The trend toward virtual conferences was already growing, but circumstances in 2020 have pushed the transition to a necessity.  While in-person conferences are valuable, companies are seeing the benefits of going virtual; ease of accessibility, eco-friendly, and the minimal costs associated with attending.

Attending a virtual conference does have its challenges.  With a little insight and preparation, you can still get all the amazing information from the comfort of your office or living room, at a fraction of the cost. Follow these tips to make the most of your time.

Be an Active Participant.  Block out the time on your calendar.  Commit to being truly present for the experience.  Use chat and other networking tools to connect with other attendees and participate in the sessions and with the presenters.  The contacts you make at a virtual event become stronger when you do meet in-person at another event.  Someone once gave me this advice; I use it to motivate myself when attending meetings or webinars.  ‘One important way you can distinguish “high performing people” from “lower-performing people” is their ability to extract more meaning from the same exact data set.’

Be Selective.  Virtual conferences are an inexpensive way to learn from the best in the industry without having to be away from your family or business. Try to choose topics and sessions that relate to what you want to learn right now. There is no need to feel guilty about not attending every meeting or breakout session.  It is easier to commit the time if you feel you are getting valuable benefits from it.

Prepare Your Attitude.  Remove the idea that online learning is “second best” compared to being in a face-to-face environment.  Research shows that is not true.   As with any other learning situation, the responsibility for success falls to the learner.

Have a Plan.  Review the schedule, write down 3 to 4 objectives you want to achieve from the event, and pay attention that you are making progress towards them throughout the event.

Share the Wealth.  Enlist your employees to attend sessions.  Have staff meetings for everyone to present what they have learned.  Allowing your team to be involved and learn directly from the experts boosts team moral and improves accountability.

Take Notes.  Write it down.  Do not rely on screen shots or getting a copy of the presentation later.  Note taking is one of the most effective learning tools you have.

Curb Your Distractions.  It is hard to be focused sitting in front of your computer screen by yourself rather than surrounded by other attendees in a conference hall.  Turn off social media, try to limit distractions and be mindful not to ‘multi-task’.  If you can, attend as many sessions as you can live.

Learn the app.  Familiarize yourself with the platform and features for the conference.  Get comfortable with how to communicate with other attendees, the Q&A functionality, and any other capabilities it may have.

Replay and Review. One big benefit of virtual conferences is the ability to play and replay sessions.  You can access sessions you weren’t able to attend live and review any previously viewed sessions.  Be sure to take notes, as sessions are usually available for a limited time.

Visit with the Vendors.  Exhibitors are one of your best resources.  We can be extremely helpful in providing information about changes in regulations, updates in technology or insight into emerging trends.

While the circumstances currently driving events online might be temporary, the movement towards digital events probably isn’t. Investing the time to maximize your experience will only benefit your career and your business.