Collector - November 2020 - 10

BESTPRACTICES

Online Engagement
How to make the most of virtual events and conferences.
By Anne Rosso May

H

ere's what you don't get at a virtual
conference: Handshakes. Lost in
an unfamiliar city. That awkward
moment when you realize you don't
remember someone's name but you're not
close enough to read their lanyard.
Here's what you do get at a virtual
conference: Instant chats. The convenience
of knowing right where the bathroom is. The
ability to reach out to any attendee at any given
moment-and you always know their name.
Large, face-to-face events may be on
hold right now, but the ability to network,
exchange information and learn from
industry experts is still very much alive
and well. Virtual conferences, which have
understandably exploded this year, have
shown themselves to hold unique advantages
over their in-person siblings. Often they can
deliver extra content and enable attendees
to interact more easily with presenters
and peers. No need to languish in a TSA
line-if you have a computer and an internet
connection, you can attend any meeting you
want without leaving home. So, sign up and
engage using these helpful tips.

HOW TO PREPARE
Download the conference app or check out
the link beforehand, if you can, to familiarize
yourself with the tools offered. Some
conference materials may be available in
advance of the event start time. If so, look over
slides or presenters' bios so you can go into a
session with some foundational knowledge.
"That way you can spend less time
passively consuming information and more
time actively engaging with the content,"
said Kimberly Smith, marketing manager for
Clarify Capital.
Michael Bleau, co-founder and CEO of
EventHub, encouraged attendees to build out
their event profile and prewrite a concise,
interesting intro about themselves.

10

"Research other attendees who will be
present and determine who you want to
meet and what connection will cause those
targeted attendees to want to engage with
you," he said.
At face-to-face events, if you don't have a
person's phone number and you can't find
them in a crowd, you might not be able
to connect. Virtual events eliminate that
obstacle, putting the contact information of
every attendee in your hands.
You also have an advantage when it comes
to planning your day.
"Many virtual conferences record some of
the talks, allowing you to watch them later,"
noted Carla Diaz, co-founder of Broadband
Search. "This is especially helpful when you
have to do something else in that time or
if you're stuck choosing between two talks.
Plan which sessions will not be recorded,
and that are relevant to you, and set those
as your priority. If you have extra time, you
can start filling in the sessions that will be
recorded or watch an extra one and view the
recorded ones later."
Block off time on your calendar so you
can give the conference your full attention.
Juggling emails from co-workers while
you're trying to listen to a presentation just
wastes your time.
One of the best parts of working
from home is that you can wear pajamas
all day if you want or let the dirty coffee
mugs pile up around your computer.
But if you think you might participate
in video chats during the virtual
conference, take some time to clean up
your desk and surrounding area. Ditch
the sweatshirt and opt for something
more professional-if you have it, you
could even wear a shirt branded with
your company logo. Set yourself up in a
secluded space so kids or other family
members don't distract you.

CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE
Most virtual conference platforms have
built-in tools to help attendees engage
and talk.
"The nice thing about virtual formats
is that chatting during a presentation is
much less disruptive," Smith said. "There
can be multiple one-on-one and group
conversations happening at once, making it
advantageous for those who want to hone in
on relationship-building."
Participate! Active participants get the
most out of any conference, but if you are shy
or soft-spoken, a virtual event is your ticket
to total engagement. Type questions into the
chat box, take polls, initiate conversations
with vendors in the expo hall, and reach out
to someone you haven't met yet without any
of the face-to-face awkwardness and squirmy
small talk you might ordinarily dread from
interactions with strangers.
Set goals for yourself. Nina Jensen,
community outreach manager for 8x8,
suggested trying to introduce yourself to 20
attendees, participate in a Q&A by asking
a memorable question, or make 20 new
connections on LinkedIn.
Many of us are working from home
right now. If you're video chatting with
a peer and spot personal items in the
background, like family photos or sports
memorabilia, use it as an icebreaker.
"Showing an interest in people's lives can
spark conversations and help make lasting
connections," said Shelley Grieshop,
creative writer for Totally Promotional.
Don't forget about expo halls. While you
may not be getting the swag you would
in person, you might be able to watch
product demos or otherwise engage with
a vendor that you might not have at a
face-to-face event. In person, you may not
visit certain exhibitors for fear that your
current vendor sees that you are shopping.

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Collector - November 2020

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