Whether you are an executive, manager, employee, or HR professional, you have likely helped your company make some big adjustments this year. But as you know, there is always more to do, more to learn, and more ways you can help your company and employees. Conferences are a great place to learn about current HR trends and best practices, gain compliance assurance (especially in a year like this), and take a peek at the future of HR.
Like most aspects of the business world, conferences are combating COVID-19 by going virtual. This is sure to be a new, but exciting experience for most. With our own annual conference—Netconnect—taking place completely virtually this year and quickly approaching (OCT 22-23), we want to make sure that everyone knows what to expect and is ready to get the most out of their virtual conference experience. Use the following virtual conference tips to avoid common pitfalls, especially if you haven’t attended a virtual event like this before.
Treat it like an in-person conference
Even though you don’t have to book a hotel and make travel arrangements, you still must make a conscious effort to take the conference seriously. Block off your calendar for the days you’ll be focused on conference material, especially for the hours of key presentations. With everything online, you may be able to perform some of your daily tasks during the workday, but make it clear exactly when the conference will be your top priority. To avoid confusion and interruptions, let managers and co-workers know about the conference and your availability during that time as well.
Use planning to avoid distractions
If you’re attending from home, you may not want to use your living room or areas with lots of distractions. If your bedroom is the quietest space, you may be tempted to turn on a TV or find other distractions as well, so some self-restraint will be required. When planning your daily schedule, make sure to work in time for breaks and meals to avoid missing crucial conference components. Rather than multitasking during important sessions, plan a specific time to answer emails and accomplish your necessary work for the day. You’ll learn and retain more information when you pay close attention to presentations and participate in the other events.
Be prepared for technical requirements and issues
While you should be prepared for and used to teleconferencing by now, virtual conferences sometimes offer up some additional features you may not be aware of. Make sure you have the appropriate software and capabilities for whatever platform the conference will be using. Are your internet connection, camera, and microphone working reliably? Do you need to download any software before the first session? Does the conference also feature an app for your phone or tablet? Will other members of your household be streaming videos or playing video games online while you’re attending sessions?
Know your options before the conference
A virtual conference can feel more casual, giving the impression that you can just “wing it” without advanced planning. Even though you won’t get lost jogging around a hotel conference center, you still need to plan which discussion panels and presentations you want to see “live.” Compare the different programming tracks and take note of the sessions that will be recorded for later viewing. Are there certain presenters or interactive meetings where you would want to ask questions? Which sessions will be the most useful for networking?
Make it a team event
In addition to telling co-workers about your limited availability during the conference, consider inviting some to join you. You can also invite friends who work in the same industry—whether they are long-distance friends from college, former co-workers, and fellow association members. Even without a hotel bar, there are still opportunities to socialize and reconnect online, sharing highlights from your favorite presentations and more. Chatting during and after presentations, your friends and co-workers may notice details that you may have missed and discussions afterward can be a great way to see something from a different perspective.
Be an active attendee, not a passive one
It’s tempting to treat a virtual conference like a Netflix subscription, binge-watching sessions while you cook and do household chores, but rarely paying full attention. As an adult learner, you really need to engage and participate to absorb the material. Look for the live sessions and practical demonstrations where you can actively follow along. When you’re able to ask questions at the end of a live session, you’ll have more motivation to pay close attention throughout. Find networking opportunities and make a point of engaging in the comments sections and discussion boards. The benefit that you get out of a conference will often reflect the amount of effort and enthusiasm you put into it. This is perhaps the most crucial virtual conference tip.
Participate in networking events
Have we repeated that enough? Networking is a huge benefit of professional conferences, and while it comes naturally to some extroverts at in-person gatherings, virtual networking requires deliberate effort. Instead of the hotel lobby and refreshment area, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with discussion boards, forums, and online events. Is there a certain hashtag for social media? Are there comment threads where you can voice your thanks for the presentations you found most helpful? Professional connections will be beneficial for your personal career, but your networking may also provide tips and resources useful for your company. If 2020 taught us anything, all of our businesses need help responding to unforeseen challenges.
Don’t ignore the post-conference follow-up
Most conferences don’t just end when the last session wraps. There is often a significant amount of follow-up with the organizers in the days and weeks after the event that can offer up significant benefits as well. Make sure you find out about the slideshows and additional resources made available by presenters. Print handouts can be expensive for large crowds, but presenters may be a lot more open-handed with PDFs and digital resources. Find out how long you’ll have access to recordings, and take advantage of any recorded sessions that you initially missed. Completing surveys will help organizers improve the next conference and provide more helpful programming.
Just like how more employees are permanently working from home, virtual conferences are likely to remain a popular alternative to some in-person events moving forward. Make the most of your experience by following these helpful virtual conference tips, and you’ll be more prepared for 2021 and beyond in the world of HR.
Learn more about what to expect, as well as additional virtual conference tips, in our previous blog.
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