In this time of COVID-19, in-person conferences have become a rare commodity (or non-existent). And those that have persisted have moved to online (sometimes called “virtual”) conferences.
Let’s face it, it’s a different experience altogether.
But it can be a fulfilling, enriching experience IF you shift your thinking, change some habits, and commit to fully engage.
5 Things You Can Do
One: Pay Attention
It may feel obvious, because you know that to learn you have to pay attention. You’ve been told this in school your whole life, right? But when you’re attending online conferences, everything else is literally at your fingertips: email, social media, Google, text messages, and more. The ENTIRE INTERNET is sitting there, begging to be used.
Resist the urge to multitask. You may think you’re still listening (and indeed, you’re still hearing) but when you multitask, you’re not really internally processing what you’re hearing the speaker say. If you really want to learn (and you did log on to learn, right?) then pay attention.
Pro Tip: Decide in advance which talks you’d like to attend, then focus on the presentation, make notes, and engage in the online discussion.
Whether it’s on Slack, in an online video meeting (via Zoom, Jitsi, Meet, or other), or through Twitter threads, stop by and say hello. You never know who might be in one of those areas that you can learn something from, connect with, or even find a job with. It’s true that you won’t be able to shake hands (but no one’s doing that these days, anyway), or grab a cup of coffee together, but connecting online can be just as authentic as sitting next to a person for a conversation.
So grab your own cup of coffee (tea, water, whatever), log onto any number of networking areas, and become part of the conversation. You have experiences worth sharing, so share them.
We know it’s sometimes hard to put yourself out there, but in a virtual meeting it can feel safer, so why not take advantage of it?
Pro Tip: Dress like you would at an in-person conference. That way you won’t have to worry about turning your camera on for networking rooms, online sponsor meeting rooms, or other online connections.
Three: Pay Attention to (and Engage in) Social Media
We know we say to pay attention to the speaker, but you’re not always watching a speaker. In between talks, when there isn’t a session you’re interested in, or before or after the sessions, engage in social media. Find new people to follow who you can learn from. Maybe gain a few new followers, too! Online conferences are great for social media.
Watch the conference hashtag on Twitter.
On social media you’ll find things like:
- Speaker slides
- Screenshots from other attendees
- Takeaways and insights from others attending
- Giveaways from sponsors
- Opportunities for personal connections
Post your insights, takeaways, funny observations, and more to gain your own social following. You have things to contribute that others can be enriched by, so join the conversation.
Pro Tip: Use the conference hashtag to become part of the conversation. Post screenshots of things that impacted you; thank the speakers, sponsors, organizers and volunteers for their hard work; connect with other attendees; and have fun!
Four: Follow Up on Ideas and To-Do’s You Created as a Result of Attending
Many sessions will introduce you to new ideas, new technology, and challenge you to think of new ways to approach everyday problems and issues in working in technology.
You’re bound to want to do some of them, but oftentimes after you shut off the computer these things become part of the past, and not future intentions. If it was a great idea when you heard it, then it should be an idea worth exploring, right?
- Have one page (paper, online note, doc) onto which you put only ideas worth looking into further
- Include the idea, where you heard it and who the speaker was (and a link to their site or Twitter account)
- Write down 2-3 reasons why you thought it was worth pursuing
- Include any links to resources to look into further
After the event, revisit that list and explore the ideas. You never know when your next timesaver, plug-in, business idea, or connection may move you forward in big and small ways. Make the most of your attendance by committing to follow-up on your own thoughts.
Pro Tip: Free “thought-organizers” like ToDoist, Trello, etc., can be really helpful in making these lists become actionable. (And maybe even give yourself some deadlines to really make them happen.)
Five: Engage with Sponsors (Visit the Virtual Hallway Track)
The swag may be different, but the conversations, opportunities, learning experiences, and connections are still there. Visit sponsor virtual booths, Zoom rooms, Slack, Twitter, or other online connection places. Take advantage of any offers they have. Pick their brains with questions you have. Challenge them on why their product/service is better than others.
Your sponsors make the event possible. They’re there to support you and your attendance. Find out why they are so passionate about WordPress.
Pro Tip: Engaging with sponsors can really help with learning new things, too! Get questions answered about development, plugins, themes, hosting, find job opportunities, and meet some pretty cool people!
Do you have other ideas for engaging in online conferences? Tell us in the comments below!
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