Virtual events are part of the new normal. Your next conference will not be a trip to the sunny beaches of Hawaii or bustling downtown Manhattan - it will be a trip to your living room, kitchen, or basement.
Is it ideal? Of course not, but remote is here to stay and virtual events are up more than 1000%.
While the in-person experience is impossible to fully replicate, there are plenty of ways to enhance your virtual experience.
Whether you are one of 50 or 5,000 attendees, summits and conferences remain a vital component of business, networking, and skill building. So, don’t let Zoom fatigue deter you.
From registration, to technology, to networking after the fact - this post will cover how to get the most from your next virutal event. Read on to learn more.
Register and Stay Informed
Your role in a virtual event begins with registering and ends with showing up. It may seem like common sense, but this next part needs repeating:
If you register for an event, make sure you show up, er, log on.
Keep in mind that events are planned in advance and registration numbers help hosts anticipate and prepare for their audience.
Life happens and sometimes a change of plans is unavoidable, but once you register - try to set yourself up for success.
Put it on your calendar, send yourself an email, or put a sticky on your desk - do whatever it is you need to do to ensure your own attendance.
Another good way to keep the event top of mind is to keep up to date with any conference emails that come your way. These emails will often contain a sneak peek into conference details, as well as important information about the day.
Questions for the day before
If you registered in advance and marked your calendar - you're ahead of the curve. Still, there's a few questions to consider to ensure a seamless virtual experience:
- Is there a log-in password or event code?
- Will mics and cameras be muted or on? How can you change their setting?
- Who should you contact with questions or trouble-shooting?
- Will there be interactive screen-sharing or other participatory elements?
Most conferences will provide a best practices list or FAQ section in advance. If they don’t, reach out via email to clarify any questions you might have.
Get Familiar with the Event Platform
Prior to 2020, most people were only vaguely familiar with virtual communication platforms. Maybe you'd used FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts, but that was often for informal conversations - not work related meetings.
Conferences demand more than a simple one-on-one video interface.
The video conferencing industry is booming and there are now dozens of platforms available, which can be overwhelming for users.
If you are already familiar with a particular platform, great!
However, if you are using an application for the first time, check out their dedicated best practices page. Most platforms - like Zoom and Microsoft Teams - have a best practices page that offer helpful suggestions.
Whatever the case, it's a good idea to spend a few minutes experimenting with a new platform prior to the event. That way you can acquaint yourself with the interface and ask questions if necessary.
Download the app or check browser compatibility
Most platforms are accessible through a web browser or downloadable app.
Sure, downloading an app is an extra step, but it's almost always worth it. For most platforms, the app will ensure the best user experience: better camera and audio clarity, enhanced functionality, and a more immersive experience.
In addition to those benefits, the app often adds an extra security measure, which is a smart play for you and your company.
Know what to expect
An appropriate conference format is critical for the attendees’ experience.
The format is ultimately up to the host, but you'll have a better attendee experience if you know what to expect ahead of time. Here's a few questions to explore:
- Will the conference utilize live streams or pre-recorded sessions?
- How will audience members participate?
- Are there breakout rooms or other networking sessions?
- Will there be a chat window or a Q&A session?
A good host will provide this information in advance, and most will reiterate this protocol at the beginning of a session. If you have any doubts, just ask.
Practice Good Audio and Visual Etiquette
Taking just a few minutes to curate how you present yourself virtually can make a world of difference - you will look professional and put your best foot forward.
If you haven’t already, take a good look at your office setup through your webcam.
With your well-known office colleagues this may be a casual setting, but for a conference with potential clients and an unknown audience - you might want to make some adjustments.
Once your space is presentable it’s time to think about how best to use the camera and microphone.
Stay on mute
Nothing derails a web event faster than having someone in the audience who doesn't realize their microphone is on.
Your microphone can pick up more noise than you think it will - from rustling clothes, to typing, to the crunch of your afternoon snack.
When your microphone is on *everyone* can hear you. Not only is this disruptive, it can - depending on what you're doing - be pretty embarrassing.
When entering a virtual event, a good rule of thumb is to start with your video on and microphone off. You can always change your mind later, but that's a good place to start.
Turn your camera on
Many people choose to turn off their cameras for the entire session. While this can be tempting, it's not always advisable.
UX researchers at PWC note that attending the conference with your camera on shows the speaker that you are engaged. It gives them the opportunity to read the room based on normal social cues.
Even if you don't leave your camera on the entire time, try to at least start out the session visible to all. This way other attendees can see who is on the call and make a human connection.
When turning your webcam on, make sure you're ready and presentable. While working from home has made every day casual Friday, you want to dress the part for a conference - virtual or otherwise.
When to turn your webcam off
Sometimes the remote work environment is beyond your control.
If you have active bodies (kids, pets, etc) in the background, then consider turning your webcam off. If you are calling in from outside your home on a smartphone, it might be best to turn off your camera.
Things to think about include:
- How strong is your internet connection?
- Is there a lot of background noise (including traffic, wind, or abrupt sounds)?
- Are you able to hold your phone steady and capture a clear image of yourself?
Simply put, if you're in a situation where your background could be distracting - turning your camera off is understandable and acceptable.
Networking and event participation
The old adage is that deals are made on the golf course.
What that really means is that the best and most important aspects of business often happen outside of formal settings. Conferences provide invaluable space for those interactions.
As an attendee, make the most of social media, email lists, and break out sessions to build your business and facilitate relationships with your fellow conference-goers.
Will it be the same as hitting the beach or the links? Of course not - but no one expects that. If you are unsure how to pursue these leads in a virtual setting, reach out to the organizers about dedicated vehicles for networking.
Make your comments and questions count
Attention spans are difficult to keep in online environments. Researchers have found that the optimal e-learning lesson should not exceed 6 minutes!
As an attendee, this information is important in two ways.
If a session is on the longer side, be aware of your own attention span. It can be easy to multi-task or drift away from the content. While this may not be entirely your fault, do your best to stay focused and engaged.
When asking questions or participating in an interactive component of the conference, do your best to be clear and concise. Long-winded questions and comments are particularly difficult to follow in an online format.
Virtual conferences are here to stay, so let’s make them as meaningful as possible.
Rest assured that everyone has had a bad video conferencing experience at this point, so this is an opportunity to excel and make the most of a new normal.
While most of the responsibility falls on the host, as an attendee you can enhance your experience and put your best foot forward by coming prepared.