10 tips for attending a virtual conference
With virtual conferences on the rise, there are more opportunities to attend events you may never have been able to before, and network and learn from a wider range of people. But, virtual conferences, unlike in-person conferences, require a different kind of focus. The Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) has transitioned to a completely virtual event January 26-29, 2021.
This is an unusual year, and we cannot host our normal live event, so we put together a free event for people to network, and learn about new educational technology tools to help educators get through these challenging times. It is not a “normal” FETC and we all look forward to being together again face to face next year.
The emergence of COVID-19 has made virtual conferences a necessity. And that is not necessarily a bad thing: You still get all the amazing content and insights from conference speakers. You reduce the time and financial commitments required to attend these events. And you can attend the entire conference in your pajamas!
At the same time, virtual conferences are an adjustment. They create new challenges for attendees, like technical glitches or the inability to network face-to-face, but events like FETC are using artificial intelligence and networking tools to match attendees to content, people and product interests to maximize time and resources during the event in creative ways.
All you will need to participate is a keyboard—on a phone, a laptop, or a tablet. No special audio or video is required and there is a mobile app as well. At the end of each keynote session, there will be a live Q&A with the speakers, so you will want to use your headsets or speakers to hear. Following each presentation, you will be able to watch again on-demand at your convenience and download a session attendance certificate for your professional development credits (CEUs). Before the FETC virtual conference begins, make sure you are ready to attend with a few tips and tricks to increase your focus and make the most of your time.
- Learn how to use the tool
Virtual conferences are hosted online, via a tool you may or may not have used before. To make the most of your time, take an hour or two before the conference begins to play around in the platform to learn where everything is located. Update your profile, add connections, chat in the lounge, preview products and add sessions to your schedule. Make sure to check out the FETC Help Center, where you’ll find tutorials about how to get the most out of the conference, downloadable resources including an attendee eBadge and customer services representatives available to chat. Your experience is in your control.
One of the most popular features in virtual platforms is the ability to chat during sessions. You can “talk” during presentations, unlike when you are at an in-person event and you sit quietly, listening to the speaker. With virtual conferences you can chat in real-time with other attendees, share insights and ah-ha moments, and in many cases interact with the speakers to get more value. This synchronous interactivity is not easily possible in face-to-face events, as you cannot have 1000 people talking at the same time. In virtual events you can.
- Blocking off your calendar
Work never stops, but when you are attending a virtual conference it should take a backseat – even if only for an hour or two at a time. After all, you chose to attend a virtual conference because you saw value in the speakers, educational sessions, and networking opportunities, so do not throw away the time you have to learn and grow! Make sure your colleagues know when you will be busy and make an effort not to check email while you’re in sessions. If you want to get the most out of any event, engage in the opportunity as deeply as you can to get as much meaning as possible. Remote events offer chances for distraction or complete focus and comfort, depending on the attendee. And the attendee needs to take responsibility for that.
- Schedule your time based on live and on-demand sessions
Virtual conferences come with a variety of content, some can be viewed in real-time (like the popular Tech Share LIVE keynote) and some that can be watched at your convenience. When you build your schedule, pay attention to which sessions can be watched live and which are adjustable based on your needs. Consider adding ‘live’ or ‘on-demand’ to appointments when blocking out your calendar. Treat a virtual conference as you would an in-person conference with respect to your calendar and task load. Prioritize the time to be truly present in the experience, engage with the sessions and presenters, and use the chat and other networking tools regularly to connect with other attendees.
Personally, I love that I do not have to choose between two sessions I am interested in attending. As an attendee you have the flexibility to choose topics and sessions that relate to what you want to learn right now. With the FETC Virtual Conference, you have access to session videos on-demand for one month, so you do not miss out on any good speakers or information. It means you do not have to worry about missing a slide or forgetting what the presenter said. Just rewind and re-watch!
Learn more about this year’s keynote speakers
- Keep your family in the loop
This work from home life means that most of us are never truly alone. Our spouses, our kids, and our pets are always only a room away, and all demand a certain amount of your attention. By this point, you have hopefully worked out a schedule to separate work time and family time, so keep to that schedule during your virtual conference. Minimize distractions so that when you are watching alone, you can resist the urge to “multi-task” and get distracted. Instead, try to reduce notifications, grab a notepad, and get ready to start learning!
