Online conferences and events aren’t new, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought them mainstream. With in-person events and conferences cancelled and postponed around the world, online ones are taking their place.
But while we’ve all had years to master the art of attending in-person events and conferences, we’ve had to adapt to online conferences almost overnight.
It can be tempting to think that online conferences are just the same as in-person ones – just without the travel. But they offer a very different experience. Which is why we’ve put together this guide, complete with 10 key takeaways at the end, to help you make the most of every online conference and event you attend – now, and in the years to come.
If you were heading out to a two-day conference, you’d prepare beforehand, right? You’d pack a bag, print out your ticket, work out your commute and what time you need to leave…
Take some time to get set-up before your next online event. Double-check the email with your ticket: what time does it start? Do you need to download or install any new tech? Or create an account to log-in to the event?
For an online conference you’ll be able to skip the queues at registration, but if you don’t plan ahead you could find yourself waiting to get into the event anyway while you install updates, or wait for your account to get set up.
Make time for the event
If you’re working from home, it might be tempting to think you can multitask: have the event talks up on one screen or in one window, and carry on with your work as normal in another.
But then are you really engaging with the content, or is it just background noise, where you’ll miss all the value the speakers are sharing?
Our advice is to block it out in your calendar – just like an in-person event.
Don’t be ‘at work’ and ‘at the conference’ at the same time; it’ll be impossible to attend all your daily meetings AND take advantage of all the online event has to offer. You’ll miss out on all the best bits of the event – and your colleagues won’t get the best from you either, as you’ll be constantly distracted by the event.
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Check out the agenda
Much like at in-person conferences, the agenda will help you find your way around the event.
One of the new benefits of online events is that they can be accessed from anywhere in the world, so you might find the event runs a lot longer than an in-person conference would, to cater to attendees in different timezones.
So there could be even more content than at an in-person conference. Don’t try and see it all: check the agenda in advance, so you can pick out any sessions you definitely don’t want to miss.
Add them to your calendar if possible, so you don’t get distracted or miss them because you’re in another talk that’s running over.
Remember to look at the whole agenda: just like at in-person events, you’re likely to have some fun stuff mixed in there with all the keynotes and workshops.
Go for the content, stay to socialise
When you go to an in-person conference, you probably spend most of your time listening to the keynotes, attending workshops, or enjoying other types of content like live podcasts or roundtable discussions.
But that’s not all you do. Meeting new people, making new contacts and connections is just as important, so don’t neglect this element of the conference experience, just because it’s online rather than face-to-face.
Many online events will offer ways to chat and network with other people attending. For example, they could have their own Slack community, or there could be a chat functionality within the event platform itself.
As the tech matures, it’s becoming increasingly easy to join networking sessions during an event. For example, online events platform Hopin has networking functionality where the event organisers can run short speed-networking, where you are matched at random with another attendee.
Many online conferences will also have an expo hall or exhibitor zone, where companies have virtual booths to provide product information, demos, and online giveaways. Just like at in-person events, it’s good to keep an eye on the new products, demos and treat yourself to some virtual swag – so check out the expo hall too, if there is one.
We’ve all heard the advice about taking regular screen breaks during the working day. This still applies when you’re attending online events – perhaps even more than in a normal work day.
“Zoom fatigue” is real: it takes a lot of mental energy to stay engaged with countless video talks, networking opportunities, and keynotes. So just like at an in-person event, remember to take breaks to get a cup of coffee, walk around a bit, and take a break to refresh and recharge.
Many online conferences are recognising the need for attendees to take breaks, and schedule them into the agenda. Additionally, many run fun sessions alongside the main content, such as yoga, workout sessions, meditation, book clubs and podcasts, to engage attendees in a different way.
Watch it now or watch it later?
With all the tech in-use to run an online conference, there’s a high chance all the talks will be recorded, so you may get the chance to watch back particularly in-depth sessions after the event.
However, this won’t be the case at every event – or even for all attendees at each event. Some event organisers may only share session recordings with certain groups – for example with their speakers, or to premium pass holders.
So if that’s something you want to be able to do, check that your ticket includes the ability to watch back sessions after the event. If it doesn’t, and it’s something you’ve realised that you want, it might be possible to upgrade your ticket. If not – well, it’s just like being at an in-person event!
Attending an online event is very different to attending an in-person event, but just as valuable. Here are 10 key takeaways to help you make the most of your time at the next online conference or event that you attend.
Before the event:
- Put the event in your work calendar
- Find your ticket. That email will likely have the link you need to join the event
- Create any accounts or download any software you need
- Double-check the start time, so you don’t miss anything
- Find out: Does your ticket give access to recorded sessions after the event? If not, can you upgrade if you want?
During the event:
- Don’t try and go to work meetings at the same time as the event. Be at the event, or at work – not both
- Add can’t-miss sessions to your calendar
- Remember: there’s more to an online conference than just the keynotes. Check out breakout sessions, fun activities, and networking opportunities
- Look for networking opportunities
- Make the most of your chance to meet new people – even online