Everything in our lives is going online, and that includes meetings and conferences. After suffering through one annual meeting, and enjoying another, I feel like I have some insights to share with anyone who is preparing for their first virtual conference. 

Map Out A Schedule 

I can’t sit at my desk and watch a livestream all day. It’s physically and mentally impossible for me. Going forward, I’m only attending the portions of a conference that I need or want to attend. I’m also giving myself permission to leave a presentation if it is not what I expected, so long as I am not obligated to be there. 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is a big step for me. I typically try to squeeze every last drop out of each conference I attend, and show my support for the organization that is putting it on by showing up. 

I always make a careful schedule when I attend a conference, but I’m now being more conscious of my physical and mental stamina. 

Being More Than A Face On The Screen 

Just like with an in-person conference, it is not only showing up that matters. To get the most value out of any conference you need to engage with presenters and the other attendees. 

For me, this typically means reading through pre-conference materials so I can start to think about what questions I have for presenters and what fellow attendees I want to try and connect with. 

Adapting this strategy for a virtual conference is fairly straightforward. I figure out how questions are going to be taken from the audience, and make sure I have the tech I need to fully participate if I have a question. 

I have also reached out to the sponsoring organization’s staff to find out if and how attendee lists and contact information is being shared. If it is not, I know I need to take notes on who is “in the room” at various presentations if I want to follow up with them later. 

Focus On Follow-Ups

Seeing someone on the screen at a virtual cocktail hour is not the same as bumping into them in the hall after a presentation or at an in-person networking event. To make meaningful connections at a virtual event you really have to invest the time into doing post-event follow-ups. 

Email or call people after the conference and let them know you enjoyed their presentation or missed seeing them in person. We are all missing human connection while we quarantine and practice social distancing, and hearing from someone who had the same virtual experience as you can mean a lot. 

Be Mindful Of Your Brand

While it is tempting to attend every online meeting in sweats and t-shirt, be mindful of the message you are sending. Wear something that looks good on screen or has your employer’s logo on it. 

Have a coffee mug with your employer’s logo on it? Now is a good time to use it. 

Make sure you have good lighting, and don’t position the camera so fellow attendees can see up your nose. 

If you are a presenter, be sure to include your contact information in your presentation. You need to make it as easy as possible for people to follow-up with you since there is no in-person networking. 

Missing Something? 

As I mentioned, I’ve only attended a couple of virtual conferences, but I have some big ones coming up. If you have other ideas for how to make the most of them I’d love to hear from you! 

Photo of Emily Kelchen Emily Kelchen

Emily S. Kelchen founded Kelchen Consulting after realizing the free time she spent building websites and experimenting with social media-driven marketing and advocacy was much more fun than working as a traditional lobbyist. Emily is active in both the New Jersey and Wisconsin…

Emily S. Kelchen founded Kelchen Consulting after realizing the free time she spent building websites and experimenting with social media-driven marketing and advocacy was much more fun than working as a traditional lobbyist. Emily is active in both the New Jersey and Wisconsin state bar associations, and is a member of the American Bar Association. She is a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s communications committee and on the board of its Nonresident Lawyers Division. Emily graduated from Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, with a degree in political science, and earned her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, WI. She currently resides in Flemington, NJ, and therefore relishes any opportunity to talk about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial.