In episode #6 of Deliberate Freelancer I talked about how to make the most of conferences. Well, we’ve all had to pivot, and I cannot go to the 4–6 in-person conferences I typically go to each year. So, I’ve learned to embrace virtual conferences, which may be around until at least summer 2021.
Here are a few tips to make the most of these events:
1. Commit to a virtual conference like you would an in-person event.
Block the time off on your calendar and don’t do other work during the event. It can be tough to sit in front of your computer all day, so have some fun with it. Buy some favorite snacks, put on a nice shirt — but with cozy sweatpants and slippers. And switch up your location. You don’t need to sit at your desk all day. You can sit outside if it’s nice or find a cozy spot in your house.
2. Prepare for the virtual event ahead of time.
Look over the schedule and make note of what you want to attend. Because a lot of virtual conferences don’t have conference apps, I have been printing out the schedule to give myself a “program book” that I can mark up. It’s easier than toggling between tabs.
Look at the schedule and know where the breaks are and how long they are. In person, you kind of go with the flow and it’s obvious when the breaks are, but it’s not as intuitive online. So, prepare ahead.
Check out the conference social media. Is there a hashtag? Live tweeting is one of my favorite things to do at an in-person event, but it seems more important now because it connects me more to the other attendees. Anything you can do to improve the networking of a virtual conference is important.
Ask on social media or in your network who else is attending. It can be fun to connect with friends at the special networking events or in the online networking rooms during the in-person event.
3. Watch as many sessions in real time as you can.
In a lot of virtual sessions, you are watching a recorded video, and you will likely be sent the link later. But we all know, when we sign up for something and are sent the link later, it’s less likely that we will actually make the time to watch the entire thing.
Tell yourself these are not recordings and watch them in real time. This allows you to connect with other attendees in the live chat going on during the session. And you can usually send questions to the presenters, and there is often a short Q&A after the session.
4. Take part in all the networking!
The one thing that seems to be the hardest in these virtual environments is replacing the in-person networking. You aren’t going to just randomly meet people in line or because you sat next to them in a session.
In person, I rarely go to happy hours or evening events unless I know a lot of other attendees. But in the virtual world, I have made myself go to every networking opportunity available during the virtual conferences. Some have been great; some have been not so great, but I am trying to connect with as many people as I can.
5. Set goals for your conference and follow up afterward.
What do you hope to get out of this event? Is it just to be able to connect with other people who are not your family? Or, are you looking forward to learning new things through the sessions or by connecting with exhibitors?
Set a couple of goals so you have a focus for the event. And then, the next day — put it on your calendar — recap for a few hours: What did you learn? What lessons do you want to implement? Who do you want to follow up with? What new products or services do you want to check out? Do this the day after or you will probably not do it.
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