Attending A Virtual Conference: 12+ Tips to Get Your Money's Worth

Starting in spring 2020, attending a virtual conference became the only way to gather with professional colleagues. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing into 2021, water lab managers and employees may find that learning from and meeting with industry peers and leaders remains restricted to the digital world.

There are pluses with virtual conferences — you cut down on the travel, time, and cost required to attend. Aside from sessions that are live only, you can stream conference events at any time, so you won't have to miss out due to double bookings. You can also connect with people from around the world instead of only those who can afford to fly to an in-person event. As for staying safe from the COVID-19 virus, you don't have to worry about others' vaccination status or social distancing protocols.

Tips for Presenting at Virtual Conferences

Still, the virtual environment is vastly different from an in-person event. So, how do you make the most of it and get an equal return from the time and money you invest? Here are 12 tips for attending and presenting at virtual conferences:

  1. Decide what you want to get out of the event. Perhaps you want to gain new knowledge about specific water test topics, see state-of-the-art equipment for labs, or meet colleagues who can further your career. These are all worthwhile goals but require you to prioritize attending sessions, visiting tradeshows, or networking with colleagues.
  2. Review the agenda and decide what to do when. You need to seek out the events that will support whatever your goal is. Review the schedule carefully and make sure you've highlighted the top activities for you, but don't be too limited! You'll enhance your experience if you attend a session on an unconventional topic or network with an unfamiliar group. If you have to choose between live and on-demand sessions, that's easy — opt for live now and save on-demand for later.
  3. Block off your calendar. Whether you're attending from home or your lab, give your full attention to the conference. Make sure you can truly engage with the conference during the hours you've blocked off, and close your door for maximum privacy, letting family and co-workers know when you'll resurface.
  4. Get the technology down. Learn how to use the online platform for the conference, especially if you're a presenter. You don't want to have any audiovisual glitches on the day of. Download the conference app for up-to-the-minute news.
  5. Tidy up your office. If you're a presenter, your surroundings should project a professional image. Even if you're not the headliner, you'll be able to focus more clearly if you're not surrounded by unfiled papers or dirty plates. Cleaning up will also help declutter your mind.
  6. Dress for in-person. Whether you're attending sessions, touring the tradeshow, networking with new acquaintances, or keynoting, present a polished appearance. That doesn't necessarily mean wearing a suit, but you shouldn't look like you just rolled out of bed or came in from the field either. You never know who you'll meet online.
  7. Take notes on paper. You'll look more interested and attentive if you're jotting down key information rather than typing like a court reporter. So, catch the gist of each session in a notebook or organizer, then transcribe it later if you think the information will be useful.
  8. Attend with others. You don't have to go it alone, even at a virtual conference. Get together with others in your lab or your community who have an interest in the same sessions and events, and participate together. You may find it easier to stay involved if you share the conference with someone in the same room.
  9. Work in snack and meal breaks. You've got to keep up your strength. Just as in-person conferences offer coffee (and doughnut) breaks, breakfasts, luncheons, and dinners, so should your virtual schedule. To get the most out of the events you're attending, you need time away to process what you've learned. In fact, your breaks may be the most critical times of all.
  10. Participate. This is no time to multitask. Pay attention to what's happening on the screen. Chat in real time with other listeners, ask the speakers questions, and share insights and "aha" moments. Every touchpoint will give you more value from your attendance.
  11. Upgrade your equipment. Especially if you're presenting, you should consider a webcam that can be positioned at a flattering height above you and a light ring that illuminates your face for an attractive but natural appearance, according to i3 events. Then add headphones and a microphone, instead of using your computer's, to block out noise and project clearly and confidently.
  12. Engage with the audience. If you're the speaker, imagine the audience who would attend your session in person and speak to each member as you present your material. Look into the camera you're using, not at yourself on the screen. Ask for audience participation to make everyone feel they're part of your talk.

Bonus: One more tip — When the conference is over, you're not done. Take a look at your notes, reconnect with the speakers who inspired you, and set up times to visit with the people you met.

Follow these 12+ tips, and you'll find a virtual conference every bit as valuable as when you're on the scene.

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Diana Kightlinger

Diana Kightlinger is an experienced journalist, copywriter, and blogger for science, technology, and medical organizations. She writes frequently for Fortune 500 corporate clients but also has a passion for explaining scientific research, raising awareness of issues, and targeting positive outcomes for people and communities. Diana holds master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism.