How to actually attend a virtual or online conference

October 6, 2020

‘Oh goody, a fully-online virtual conference!’ Said no one ever.

We feel we don’t need to explain why Console had to reimagine its in-person conference for property management professionals, aka NEBULA: beyond 2020, as an online experience this year. If you’re going to be watching NEBULA on October 23 and this will be your first fully-virtual conference, well… us too. It’s easy to point out that online events have plenty of advantages over in-person events. You can watch them wherever you’re comfortable, in your most comfortable pants or no pants at all, if that’s how you roll. You can get up to use the bathroom without 400 pairs of eyes staring at you, you can hit pause, you can hit replay an infinite number of times, and there’s no travel, expenses, nor inconvenience required.

For most of us, the problem is not finding the value in an online conference—it’s literally just a question of how you’re supposed to consume that conference content in a way we are all still so radically unfamiliar with.

How do you make an online event not suck?

Specifically, at Console, we asked ourselves this: how do we make a virtual / not-in-person / online conference not suck?Having now attended a couple of virtual events ourselves, here’s what we’ve learned about getting genuine and lasting value from an online event.

Before the event

Get your boss + coworkers to attend the event with you.

Getting buy-in from other people in your office gives you the best chance of actually logging in and showing up. In part, this is simply because more attendees in the office mean there are fewer obstacles like double-booked meetings standing between you and your event.

But in part, getting coworkers and managers to join you and seek out that value for themselves means you’ll have someone to share the experience with, and you’ll probably be more engaged with the material as well.

Block out the time in your calendar

If you can’t get your team on board, at least block out the time in your calendar. You should do this anyway. But blocking it out and planning to do nothing but stream the event gives you a fighting chance of getting your money’s worth of content.

Sound check!

About an hour before the event starts, make sure your technology works, your wifi is decent enough to be streaming from, your pc is plugged in, and you’ve got your link to attend the event. If things are going to go haywire, you still have time to fix them. If you leave this until moments before things kick off, you’re inviting trouble. Trust us!

Being online ahead of time also ensures you’re not missing the most entertaining and engaging content that most online events have to offer—the opening keynote. Sidenote here: our opening keynote address at NEBULA: beyond 2020 this year is going to be amazing, so don’t miss it!

Get in the zone

Set up your attendance space and review your schedule of talks. You’re aiming for a space that’s comfortable, quiet, and not too hot or cold. Reviewing your schedule of talks before you sit down and get ‘in the zone’ will remind you why you bought tickets in the first place. It will prepare you mentally to soak up all the information and energy on offer.

During the event

VIPs this way, please

Online events are a bit of an equaliser in that there is less emphasis on VIP status than in-person events. One way to amp up your experience is to remind yourself that this event is about you looking after yourself, and investing in your future. So give yourself the premium experience! Whether that’s a fresh new notebook and pen to make notes with, a glass of something celebratory, wearing your best perfume / cologne, or shouting yourself a massage afterwards is up to you. The main thing is to make a ceremony out of the event, and emphasise what makes you feel special.

Resist the urge to multitask!

No, you can’t multitask. Not even you, self-proclaimed multitasking wizards. There’s plenty of research to support the finding that the human brain doesn’t hold attention on multiple tasks at the same time: it can only switch between tasks vying for attention.

The pitfalls of multitasking mean that this task-switching results in the incompletion or loss of one task, or the very slow and imperfect completion of both. Either outcome immediately defeats the point of attending an event in the first place.

This is especially true for events where you aren’t in the room with the speakers. These sessions actually need more focus from you, not less. Why? You lack the advantage of having another human presence in the room with you to keep you engaged. That lack of presence means it’s harder to connect, and especially harder to feel seen. Besides everything else, stress to yourself that (in most cases) you paid to be here. You chose to be here. Finally, we’ll just add this: you wouldn’t be working if you were at an in-person conference. And if you try to get something else done while watching an event online, the result will be the same. Why bother attending the event at all, then?

Remind yourself of your physical presence in the room

We tried to resist using the word mindfulness. We tried. But the truth is that online experiences tend to forget that we all experience everything physically. When we are at an event, we are literally immersed in it. We don’t need to be reminded of where we are.A virtual experience? Not so much. We don’t tend to think much about how we’re physically going to experience something through a screen. It’s easy to get swept up in the (almost exclusively) audio-visual aspects of these events that we forget the other senses are part of our experience too. Depriving those other senses of any real stimulation lessens the intensity of the experience, and consequently, your engagement with the event. Mindfulness here is simple. Here’s all you need to do to snap back into the moment:

  • Take one big breath in and out. Pay attention to how it fills your lungs and empties again.
  • Feel your tongue in your mouth, and feel it touching your teeth.
  • Notice your body sitting in your chair, and where it touches the chair.
  • Close your eyes, smile for a second, and note the colour of the inside of your eyelids. Open them again.

That’s it! Welcome back to the present.

After the event

Schedule your replays

Schedule your replays for talks you missed, and any talks that you wanted to take more notes on. If you don’t do this, we can pretty much guarantee you’re not going to get to them. We recommend you schedule those replays into the first 1-2 weeks after the event while the content still feels fresh in your mind. You can also use this opportunity to share the video with other people in your team or office who might be interested.

Pass it on

In-person events often suffer from a chronic lack of takeaways. By this, we mean that all too often, the compelling insights that speakers are sharing at these events are quickly forgotten or not implemented by attendees.

The most effective antidote to post-event memory fade is teaching or telling someone else what you’ve learned—or even just talking about it to someone else who wasn’t there. It’s called the protege effect, and basically, when we teach, we internalise and process information more deeply and we tend to embed that knowledge in our memory for longer. NEBULA: beyond 2020 airs on Friday October 23 from 11am AEST, 9am AWST, 11:30 CDT, 12pm AEDT, 2pm NZDT. Register now.

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