourself the same alone time to reflect that you would have had at the hotel that night if you traveled for the conference.

NETWORKING AT A VIRTUAL CONFERENCE

One of the most significant drawbacks of virtual conferences is the lack of natural social situations. You are not in rooms with other attendees, shaking hands with speakers, sharing drinks with colleagues, or catching up over a meal.

But virtual events can include networking opportunities too. Look for information about them in emails or social media marketing posts from conference organizers.

Join the Social Media Chatter – #APRA20Virtual 

You can skim conference hashtags on Instagram to discover nuggets of wisdom from people in other sessions at conferences you attend virtually or in person. It’s a fun way to soak up more of a conference than just the sessions you can make. It’s also helpful to share highlights from the sessions you’re in. Distilling sound bites and ideas from a session helps you pull out the most important information you learned.

Plus, it’s a networking opportunity. Especially at an online conference, participating actively online lets you connect with other attendees to share your experiences and lessons.

Share your ideas, ask questions, and reshare others’ posts to engage with fellow attendees. You’ll probably leave these conversations with a few extra friends and followers.

Dress the Part

You make an impression over a video call just like you would in person. If you schedule a call with a fellow attendee or join a virtual happy hour or networking event, dress like you would for the real thing (at least on top).

Regardless of how you look to others, putting on clothes you deem appropriate for an event with colleagues helps put you in the right mindset too. Scientific American reported on five studies between 2010 and 2015 that showed what you wear can affect your ability to solve problems, negotiate, and focus.

Loungewear is what you usually put on to relax and watch TV. Wearing it to a professional event could make it harder for you to stay engaged and get the most out of a virtual conference.

Look Up Particularly Engaged Attendees

Questions you ask or ideas you share in a conference session can make perfect fodder for conversations after. At an in-person conference, that usually means stopping someone as you walk out the door to thank them for their comment or offer insight in response to their question.

You must do a little more legwork to follow up on those discussions at a virtual conference.

Pay attention to who is asking questions and sharing insightful comments in a group chat or through social media. Look them up and connect on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn after the conference. Spark a conversation by mentioning the session you were both in.

Follow Up with Email

Conference or session hosts often share their contact information in slides or other materials. Use it!

Follow up after a conference or session you enjoyed thanking the host and let them know what you learned. At the very least, it’s kind to show your gratitude for their effort (often unpaid). At best, it can help you make a new connection with someone who is well respected in your industry.

ADVANTAGES OF A VIRTUAL CONFERENCE

Savings. In-person events usually require travel, hotel accommodations, and food costs, all of which can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars, not including the cost of registration. Online conferences let you skip extraneous expenses and pay only the conference fee — sometimes nothing at all. The savings is helpful if you pay your own way.

Convenience and Accessibility. Conferences can be fun, but they’re not an option for everyone. The cost and accessibility barriers of travel, family obligations, and work keep people from attending. You can join an online conference from anywhere you have an Internet connection, and the ease of recording means sessions could be available to view anytime.

Longer Access. Registration for an online conference comes with access to recordings that lets you access content after the event. That means you can revisit helpful sessions down the road.

Ability to Attend Every Session. Have you ever gone to a conference and been disappointed to learn two sessions you would love to attend are happening at the same time? They usually record every session at online conferences, so you can schedule time later to watch sessions you missed.

Comfort. Definitely dress for success at networking events, where you’ll appear on video, but webinar-style conference events usually only put the host on camera. Slip on a pair of jeans and skip the collar — just don’t get so comfy that you fall asleep.

FINAL WORD

A lot of people who never would have considered online conferences before have no choice this year. Turning attendees on to virtual conferences is yet another way the COVID-19 will likely change society and the economy for good.

Take full advantage of what the conference offers by committing time to attend, participating in discussions, joining social events, and actively connecting with other attendees after the conference.

Take a virtual conference as seriously as you take in-person events — especially when it’s your only option. If you are focused, engaged, and motivated, you can get just as much out of attending a conference from your living room as flying across the country for it.

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