While virtual conferences are certainly nothing new, they have undoubtedly skyrocketed in popularity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing, travel restrictions, and growing health concerns all but eliminated the ability for businesses and entrepreneurs to hold and attend in-person conferences that were once an integral part of their marketing strategies.
I personally have spoken at more than 50 virtual meetings, webinars and conferences since May 2020. I want to share with you what I’ve learned both from being a presenter as well as from attendees and conference hosts as to how to make the most of these events.
Familiarize Yourself with the Conference Tech Ahead of Time
You don’t want to sit down at your desk to attend the first conference session to learn they are using a different suite of software applications from what you have. Don’t just assume that your preferred software will be what is used. Download any software you may need to participate and familiarize yourself with the interface ahead of time.
If the event offers an app, download the app. Not only is this a great tool to organize your session choices, but also to receive conference updates as they are happening, and possibly even interact with other attendees.
Choose Your Sessions and Block Off Your Calendar
Peruse the agenda and write a schedule of sessions you won’t want to miss. Bookmark the links to simplify and expedite the transition from one session to the next. You don’t want to show up late because you were unprepared.
Sign in and Show Up Early
Much in the same way you would arrive at an in-person session ahead of time to find a seat and get settled, you’ll want to get into your virtual room with some time to spare. You’ll have time to troubleshoot any technological problems or network with other participants as you wait for the event to kick off.
Get the Replays
One of the definite benefits of virtual events is that they are generally recorded. Organizers will often make replays available to attendees once the conference has ended. Not only do recordings allow you to re-watch sessions that you particularly liked, but also to view sessions you weren’t able to see live. Some of my sessions have received as many replay views as live attendees.
Take Advantage of Interactive Networking Opportunities
For many professionals, networking is inarguably as valuable as the educational sessions themselves. While virtual networking might be much different than in-person networking, it is certainly still feasible. There are quality opportunities to connect with speakers, attendees, and sponsors alike. Here are some meaningful ways you can interact with them:
- If the conference provides a cloud tag of participants, create a list of people to connect with at the event.
- Use the conference app. The app may provide you with attendee rosters, chat opportunities, or information on virtual break-out sessions you might otherwise miss.
- Within the app or on social media, post pictures of yourself (with your kids or pets) at home watching the conference.
- Tweet key takeaways and use conference hashtags to link those insights to other attendees and the event at large.
- Start a thread to discuss topics of interest.
- Join any conference-sponsored social media groups and connect with the others who are active in the group.
- Create your own virtual coffee breakaway session or happy hour to engage further with persons of interest.
Keep the Ball Rolling after the Event
The potential opportunities don’t end when the conference does. There are important steps to take after the event to maximize your experience.
First and foremost, identify the actions you will implement from what you learned over a given time period. You may assign some items to be completed in the next month, some over the next quarter, and others over the next year. Meet and collaborate with your team to delegate the tasks involved for each project. If the project is unclear or you are having difficulty getting buy-in, consider sharing one or more of the recorded sessions with them. Then, assign staff roles and build accountability milestones on the path to your deadline.
So, while attending a virtual event may not seem worth it on the surface, there are plenty of golden opportunities to be mined from this format that can accelerate the growth of your advisory firm. With some planning and creativity, you could end up walking away with more value than you think—without forced, awkward interactions, tiresome travel, or blisters from those swanky new shoes you bought to attend (okay that last one is my own issue).