Attending Your First Virtual Conference?
In the best circumstances, attending a conference virtually can be off-putting. Without being able to see the other people attending with you, it’s easy to feel disoriented and disconnected from the event. However, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, conferences all over the world must either move entirely online or be cancelled or postponed, including this year’s AIHce EXP 2020, which will be fully virtual.
For those of us who have never attended to a virtual conference before, remember: studies show that online learning can be as effective as in-person learning. With the right preparation and mindset, you can accomplish just as much at a virtual AIHce EXP as you could if you were in Atlanta.
Start by treating the virtual conference as seriously as you would one that you were physically attending by blocking out your calendar with sections of time set aside for each event. During these times, make attending virtual sessions and other events your priority, reducing competing obligations as much as you can. Prioritize the sessions you most want to attend, then block out some time for sessions that are less critical but which you still wish to see. Close the door to your room and put up a “Do not disturb” sign. Close email and social media windows in your browser—you wouldn’t be checking them if you were a physical audience member. Tell anyone you’re expecting not to call or text between the times you’ve blocked out; use the conference’s scheduled breaks to address these other obligations instead. In the meantime, take notes on a notepad, just as if the presenter were in the room with you.
One problem that attendees of a virtual conference can face is experiencing technical difficulties. You can’t be fully certain that none will occur, but you can decrease the chances of it happening to you by making sure all the necessary software is downloaded on your computer at least 30 minutes before your session begins. If you’re using audio or visual technology, make sure that it’s set up properly as well. Familiarize yourself with all the functions of the platform hosting the presentations, including its chat feature. Find out how to contact IT support if you need to. Learn how to communicate with the presenter and other attendees and use that channel for networking opportunities.
Even though you’re attending sessions from your home, it’s still less intimidating to attend a conference with a group of people you know. Find out if any colleagues are also attending AIHce EXP, and plan to take some sessions together. Agree to talk briefly on Skype, Zoom, or another social media platform afterwards to share your experiences. Isolation can be exhausting, so reach out to others in whatever ways you can.
Finally, virtual conference sessions do have an advantage on their in-person counterparts. In addition to taking place in the comfort of your own home, recordings and replays are typically available after the session is over. Full virtual conference registrants automatically receive access to this year’s AIHce EXP OnDemand, which will be available mid-July through December 31, 2020.
Because working from home comes with many distractions, you might be interested in refreshing yourself to make sure your newly gained knowledge has fully sunk in. It’s only human to get distracted, especially in these unusual times, but, with planning and a little discipline, you can still achieve a successful conference experience.