One of my favorite parts of my job is getting the chance to go to conferences. I love traveling and visiting new cities, meeting new people, and gaining actionable advice to apply in my job role. With the pandemic, I thought that attending conferences was out of the question. Clearly, I underestimated the ingenuity of event teams across the country, because a huge number of conferences have gone digital.
But, while you (or I) may be a seasoned in-person conference attendee, a digital experience is a whole different ball game. So, here are some basic tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your virtual conference experience.
Pick a conference that provides a lot of educational opportunities.
If you want to guarantee that you’ll have an amazing virtual conference experience, then your best bet is to select a tried-and-true industry event that offers the biggest bang for your buck—including informative sessions, top-notch speakers, CEU opportunities, and the ability to network with the best and brightest in the industry. In the rehab therapy space, for instance, the biggest conferences are PPS (APTA), CSM (APTA), Ascend (our favorite!), ASHA Convention, AOTA Conference & Expo, and Rehab Summit.
A Killer Lineup
Start by looking through the agenda and identifying topics and sessions that look interesting or relevant to you. Then, research the speakers; figure out who they are, what they’ve accomplished, and what they’ve previously spoken about. If a conference hasn’t published its agenda yet, don’t be too quick to rule it out—especially if you’ve attended it in years past. Look at the quality of the agenda from the previous year. Typically, you can expect a similar caliber of content for the current year.
Just because a conference is happening online, it doesn’t mean you can’t network! The best conferences will set up breakout sessions and networking opportunities you can use to meet other attendees.
Finances are tight for almost everyone right now, but annual CEU requirements have shown no quarter. So, if you plan to attend a virtual conference, minimize your expenses by attending one that comes parceled with CEU credits.
Attend all the best sessions—even if you don’t attend them live.
Normally, when you attend a conference, you have to pick and choose between sessions that occur at the same time. No more! Most virtual conferences record their sessions and offer those recordings to attendees. So when you craft your conference schedule, you don’t have to worry about missing any content. You can watch unattended sessions later and at your own pace, helping you get even more value out of your ticket.
Make time to network.
As I already mentioned, the best virtual conferences provide ample networking opportunities. But those opportunities aren’t worth a penny if you don’t participate in them. Personally, I get way more value out of conference sessions when I have someone to discuss them with, and it’s nice to break up the lectures with personal conversation. So, attend every breakout session. Reach out to other attendees. And trust that the conference event team will facilitate a smooth networking experience for everyone (especially if you’re attending a conference that has always made networking a major part of the experience).
When you attend an in-person conference, distractions are limited. You don’t have to worry about anyone walking into the room to talk with you, and you’re much more likely to shut off your phone. Additionally, you’re less likely to multitask, instead engaging with the speaker and potentially even taking notes.
You should treat your digital conference the same way. Turn off notifications on your phone, and keep it away from you. Shut the door of the room you’re in, and ask the other people who are around not to disturb you unless it’s an emergency. And don’t multitask—dedicate your full attention to the speaker and participate when asked to do so. Take notes if you’re so inclined, or—if you find note-taking distracting—find out if the event provides attendees with slides.
A great way to minimize potential distractions before the conference even begins is to familiarize yourself with the tech that’s required to attend. If a conference is using Zoom to host speakers, then download Zoom and learn its basic controls before the event. Additionally, try to troubleshoot problems before they arise. Test your audio (and your mic!) beforehand and double-check that your Internet can support a video stream.
One of the nice things about attending a virtual conference is that you can rock PJs and bunny slippers and no one will be the wiser. But, you may actually concentrate better if you adhere to the dress code of the in-person event. If you wear work clothes, it’s easier to slip into a work mindset, whereas wearing PJs might push you toward that “sleepy time” mode and make it more difficult to focus.
Attend with coworkers or industry peers.
Attending a conference by yourself can be an enriching experience, but attending with people who are familiar with your clinic or your local market can be even better. After each session, you can always meet up and discuss how you can apply takeaways specifically in your clinic or local market. It’s a great way to digest information and create actionable plans that will help you improve (which is the whole point of attending a conference!).
Be flexible—and have fun!
The virtual conference scene may have existed before the novel coronavirus, but it has totally blown up over the past few months, and dozens of events are switching to a digital format for the very first time. Everyone is adapting to this new conference format on the fly, and it’s possible that a newly-virtual conference will hit a snag or two. But, that’s no reason to stress—in fact, it could help break the ice with fellow attendees and give you all something to laugh about. While conferences are supposed to be the ultimate learning experience, they’re also supposed to be kind of fun. So, sit back, relax, and let your virtual conference of choice take you on a ride.
To learn more about the ultimate virtual business summit for rehab therapists, be sure to check out the Ascend website. This year’s virtual Ascend event offers both free and paid registration options, so there’s no reason not to attend. We hope to see you online in September!
Have you attended a virtual conference before? What did you like or dislike about the experience? Drop a comment below, and share your story!