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Virtual Conferences Tips & Tricks Part II: Attending Virtual Events

Published on July 10, 2020

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 9, 2020) - Attending a conference as a virtual attendee may not sound as exciting as being there in person but we can’t let a pandemic stop us from advancing our skills. 

Two prominent science policy conferences - American Association for Advancement of Science and National Science Policy Symposium - are going to be held virtually this year, so the show must go on. Making Covid-19 adjustments will give attendees access to the content they would have learned in person, but this year virtually. It’s important to keep some sort of normalcy even when we might feel alone or disconnected from our peers and co-workers. Attending virtual conferences provides us with tools to enhance our current position, move towards career advancement, and learn the newest information from our peers. 

We have compiled some tips on how to make the most of your online learning experience.  

Prioritize Time & Come Prepared

Prioritize your time by being “present in the experience, engage with the sessions and presenters, and use the chat and other networking tools regularly to connect with other attendees,” according to Jill Schiefelbein, owner of Dynamic Virtual Events.

Review the agenda ahead of time. Many organizations publish guides for participants on their website. The conference event planners worked hard to make sure you have the information you need to have a great experience so read the emails they send. By pre-planning you will learn the flow of the event and choosing the classes you want to attend ahead of time will make it easier on you to find the virtual room you want to enter. Also, allow yourself to be emotionally invested in learning new ideas.

Figure out if the classes will be recorded or live only. You will want to schedule the live-only presentations in your calendar to make sure you attend since you won’t get to watch a recording of it later. Research the presenters so you can ask questions that relate to their expertise during the presentation. This is a great way to stay engaged and get the most out of your time. 

Minimize Distractions

There are many distractions working from home and participating in a virtual conference is no different. Get relaxed in a quiet place. Keep the virtual presentation on full screen mode on your computer to prevent you from multi-tasking. Turn off anything that will distract you. Disable work chat applications, keep your work email closed. Put your phone on silent. Grab a notebook to keep notes and focus on the presenter, just as you would during an in-person conference. Ask if slides will be sent in advance or after the conference so you can focus on the presentation instead of frantically trying to write notes. Technical issues can be a distraction. Have headphones or earbuds ready to use if you are having a hard time hearing the presenter. 

Tip from our director, Dr. Rachel Owen: Make a goal to come up with 1-3 questions during the presentation. This will help keep you engaged and thinking more broadly about the information presented. Bonus points if you submit that question via chat at the end of the presentation! 

Camera positioning

Photojournalist Andrew Zimmerman have a great video explaining tips on the best way to utilize your camera:

  • Camera angle: Put the camera on the same angle as your eyes. You don’t want to appear to have a double chin and no one wants to look up your nose. Getting the camera even with your eyes is simple, just stack some books.
  • Distancing: Set yourself so you are an arm's distance from your camera. You don’t want to be too close or too far away. 
  • Framing: Put yourself in the center of the video. If you are too low, your workshop mates will see your shirt and chin. If the camera is too high there is too much empty space. 
  • Lighting: Windows don’t make a good backdrop. The camera will adjust for the outside light and make your face dark. It’s not a good look. If you have the windows to your right or left side, then that part of your face will be lit up. Instead, face the windows so the light is shining on your face is the most flattering view. 
  • Background: Clean up your background, plain and simple is best. Take out the distractions. 

Engagement and Networking

Even though you aren’t making face to face contacts, “there’s a ton of opportunity for networking – right from the comfort of your own couch. Make sure to take advantage of conference hashtags, live chats, slack channels or any other way to connect with attendees,”  Lexie Carbone said, Marketing Campaigns Lead at Later online.  

Use the chat function during the presentation. Click on the hand icon so the presenter knows you have a question. The chat area is also a great way to network by reading other attendees comments and adding your own. The chat and discussion forums are also a great way to get the “conversation flowing” by connecting with other attendees and hearing what they liked about the presentation. Take advantage of the private groups they conference creates on social media channels, Scott Smith said, the CloudApp CEO. Attend the Happy Hour, team activities and games portion of the virtual conference to continue engagement with your new acquaintances.  

If the virtual conference you attend has a community section like the Whova event planners did, fill out your profile so you can get to know the other attendees. Think of it as a digital business card. Add your name, the college you're attending or an alumni, some fun facts about yourself, current job title, and LinkedIn profile. The more information you add will make people want to reach out and connect with you.

One of the good things about attending a virtual conference according to Dave McLeod, CEO of Thoughtexchange said, “usually remote events offer much better coffee. At least in my house.”

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