How to get the most out of a virtual conference

If you plan to attend a conference soon, it will likely be a virtual event. While some may dismiss virtual conferences as just sitting in front of a computer, the fact is they can be more comfortable (sweatpants, anyone?), more rewarding and every bit as enjoyable as an in-person event. If you’re a virtual conference newbie, here are some tips to get the most from your experience:

  • Make sure your tech is ready for a virtual venue. Your hosts will send out information, instructions and links to download the applications you need. Don’t wait until the last minute—make sure video, audio and other tech is up and running before opening day.

  • Plan ahead to minimize distractions. Block out the time on your work calendar. Ask your spouse or older children to handle kid and home duties during conference hours. Silence your phone. Turn off email, messaging and anything else that isn’t part of the conference experience. You can do your check-ins during the scheduled breaks.

  • Be present. Don’t assume a virtual conference is second-best. Because you’re not distracted by other conference-goers or balancing your notes on your lap in uncomfortable hotel chairs, you can devote more attention to the presentations and be comfortable enough to take it all in.

  • Work out a schedule of sessions. Typically, virtual conferences make recorded sessions available free to attendees for a period of time after the event. If you can’t attend a session live, view it later.

  • Attend as a group. Many conferences offer discounts for multiple attendees from the same company. Split up just as you would at an in-person event and attend different sessions and events.

  • Participate and network. This is the time to expand your virtual community. Use live chat to engage with other attendees. Ask questions. Answer online polls. Attend social events. Attend breakout or round table sessions. These are all good ways to reach out to other attendees for more in-depth conversations.

  • Take breaks. Don’t sit all day. Stand up, take stretch breaks, get coffee and follow the 20-20-20 rule for your eyesight—every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

  • Attend the virtual expo. Even without a physical exhibit hall, you can interact with vendors in their virtual booths and ask questions or watch product demos and videos just as you would in person.

Virtual conferences are still new, and a lot of people are just getting used to meeting online. There may be minor hiccups here and there, but don’t stress—we’re all feeling our way through this and learning as we go. You’re there to learn, connect with others in your field and most of all, have fun!