Every week we hear new updates on the restrictions of public gatherings. From concerts to sporting events, restaurants, and libraries – every state has a different approach; and their policies change as new information becomes available.
One area that doesn’t get attention in major news outlets is how conferences, trade shows, or other corporate events have changed. Some have scaled-down their annual events by limiting attendance. Others have switched to hosting them virtually online. Unfortunately, some have had to postpone or cancel them altogether.
Regardless of industry, many of these corporate events are taking the virtual approach. This shift presents a unique set of challenges for the event organizers, attendees, and sponsors – it’s new territory for us all.
Organizers are scrambling to adapt their in-person events to online or virtual settings. Attendees no longer have the opportunity to travel and network with colleagues or check out new products. Sponsors no longer have a booth to showcase new technology features and meet with potential clients.
The biggest challenge to overcome is understanding how to engage in these virtual events. How do we connect? What will the sessions look like? Will there be a Q&A option or do we communicate by chat? Will there be a virtual exhibit hall to see new products? How will that work? Since I’m not there physically, my co-workers don’t understand that I’m not available to respond to instant requests. How do I juggle incoming work demands during an online event? The transition is challenging in many ways.
Now that we’re the better part of a year into this “new normal” and have a few virtual conferences under our belt, we have found these tips still hold true to help you participate in any virtual event:
- BE THERE – Keep in mind you are physically attending a conference, even if it’s virtual instead of in-person. Block your calendar for the sessions you plan to attend as if you were on-site. This will let your colleagues know that you are unavailable during specific times during the conference.
- BE PRESENT – Give your undivided attention. Put your phone down, don’t browse the internet on your other screen, and take a break from your inbox while in a session. Environments have changed and sometimes there are unexpected disruptions, like a kid or pet welcoming themselves into the room. It’s understandable if you can’t be as present as if you would be on-site. But remember, you are attending the conference to network and learn. Make the most of your time and the virtual experience as best you can.
- BE INVOLVED – Attend the sessions. Don’t let other tasks infringe on that time, and don’t skip them because it’s easier to do so when you aren’t physically there. Ask questions where possible during the sessions. Email, message, or call colleagues from the sessions to connect and discuss the content. Also, don’t forget about the sponsors and vendors! Are you considering investing in or switching to a new tech product? Take the time to see what’s in the market and learn about the latest technologies available. Attend their demonstrations or sessions to learn about new features and how they can assist with your day-to-day. You can virtually browse through the vendors online the same way you’d walk through the vendor booths of an exhibit hall.
- BE PREPARED – Invest a little time beforehand and do some research. Put in the work ahead of time to know who will be attending and the topics that will be presented. You’ll know who you want to network with from the get-go, and you’ll be prepared to ask informed questions during the sessions.
- BE PROACTIVE – The conference doesn’t end on the last day! Conversations, networking, and information exchange continue beyond the final day of the event. You’ll want to follow up with fellow attendees, presenters, and social media engagement related to the event. Assertive interactions are the way to build long-lasting connections and relationships until you meet again in-person!
These simple tips will help you get the most out of your next virtual conference, trade show, or networking event. The venue might be different, but you still have the opportunity to learn, connect with colleagues, and soak up all the event has to offer!