Attending virtual conferences: How to get value from a socially distanced event

October 27, 2020

While attending a conference used to mean skiving off work for a few days to listen to industry-specific keynotes with boutique coffee in your hand, these days … not so much.

Conferences are now being held entirely online, with participants watching presentations on one screen while checking in with work on another. This is all before we take into account that the farthest most of us can travel these days is to our porch. 

So even if you’re a rare unicorn of a human who can focus entirely on days worth of online presentations, odds are you are sharing your space with a partner, enthusiastic pet or homebound children.

This doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel.

Conferences still offer incredible value for socially distanced participants. 

The life hack for attending conferences in 2020? Going in prepared.

Let’s take a beat

The first step for success is understanding that your virtual conference will not be the change-of-pace offered from Ghosts of Conferences Past.

Most likely, you will be attending from your at-home work space you’ve lived in for months. There is a (high) possibility that there will be some technical hiccups as the world gets used to this reliance on technology during conferences. 

But going in prepared can help set expectations and squeeze the most value from your time. 

  • What are your goals going into the conference? Set some expectations to hold yourself accountable. Before the conference, make a plan of which sessions you’re attending. What do you hope to learn?
  • Find out what slides/presentations are available ahead of time. Are any sessions being recorded? This way, you can have a sense of which presentations you can actively listen to, versus furiously scribbling notes.
  • Speaking of notes, experts recommend you take notes on paper. This can eliminate the temptation to futz around on Facebook and email while listening to a presentation. 

Party like it’s 2019 

Just because you can attend in your jammies doesn’t mean you should phone it in. Treat a virtual conference like you would a real one. 

  • Be mentally engaged.
  • Come with questions and connect with people in chat features.
  • Commit to the time you are attending the virtual event to eliminate the distractions of being at home. Block it off on your calendar. 

Make some friends!

In the past, you may have attended conferences with a stack of business cards in hand, ready to make it rain on your new conference buddies. 

Today, that act would be deemed domestic terrorism.

In the world of virtual communication, how can you make sure you are networking to make the most out of your conference?

  • Participate in live tweeting associated with the event; share on Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Use LinkedIn to connect with other attendees before the event
    • Feeling extroverted? Connect with other attendees through LinkedIn to see which events they are attending and create a buddy system. Schedule a Zoom meeting to meet and debrief. I know this might sound terrifying after months with little human interaction, but this proactive connecting can make a huge difference in your conference ROI. 
  • Is there someone else in your office who could benefit from the info? Attend with a colleague to hold yourself accountable. 

Speaking of connection, vendors can be the bittersweet connective tissue of in-person conferences. It can be overwhelming to wade through the sea of salespeople, but hey! Who doesn’t love free pens and socks?

If there is a vendor sponsoring a conference that you’re interested in, connect with them. Many are funneling their trade show budget into free trials. Now is the time to try some apps and solutions you may not have had the chance to pre-COVID.

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3

As much as we all love to blindly rely on technology, go into the conference with a back-up plan.

Test the platform that the conference is being offered on. Confirm you have the login information for the presentations you plan to attend. 

Basically: Understand the conference tech before it starts, test it and have a back-up if everything falls apart. 

Back to reality

When the conference is over, it’s time to take a deep breath. You did it! Attending a virtual conference requires a lot more focus and discipline than an in-person event. Well done. 

To make sure you milk all the value from your experience, schedule time to decompress what you’ve learned and how it can impact your work moving forward. What did you get out of the virtual conference? Review your notes and develop blog posts or other content that support your marketing efforts. Be sure to tag the speakers (in both the content and when sharing on social) to gain visibility with their audience.

Have you attended any virtual conferences this year? We’d love to hear what worked and what didn’t!


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  • About the Author
    Shelby Gambrell

    Shelby loves to take a busy client brief, untangle any knots and create an action plan. During her tenure at Reputation Ink, she’s overseen complete overhauls of client websites, new brand releases and other large-scale, multi-pronged initiatives. If you ever need to know the status of a project or a projected turnaround time, Shelby is the Rep Ink’er to contact.

    Read my full bio or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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