The pandemic has nixed many in-person gatherings over the past year. Use these tips to maximize the experience if and when you choose to attend virtual events in 2021.
A lot of things that were different in 2020 continue to be different in 2021 — conferences and other events included. Last year, many events moved online as COVID-19 made in-person gatherings impossible. These virtual events are continuing this year, leaving many to wonder if virtual events are worth their time.
Like so many things, you get as much out of virtual events as you put into them. If you’re testing a virtual event in the coming weeks and months, or if you have a full slate of online conferences planned, follow these 7 tips to ensure that you get the most out of the experience without burning out.
1. Create a Group
Most employees enjoy attending in-person events with others from their company. It’s fun to create a group and to get out of the office, to learn, to network and to change your surroundings for a few days — and to do it together. The same can be true of virtual events — creating a group to attend can enhance the experience.
Before committing to an online conference, see if you can get others from your company to attend with you. Schedule time during the conference to compare notes and talk about the content you found most helpful, relevant or interesting. These check-ins with your colleagues will help the virtual event feel more like an in-person gathering — and they will serve as a way to keep you engaged in the conference. You can even implement a divide-and-conquer strategy, assigning different members of the group to attend different sessions and different breakouts. You can then gather together in-person (socially distanced, of course) or virtually to let everyone recap their takeaways.
2. Learn the Platform
Virtual events take place on various technology platforms that have learning curves of varying difficulty. A day or 2 before the conference, spend a few minutes downloading and testing any software that’s needed to participate. You can also create a dedicated folder for downloading session materials or screen grabs you take during sessions. Some speakers may also make their slides available for download, and a dedicated folder will help keep things organized. Be ready to take notes, too. You never know when a speaker may share her or his email address or other information that needs to be saved for later.
The main thing is to be prepared to sit back and make the most of your event. The last thing you want is to waste time (and miss a session) if you have technology issues when the conference is starting.
3. Dress for Success
Working from home has its benefits. For example, you can conceivably work in your pajamas if you like. But treat virtual events a little differently. They should feel different, even if you’re not leaving your house to attend. That’s why it’s a good idea to dress a little bit differently, too — you might even consider dressing as if you’re going to an event in person.
There’s a psychological aspect to this, as studies show that what you wear can affect your cognitive performance and increase your abstract thinking. That’s important when you’re attending an event that requires attention and focus. So, change things up from your typical work-from-home routine and dress for success ahead of virtual events.
Finally, dressing well for a virtual event might help you participate and engage. Some virtual events use technology that allows for on-screen audience participation. If you’re dressed appropriately, you won’t be reluctant to participate live by offering a comment of asking a question.
4. Change Your Environment
Similar to changing what you wear, change your environment, too. Again, attending an event should feel different from your typical workday, so set up for a virtual event in a different space. For example, if you typically work from a desk in your guest bedroom, consider setting up your laptop at a table in a different part of the house.
Naturally, not everyone has multiple places in the home where they can sit without distraction and watch online education sessions. If you have only one conceivable work area, try to make smaller changes — like altering the position of your desk. Even small changes in your environment can make virtual events feel special.
5. Limit Your Distractions
This is always a good idea when working from home, but it’s especially important when attending virtual events. It will be tempting during lengthy sessions to check your email, respond to Slack messages, scroll through Instagram, etc. But do your best not to succumb to these distractions. Put an out-of-office message up on company channels, and put your computer in do-not-disturb mode. If your smartphone is a distraction (which it likely is), put it in a place where you can’t reach it.
If you live with others, let them know that you’re attending a virtual event. This can help prevent interruptions during your conference experience. You can’t limit 100% of distractions or interruptions, but just limiting them somewhat will enhance your experience.
6. Take Breaks
During in-person events, you spend time walking around large convention centers between sessions. You step out to have lunch or to grab a cup of coffee. You might even go back to the hotel room for a nap. Virtual events don’t often build in these natural breaks, so it’s up to you to find time for a breather. Build your breaks around one of 3 things:
- Moving your body: Exercise is a great way to reset after sitting through a long education session. If you don’t have time for a full workout, go on a short walk.
- Rest your body: Focusing on a screen for hours at a time is taxing. There’s nothing wrong with stepping away for a power nap to get the rest you need — and to refocus for upcoming sessions.
- Refuel your body: Take time for lunch, for snacks, for water or a second cup of coffee. If you’re hungry or parched, it will be nearly impossible to focus during the event.
In short, take breaks in any way that you see fit — in any way that helps you maximize your experience at the conference.
7. Network With Other Attendees
Networking is an in-person activity that’s really hard to replicate in a virtual setting. But there are ways to effectively network if you’re willing to put in the effort. And it will help your overall experience if you do put in the effort.
Start by engaging in event discussions on social media. Jump on Twitter to follow the event-specific hashtag, to respond and to share. You may also find helpful content from sessions that you’re not attending.
Remember to go beyond just the main speakers, too. Breakout sessions are smaller groups that make it easier to network and meet others who are interested in niche topics that align with your work. Virtual trade shows are common right now — so push yourself to try it out. Virtual booths allow you to ask questions, book appointments, download helpful materials, plus more.
Finally, if the event offers an attendees list, scroll through it to identify a few other attendees who it might be helpful to connect with. Send a few emails or LinkedIn messages inviting others in your industry or discipline to stay in touch after the conference. You never know when one of these messages might turn into a business or career opportunity down the road.
Ready to Travel Again?
Yes, virtual events are continuing in 2021. But, as more professionals receive COVID-19 vaccinations, travel is starting to pick up again, too. As you start to travel more and more for meetings, events and other vital business functions, JTB Business Travel is here to support your needs.
In addition to helping companies large and small save on travel spend, we also provide support for Travelers before, during and after their trips. Behind every service we provide is a common-sense approach to business travel.
Learn more about how we support business Travelers.