Preparing for a Virtual Conference During COVID-19

Nov. 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many parts of our lives. Following social distancing recommendations, many organizations have shifted their in-person conferences to virtual meetings. And while online events like webinars existed before COVID-19, virtual conferences further present benefits and challenges to navigate for attendees. For example, you can attend more than one conference to help your professional development needs while saving money on travel. However, the primary challenge of attending a virtual conference is that you lose out on the face-to-face networking aspect. No matter the benefits and challenges to a virtual conference, remember the reasons why you are attending, which most likely have to do with presenting and learning about research, gaining professional development skills and networking with others. 
 
If this is your first time attending a virtual scientific conference, you can implement some practices to help you get the best experience. Here are some tips to help you prepare, navigate and network in a virtual scientific meeting.  

Check Your Emails & Explore the Virtual Conference Platform 

Before you attend any conference, whether in-person or virtual, it is very important to read the emails leading up to the event. This can not be stressed enough for a virtual meeting. There will be links to the conference, as well as usernames and passwords that you might need to log in. There might be apps to download. There might be information to fill out before the meeting to facilitate networking. If you are presenting your work at the meeting in a poster or oral presentation, you might need to submit audio or video files before the meeting.

You also don’t want to wait until the last minute to try to log in. Instead, block off time on your calendar to go through the logistics of the online meeting and deadlines to submit additional documents, if applicable. Block off the time of the conference itself as well. Under the notes section of the calendar invite, include the conference links, usernames and passwords so you have them all in one place when the time comes to “attend” the conference. Also take this time to look through the conference schedule and plan out the sessions you want to attend, much like you would for an in-person conference.  

Dress Professionally   

While it is so easy to hang out in your PJs or sweat pants while attending a virtual conference, thinking that you might not need to turn on your camera for the sessions, you might not know until you start the meeting. Also, just because you have attended one virtual conference doesn’t mean that all others will follow the same format. With the evolution of virtual platforms/technology, there will be an evolution of virtual meetings. Dress professionally and be prepared to turn on your camera if you end up meeting one-on-one with an exhibitor or attending a networking session. Also, use your elevator pitch to maintain brief and effective communication since meetings might have a time limit or you might be in groups of people. The same rules of what you wear to present your research in-person apply for virtual conferences. Remember that these sessions might be recorded and shared with others. 

Continue to Network in a Virtual Conference

At an in-person conference, you carry around business cards and exchange them with the people you meet. How do you handle networking at a virtual conference? Most virtual conferences don’t have many formal ways of networking, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take the initiative to network. Once you map out the sessions you would like to attend, attend them and ask great questions. Not only will the speaker chime in and answer, but so will others who might have something to add. Then, follow up via LinkedIn or whatever connection system the conference portal uses to connect speakers and other attendees. By the way, make sure you fill out your profile before the meeting starts. Another way to build connections is to be active on social media during the virtual conference. Be sure to use the conference hashtags to reference any key takeaways, comments or what you are learning. Being active on social media is a great way to connect with other professionals. 

In summary, to manage virtual conferences, stay updated with your emails, explore the conference platform as early as you can, dress appropriately and keep networking. 
To put these tips into practice, register for ABRCMS: The Virtual Experience taking place on Nov. 9-13, 2020. The conference has experts sharing their experience on topics ranging from COVID-19 vaccine development to engaging in productive conversations about race to machine learning methods for predicting genomic variation – all centered on the theme of Visualizing a Better Future in STEM. 

Author: Shilpa Gadwal

Shilpa Gadwal
Shilpa Gadwal is the Career Resources Specialist at ASM.