Bruce Carlisle, CEO of Conference Hound, estimates that 40 million people attended in-person conferences in 2019. Before the pandemic, I attended several conferences each year, keeping up on the latest tools, technology and case studies, being in good company, being out in the world, and exploring the local culture. Virtual conferences, webinars, and Zoom calls have replaced much of our in-person meetings, and it’s predicted that most conferences and trade shows will remain online at least through 2021, and most will continue to have virtual options going forward.
Virtual conferences are a great way to be inspired, improve our knowledge, build relationships, network with others in our industry, and simply step out of our comfort zone now and then. But if you don’t have a strategy and goals going into it, you may come out of it feeling disappointed or thinking it was a waste of time. Here are my tips for making the most out of every virtual conference you attend.
When in doubt, register. Signing up for virtual conferences and events is so easy now. We don’t have to make travel plans or book a hotel. When announcements and email invitations arrive, take the time to look at the topic, the speakers, and the breakout sessions being offered. Signing up is a simple process. Even if you’re not sure you can attend the conference, sign up. Many conferences share recordings of the live content with everyone who registered – even when we can’t attend in real time. For those hosting virtual conferences who don’t do this, please start.
Our learning, participation, networking, and relationship building can begin from the moment we register. Look at the agenda, read the speaker bios (everyone is interesting) and sign up. Connect with speakers on LinkedIn ahead of time, especially if you know them. Virtual presenters like to know who’s attending. Many conferences now ask for questions when we register. Go ahead and ask one.
The chat function is a great way to connect with the speakers and meet other attendees. Many speakers engage regularly in the chat – they like to know who’s attending, they speak to you by name, and include comments and questions in the chat as they go. It’s a great way for speakers to know we’re listening and engaging with them. And it’s a fun way to participate virtually
Stay for the Q&A
What really helps ensure we get the most out of these sessions is to have questions prepared for the Q&A. When you want to know more, ask a question. Especially for speakers you know or have said hello to prior to their talk, ask a question. If there are people in the audience you’d like to meet or would like to have a follow up conversation with the speaker, ask a question. Every presenter’s worst nightmare is having no engagement after their virtual talk, so have a question ready and ask it. Better yet, go first, to encourage more questions
Virtually (sorry about the pun) every speaker gives their email address and invites listeners to link in with them. Take them up on their invitation and follow up in some way. Tell them the most compelling part of their presentation, what you learned, or what you’re going to do as a result of listening to them. Offer assistance. Invite them to an introductory call. Stay connected. I not only follow up with speakers, I connect with the moderators, the hosts of the Q&A, and the people I meet in the chat and Q&A. And we find ways to stay connected
Hopefully I’ll run into you at our next conference. If you see me on the chat, please say hello.
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