What can you expect if you attend a virtual conference? They’re not exactly like in-person events, but they can be just as valuable if you know what to look for and take the right steps to make the most of the virtual experience.
With the quick switch to a work from home environment for the legal industry in March, virtual conferences have become the new trend. These in person annual events are often something to look forward to to get you away from the office, to learn industry trends, to connect with peers you've met in years past, and network with new friends. Unfortunately with the current circumstances, many of these events instead of being canceled completely have switched to an online virtual platform. Virtual conferences, webinars, etc have been rising in popularity for years now, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, they have exploded in the legal industry. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing:
- You still get all the valueable information and insights from speakers
- You reduce the time and financial commitments required to attend these events
- And you can attend the entire conference while in your pajamas
We have learned that working from home was a new hurdle for the legal industry and shared some tips to make the most of working remote on this blog post. At the same time, virtual conferences are yet another adjustment. They create new challenges for attendees, like the potential for technical hiccups and the inability to network face-to-face. The BigSquare team is definitely not experts in virtual events, but after sponsoring and attending both Aderant's Virtual Momentum and LMA P3's Virtual Experience we would love to share some tips and tricks to make the most out of a virtual conference.
Put it on your calendar:
Take time the week or weekend before to make your schedule and block off time to attend the event just as you would if you traveled to the conference. Treat a virtual conference just as you would an in-person conference with respect to both 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.
Keep an eye on your email:
After registration and especially during the week of the conference, keep an eye out for reminder emails, even if you think you have what you need to attend. Conference hosts sometimes send information about newly added sessions, networking opportunities, or crucial updates nearer the event date.
Eliminate extra distractions:
Virtual conferences don’t require us to leave the office or, more likely these days, our homes. Traveling to an event does have way of focusing our attention and helping us carve out both mental and physical space for learning. You have to try your best to achieve the same effect with a virtual conference. That means telling anyone who may be inclined to drop in or otherwise interrupt you that you have a commitment that requires your full focus. Most conferences have scheduled breaks, take advantage of those for any essential non-conference activities.
Know, learn and utilize all tools:
Most virtual conference organizers will let you know in advance what software you need and how to get it. Don’t wait until 5 minutes before you have to show up for your first session to familiarize yourself with whatever platform the conference host is using. Make sure you know how to communicate with other attendees. If you are going to be able to use audio and/or video in sessions, make sure you are set up to do that. The less you have to think about the tools, and the more familiar you are in using them, the more you will be able to pay attention and engage. In a traditional face-to-face environment, we barely have to think about how we communicate with the speaker or other attendees. Be conscious that attending virtually requires that extra bit of thought and preparation.
Form a good relationship with your conference rep:Just as you would at an in-person event, there is staff who hosts the conference that is there to help answer questions, direct you where to go, and make sure you have the best experience possible. While it's not as easy as walking up to someone with a certain badge on and asking which way to the 3pm snack break, utilize the channels we've learned over the past few months to keep connected with your conference rep (email, call, text, LinkedIn, chat features). If you have a question, want to know how to make the most out of your experience, or just need help logging into a session, then reach out to your conference rep. They have worked hard to put the conference together for you and want you to fully experience all it has to offer. Your rep will probably give you more insight than a session description ever would. With that being said, they have put in hours of work to organize their event virtually, which may be a first for them-- be nice, be appreciative, be thankful for all that they've done to make the event run smoothly for you!
Speaking of forming relationships, there’s a ton of opportunity for networking, right from the comfort of your own couch! Make sure to take advantage of conference hashtags, live chats, receiptions or any other way to connect with attendees. These three tips are ways to take advantage of networking opportunities at a virtual conference.
The ability to “talk” during presentations:
When you’re at an in-person event you sit quietly, listening to the speaker but with virtual conferences you have the ability to chat in real-time with other attendees. This allows listeners to share insights and ah-ha moments, and in many cases interact with the speakers to get more value in real time. This interactivity isn’t easily possible in face-to-face events, as you can’t have 100 people talking at the same time. In virtual events you can.
Join the social media threads:
You can browse through conference hashtags on Twitter or LinkedIn to discover wisdom from people in other sessions at conferences you attend. It’s also a fun way to share highlights from the sessions you’re in. Plus, it’s a networking opportunity. Actively participating online in these threads lets you connect with other attendees to share your experiences and lessons. Share your ideas, ask questions, and reshare others’ posts to engage with fellow attendees. You’ll probably leave these conversations with a few extra LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers.
Engage in the live events:
Networking opportunities are a critical aspect of conferences, for some attendees they are even more important than speakers and educational sessions. Live events can be harder to come by at virtual conferences, but take advantage of them if they’re available. Some examples of the live events are: Virtual happy hours, virtual trivia or game night, virtual workout.
While the current circumstances forcing events online might be temporary, the trend of digital events likely isn’t. Now is the time to take the expert advice, embrace this transition, and jump headfirst into virtual conferences, to benefit your career and your business. Have you attended a virtual conference? What tips and tricks helped you to make the most out of the event? Share with us below in the comments!
BigSquare is the leading provider of Business Intelligence for law firms and professional service organizations. We focus exclusively on law firm reporting, law firm BI, law firm profitability and law firm analytics.