Are you prepared to attend all the virtual conferences coming up in Q4? As we’re all aware, many large conferences we used to attend in-person have been pushed to a virtual setting. Though the format has shifted, there still can be lots of value in “attending” the event. Attendees have to not only adjust their expectations, but also re-examine their purpose for attending – it’s critical to come up with a game plan on how to attend, what to look out for, and still make valuable connections with other attendees. Our team has been actively attending virtual events and conferences throughout this time. Here are their suggested best practices on getting the most value out of virtual conferences.
What to look for when attending virtual conferences.
The first step is to identify why it is important for you to attend. With conferences having gone virtual, your priorities may have shifted. Before investing in registration costs, think about your attendance objectives. Here are several factors our team recommends you look out for:
- Speaker lineup – whether it’s a panelist from a specific agency or an executive from a company you’re targeting, pay attention to who is speaking and how you can maximize that exposure.
- Networking opportunities.
- Pro Tip: Check the agenda to see how much time is allotted to networking and what the structure will be. In this environment, we recommend at least 30 minutes of networking in a space where you’re able to freely communicate, like a breakout room.
- Quality of content.
- Recommendation by a client, industry friend, or colleague.
With traditional networking out, here’s how you can keep making connections.
Many of us attend events to make new connections and foster relationships with our network. In this environment, we’ve had to pivot how we accomplish that. Here are a few ways to facilitate networking in virtual settings.
- LinkedIn is king when it comes to making and solidifying connections. Here are several ways to facilitate engagement through LinkedIn after the conference.
- Share your LinkedIn profile link in the virtual conference’s chat box and ask others to connect.
- Pro Tip: This is easier than sharing your contact information directly in the chat box.
- Add contacts you meet on LinkedIn.
- Direct message your contact(s) and mention what conference you “met” them at. This helps them know who you are, increases the chances that they’ll connect with you, and it also helps you remember where you met them a couple years down the road.
- Stay present by engaging on their posts. This will keep you top of mind if a need arises on either end.
- Pro Tip: Don’t fall for the easy route of saying something generic like “Congrats on the promotion!” when you see those milestone updates. Instead, try to say something creative and unique that they will remember.
- Try to engage on next steps and move away from social media to email and other forms of communication.
- Take advantage of how the hosting organization is facilitating networking. If you’re unsure how networking will be handled, reach out to the organization directly so you’re prepared.
- Use this time to improve your online presence. Since the future of in-person networking is unknown, it’s important to keep your LinkedIn page fresh and current. This will help you stick out amongst all the LinkedIn profiles!
- Remember, the value of networking is in direct and trusted conversations. Look to move beyond work talk and find common interests, whether it’s kids, sports, traveling, family, and so on. Look to grow that aspect of the relationship.
Get the most out of the content by minimizing external distractions.
In virtual settings, there are many external factors competing for our attention. Whether it’s our email, coworkers pinging us, or our phone; it’s all too easy to tune out of the content and miss the information. Here’s how we recommend staying focused during a conference.
- If following along via a slide deck, take notes and actively think of questions to stay engaged.
- Engage in the chat box to build rapport and interest with other attendees and the panelists/presenters.
- Close out email notifications or pause notifications on your company instant messaging platform.
- Mark yourself as “busy” on your calendar so your colleagues know you can’t be reached during that time.
- If listening in on a panel discussion, try doing something active while tuning in whether it’s walking your dog or standing away from your laptop.
If it’s a free event and you’re unsure if the content is valuable, tune in, but plan to multi-task and listen for any nuggets of information. This approach also works for events with networking. You can remain engaged during the networking portion and have the information session on in the background while you work.
It’s important to remember that we’re all navigating this together. Organizations have had to tackle a massive undertaking by quickly pivoting their entire conference structure to a virtual setting. When tuning in be patient with the organizers because things can go wrong. If you would like to provide constructive feedback for a conference, send it to the event organizers, so they can incorporate the suggestions into future virtual events.