Over the past few years, professionals in a wide range of industries have been forced to get used to virtual conference attendance. You may not get the same feel from a virtual conference as an in-person one. However, these digital events are extremely valuable — if you know how to milk them for all they’re worth.
So what’s the best way to get the most out of a virtual conference?
The Modern State of Virtual Conferences
Virtual conferences have understandably risen in popularity. The obvious factor here is the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced businesses worldwide to operate remotely, even if they were previously used to doing business exclusively in person.
But we also need to understand that videoconferencing technology has evolved considerably in the past few years, making it much more efficient and accessible to the general population. As a result, people came to understand the advantages of which conferences began to embrace them.
Today, many organizations are now hosting both virtual and in-person conferences. However, in-person conferences will never become obsolete since some people will always have traditional values that favor face-to-face communication.
But a growing number of professionals actively prefer virtual conferences for many reasons — and that groundswell of demand is likely going to perpetuate virtual conferences indefinitely.
The Advantages of Virtual Conferences
Virtual conferences have a number of advantages over their in-person counterparts. These include:
1. Cost savings.
Virtual conferences have the potential to save money for everyone involved. Conference hosts don’t have to spend money on a gigantic venue, and attendees don’t have to spend money on travel or local accommodations. Of course, there are still several costs involved with hosting a conference, and you’ll likely still have to pay to attend a virtual conference, but these costs are minimal compared to the alternative.
2. Travel avoidance.
Some professionals dread going to conferences simply because they don’t like traveling. The pain of waiting in line at the airport, haggling with hotel staff, and finding parking at the conference can wear on you, making conference attendance a painful experience. But with a virtual conference, you can literally attend wearing pajamas in your living room.
3. Attendance flexibility.
Traditional conferences require you to completely rearrange your schedule in order to attend. You have to block off at least several hours of your time, and usually, multiple days, to make sure you have a chance to attend the workshop you’re looking forward to. But with a virtual conference, you have much more flexibility in when and how you attend. As long as you have a device with an internet connection, you can join; that means you don’t have to sacrifice any of your other priorities just for the sake of attending.
4. Environmental control.
Many professionals love being comfortable in their own environment, and if you’re attending a virtual conference, you get to retain complete control. You can wear whatever you want, sit on your favorite pieces of furniture, and fine-tune the thermostat to set the perfect temperature. However, you’ll be at the mercy of event organizers at a traditional conference.
5. Minimal work disruptions.
Attending conferences sometimes means setting your work aside temporarily, taking a pseudo vacation, and leaving your tasks to pile up while you’re away. But when attending a virtual conference, you won’t have to make such a drastic change period; in fact, you can probably knock out some of your work, answer emails, and attend other meetings while the conference is playing out in front of you. Virtual conferences are therefore much less disruptive.
Getting the Most Out of a Virtual Conference
What steps can you take to get more value from a virtual conference?
Do some prep work.
Always do your prep work before attending. When attending a traditional conference, you’ll have to research the venue, local companies, accommodations, and more; you’ll be forced to understand the environment before you step in. But it’s easy to underestimate just how valuable it is to do prep work for a virtual conference. Better understanding the people speaking, the sequence of events, and the ultimate goals of the conference will help you get the most out of it.
What does it mean to “get the most out of a conference,” anyway? This is a vague phrase for a reason; it’s because everyone attending a conference will have a different set of goals. There are no right or wrong goals here. What’s important is that you’re aware of your goals and that you’re motivated to achieve them. Make sure you clarify your expectations and your objectives before you attend.
Just because the event is happening in the digital space doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress up. It’s possible to wear pajamas or sweatpants, especially if you’re not going to be on camera, but dressing up will help you take the event more seriously. If you are on camera, it will leave a much better impression on the people you meet.
Prepare the technology.
Hours before the conference starts, take a moment to prepare your technology. Make sure your computer or mobile device is working properly, download the software necessary to stream the content and run a quick test to ensure everything is working as expected. This way, you won’t be scrambling at the last minute trying to figure out why you cannot connect. This is also an excellent opportunity to conduct a brief cybersecurity assessment, reducing your vulnerabilities and keeping your company secure.
Hang out before and after the main event.
Virtual conferences, like traditional conferences, usually have some time before and after the event for professionals to hang out and get to know each other. Take advantage of this time if you have it. No matter what your industry is, networking and meeting like-minded professionals can be valuable.
Get active on social media.
Post about your attendance on social media. It’s a great way to boost the visibility of the event, connect with other people attending, and find out about other things happening at this event.
Prioritize the most critical seminars.
Look for the seminars and workshops most likely valuable to you and make them your top priority.
Because virtual conferences can be streamed passively, it’s tempting to multitask while the video and audio are running. But multitasking isn’t particularly effective; it can work against you. So instead, focus your attention on the event as much as possible.
Mute your mic.
This is a good practice for any sort of virtual meeting: mute your mic when you’re not speaking. Hopefully, speakers will have the good sense to mute everyone else when they’re talking to the audience. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have an added layer of security to preserve the integrity of the audio stream.
Make it a point to provide feedback to the organizers after the event. Event organizers typically take feedback seriously and will be willing to work your suggestions into the next iteration of this conference.
Document your best takeaways.
When the event is over, document some of your best takeaways, take notes, and organize them into a coherent document that spells out everything you took away from this event.
Whether you’re interested in generating leads or just making better connections with professionals in your industry, it’s essential to follow up with the people you meet during the conference. This doesn’t have to take long, nor does it have to be an intensive exchange; all that matters is that you remain top of mind.
Every virtual conference is going to be set up uniquely. Therefore, you may not get the total value from these strategies in every virtual conference you attend. However, if you have the mentality that you’re trying to maximize the value from a given conference, you can adjust your approach to fit the conditions. Then, with practice, you’ll become a much better conference attendee.
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