The impact of social distancing and restrictions due to the COVID pandemic can’t be underestimated. With tech events being organized a year in advance by both event organizers and event-goers alike, everyone is adjusting and pivoting to make things work where possible.
While some conferences had to be cancelled, other events have been postponed to go virtual, which undoubtedly makes for a very different and challenging experience.
We recently covered a few tools to help students with remote learning, so we decided to take a look at some tips for professionals who are attending virtual conferences this year, as well.
Below are a few suggestions that can help you navigate and get the most out of virtual tech conferences.
Registration, Access, Logistics
In most cases, nothing major will change with the registration process – most are typically done online to begin with. However, there are some advantages of a virtual conference in that you save money on travel and accommodation, and anyone can gain access with only an internet connection.
– Scout out the platforms you’ll be using. Make sure that before you register, you find out how and what platform will be used to deliver recordings and presentations. Some platforms like Zoom, Team Viewer, and GoToWebinar have an extremely low learning curve, but there may be other specific platforms that the event organizers may be using. Learn your way around them inside and out, including how to use interactive features and custom settings.
– Test Everything. Download and test out your audio/video ahead of time to prevent technical glitches. Because virtual events are reliant on an internet connection, ensure that you have a good internet connection, and all the session links and call-in numbers needed.
Live keynotes and presentations
Live stream recordings and keynote speakers are the main bulk of conferences, offering insights and expertise on popular topics like AI, big data, personal technology, and innovations in the industry.
These are the speeches and presentations that everyone wants to attend. The best part about a virtual conference keynote is that there will be no bad seats! When a recording is live and in session, the AV team will be focusing on the speaker.
– Pick and choose your sessions carefully. Decide on which keynotes, webinars, and presentations you want to attend before you register. In some cases, presenters can be in different time zones or it may be limited to a first come, first serve basis to accommodate discussions and questions. Scan the schedules and agendas in full first so you get an idea of what you want to attend.
– Stay organized and plan out a schedule. Just as you would map out your at Create a schedule as you map and plan out your conference with tools like Google Calendar and World Time Buddy that will help prevent you from double booking sessions by figuring out time zone differences and keep you from forgetting them by letting you set up alerts via Gmail.
– Schedule in time to catch up on missed presentations. One of the downsides to virtual gatherings is the high rate of no shows. It is common for users to sign up for a session and not attend it. This is because most webinars are recorded and made available to registered attendees afterwards, whether you attend or not.
So while you can technically register just to get access to the content later (in order to attend another presentation, for example), doing so still requires you to put in the time to review it. If this is you, hold yourself accountable and schedule in an hour or two each day to catch up on the missed event. Otherwise, you won’t go back to it and may miss out on some potentially valuable information.
– Explore supplementary opportunities. To encourage registration and attendance, some top presenters may offer exclusive networking opportunities, one-on-one sessions, or breakout rooms. Keep your eyes peeled for these and take advantage of them and sign up where you can.
Networking and Interacting
Although the interactive part of virtual conferences won’t have the same impact as it would if you were meeting someone face-to-face, organizers will encourage attendees to network in some shape or form. This can be through live chats and online workshops, which you should take advantage of.
– Be prepared with contact information. Although you aren’t meeting new people in person, you can still connect online, whether it be in passing via chat, or connecting directly with the presenter. In either case, you should have your LinkedIn profile link handy as a quick way to pass on your professional information via copy-paste. This way you can still carry on your connection post-conference.
– Follow up. This one goes without saying. Follow up with anyone you meet or can reach out to for questions or a simple hello. Create a list as you go, jotting down usernames, sessions you caught them in, topics they brought up, etc. This way you can follow up later and make an effective connection.
– Prep questions and discussion ideas beforehand. As you would with an in-person conference, prepare a list of questions before a presentation or demo. Because it’s a virtual conference, the queue for questions and chat responses is either non-existent (live comments can stream too quickly), sometimes not allowed at all (the presenter puts everyone on mute), or is very limited (the presenter has questions cherry picked by colleagues assisting the presentation). You’ll want to be prepared to copy-paste or ask your question right off the bat to grab the presenter’s attention.
Workshops or seminar panels
One of the most engaging parts of conferences are the on-demand sessions, such as workshops, panels or seminars where smaller groups can learn and talk in depth on niche topics. These, you’ll want to sign up for and reserve a spot in.
– Don’t clock out after the seminars are done. If your team is attending the conference for work, keep to a work oriented schedule as much as possible. With no physical location to keep you focused and in the right mindset, it’s all too easy to clock out and only show up for what’s on your schedule. Use the in-between time to follow up and debrief after product demonstrations or panel discussions to effectively act or brainstorm on the information while it’s still fresh.
-Take notes even if you don’t have to. Even with in-person conferences, presentations, sample files and links are usually posted and shared afterwards, allowing you to forego taking notes. However, this can be an opportunity to take even more efficient notes.
Since those slides or recordings will be available, you don’t need to write everything down. You’re left to focus on your own reaction and feedback. Simply note the time stamp and jot down your thoughts to what’s being said at the moment. This way you can reference things easily and have a record of initial knee-jerk ideas.
Got your eye on a tech conference? Not sure if it’s cancelled or rescheduled yet? Computerworld.com has an updated tech conference list for 2020 documenting “information, dates and locations for a variety of IT-focused events coming up over the next year.” Use this as a reference list to check in on your favorite annual events.