How to attend a virtual conference
With the 2012 ALA Virtual Conference right around the corner, I’m sharing some tips for attending online conferences and webinars. Below are things I’ve learned while completing an online master’s degree, presenting content virtually, and organizing/attending the ACRL virtual conference back in 2011:
1. Clear your schedule.
Multitasking is a fabulous thing, but it’s easy to slip into mindlessness during a virtual conference, particularly if the slide deck is less than scintillating. Don’t double book yourself to be on-call or monitoring emails during the time you’ve set aside to learn a new skill. Chances are you or your institution paid quite a bit of money for this opportunity and it’s important that you engage actively with the presenters, audience, and content. Lock your office door, block out time on your calendar, and force quit Outlook. It’s time to learn.
2. Get yourself a rocking headset.
There’s nothing more attractive than a earphone/microphone combo unit. I jest, but honestly, if there is any kind of audience/presenter interaction planned, you’re going to want something more than your built-ins. Most online conferences allow audience members to chat/IM with the presenters or moderators in order to ask questions. Only a few sessions I’ve attended have allowed people to actually speak to one another and usually these were smaller, more intimate events. I can only imagine what kind of nightmare would occur if hundreds of attendees tried to speak over one another. If you’re attending a virtual conference from work, wearing headphones sends a non-verbal message that you are busy. If attending a virtual conference from home, I’ve found that wearing headphones helps me concentrate on the session instead of wandering off to wash the dishes or organize my colored pencils.
3. Forage for noms.
Having some delicious snacks can help you stay focused on the task at hand: learning. Plus, carefully selected, healthy foods can give you a quick energy boost when staring at a screen just… becomes… too… boring… zzzz. I recommend coffee (it’s one of my main food groups), fruit or veggies like green peppers, apples, or carrots (just make sure your mic is muted!), and little bit of trail mix with raisins, nuts, and chocolate.
4. Cue up conference hashtag.
We all know and love tabs and multiple windows, right? Use them to open the webinar software and Twitter simultaneously so that you can monitor off-site mentions. Most events will have a designated #hashtag and this can be a great resource. You can connect with other attendees to build your network. Sometimes people will live-tweet the webinar and non-attendees will chime in with their own thoughts and questions. Presenters will often interact via the hashtag pre-event to drum up excitement and curiosity. And if you blog about the virtual conference, be sure to tag your post to maximize reach.
5. Take breaks.
It’s really, really tough to sit for an extended period of time and maintain focus while looking at a screen and hearing a disembodied voice. I recommend taking a few breaks throughout the day. Some virtual conferences have these built in as transition time. What I’d love to see is a virtual conference that incorporates some sitting/standing/stretching exercise techniques for attendees to go through during the down time (ALA, go!). This leads right into my last tip, which is…
6. Find out if the sessions will be recorded.
Attendees often have access to recorded sessions for a certain period of time after the event. This allows you to take breaks when you need them while still getting the most out of the virtual conference. Another thing you can do if you have access to recorded sessions for an extended period of time is pace them out. For example, if you had access to 9 recorded sessions, you could watch one session a week for 3 months. You could learn a new skill from a new presenter each week!
I also encourage you to check out Jo Alcock’s Ten Tips for Presenting a Webinar, if only to get a feel for what it’s like on the opposite side of the screen. So, what other advice do you have for attending a virtual conference? Feel free to share in the comments!