- Conference Self Care
Self-care is essential at virtual events, just like in person. Build in snack and meal breaks for yourself! One thing you don’t want during a day or week of high-intensity learning is to skip meals. Plan out your breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Even figure out your coffee breaks! While an in-person event would have built-in breaks with coffee set up in the expo hall, your virtual conference food and beverage is your responsibility. For a fun treat, consider getting a coffee delivered during a break to keep you caffeinated.
Stand and stretch: Don’t feel confined to your chair. Build in breaks in between sessions to take a short walk or stand and stretch. Visit the FETC Relaxation Lounge to get access to instruction on yoga, sleep, meditation and mindful breaks. Activity, even something as small as standing, or stretching in place, can wake you up and get you refocused on the content at hand.
- Go old school
Take notes on paper! To focus more, keep your attention on the screen, but your fingers off of the mouse and keyboard. Rather than flipping between a notes doc and the conference, where it might be easy to get lost and end up on Twitter, Instagram or Reddit, keep the screen dedicated to sessions. This means full screen! To network and communicate with attendees, answer live polls, and more, use the mobile event app, keeping your computer free for viewing. Download it here from the App Store, here from the Google Play store.
- Attend with others
Conferences are better when you attend them with friends. Any coworkers attending FETC? Make plans to catch up and discuss keynote sessions after the fact or message them throughout about points you found interesting. This interaction can keep you engaged with the content. Don’t participate passively in the virtual conference — be active. In addition to sharing content, encouraging engagement from event attendees will build community and feedback about your event. It’s essential to find new ways to make the event feel personal and inspire person-to-person connections that will last year-round!
- Divide and conquer the Expo Hall
The allure of the FETC Expo Hall has always been the futuristic products on display, the engaging booth presentations with product updates and demos! An online Expo Hall has more tools to engage users and allows for the exploration of more ed tech tools and products than ever before. Review the list of all vendors and bookmark those you are most interested in. Be sure to click on all vendors you currently use to see what new updates or products they have to assist in your pandemic teaching environment. There are several hundred vendors, so break up your list to visiting a chunk of vendors each day. Feel free to explore new vendors, top products, watch demos, review videos, gather product materials for solutions that will promote learning, safety and improve your district’s teaching and learning. It is easier than ever to share the exciting new things you learned in the Expo Hall by sharing these products electronically with your district leadership team. Don’t forget to register for prizes, raffles and fill your swag bag!
- Set up appointments and network
Successful virtual events and in-person events have one important thing in common: they create and strengthen human connections. Virtual conferences are not just for learning – they are for connecting! Networking is alive and well, even at a distance. Because attendees are not in the same space, virtual events require creative solutions for achieving the same kind of connections and emotions that exist in physical events. Set up 1:1 appointments before the event with colleagues and companies and make new connections. Attend happy hours or breakout sessions with other attendees. There are no geographical limitations or a limit on how many people can attend. Anyone from around the world can sign up and learn at FETC and you can connect with over 20,000 participants. This creates a very dynamic and rich online event when you have people attending from near and far.
There’s a ton of opportunity for networking – right from the comfort of your own couch! Make sure to take advantage of conference hashtag (#FETC), live chats and networking lounges to connect with attendees.
- Set up time to review and re-watch
With so much change, it’s easy to let the goal of an event get lost in the way of all the new logistics. Take the time and write down your professional learning goals for the event. Reflection is the key to long term learning. A benefit of the FETC virtual conference is that sessions are available on-demand, whether during the conference or for 30 days after. If there was a session you want to re-watch or quickly review again, you can! Set aside time each day of the conference or on the final day to review your notes and make the most of the content you absorbed. On the final day, download your professional development record from the Help Center. Reviewing the content and reflecting on your learning goals will inspire your professional practices and energize you for the spring educational challenges ahead.
Jennifer Womble is the FETC Program Chair.