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This weekend, I had the absolute joy of attending the Romance Writers of America 2020 Virtual Conference. My original intention was to attend this conference in-person in San Francisco. However, due to the global COVID19 pandemic, this was most certainly no longer an option.

Thankfully, the RWA team was able to respond immediately to the changed need of attendees, and they moved their entire 3-day conference online. In a time when most of our interactions are shifting from in-person to virtual, especially from a business perspective, I’d love to share with you my suggestions on how to make the most of a virtual conference.

Many virtual events and conferences provide an opportunity to log in to your platform, view tech tutorials and identify an agenda for yourself from session options. This is equivalent to recommendations I’ve seen about in-person events that encourage walking an event space early to locate important rooms. While every organization’s platform will look different, this could potentially allow you to register early for sessions with an attendee cap, get familiar with how to sign in so you’re not scrambling before a session begins, and test out functionality to ensure your computer browser is compatible.

Even if using social media isn’t your strong-suit, getting familiar with the online presence of your event will ensure you’re not missing out on something important. My conference seemed to be particularly vocal on Twitter and using a specific hashtag. Following this tag allowed me to quickly scroll through recent posts and see what other attendees were saying about sessions, presenters, and system issues. Your event may have an attendee Facebook Group, Twitter or Instagram hashtag, or some other online space for people to connect virtually. Make sure to at least find out if a space like this exists, and then go through the pros and cons of spending your time within that platform.

I found it surprisingly beneficial to attend Zoom meetups that were made available in my conference platform. In one, it was a small group of four and we had an amazing talk. In another, a busy group of 45, I mostly stayed quiet but got a good understanding of the more vocal members. A huge benefit to conferences and events is networking, and while it might seem like that facet is removed from a virtual event, that could not be more untrue. I actually found it incredibly beneficial to be able to take down notes about other attendees to remember for later (something that might be frowned upon in-person), as well as use the conference system to send messages to those that I’d met to initiate conversations. Just remember, if you are hoping to network with people, that means they are likely to want to network, too. Don’t miss out on asking for contact info.

In the past, I’ve always kept notes on the handouts provided in-person. But then I’m forced to sort through them all and make sure I’m not missing anything. This year, I pulled out a new notebook and kept all of my notes together, tracking from session to session. This will make it so much easier to review and reflect later on.

This is one of the major benefits of a virtual conference, and obviously, it will vary depending on the rules of your event. I am able to have access to the recordings from my conference until the end of the year, which means that after attending the live sessions and Q&As provided for those I was most interested in, I’m able to go back and watch sessions I wasn’t able to attend during their slotted time. Check on whether your conference allows this! I went to 15 sessions during my conference, and I still have another 20-or-so that I’ll be able to learn from as time allows.

I did not actually do this, but my husband suggested it for me before realizing our sessions would be available after the conference. If your sessions will not be available for later viewing, and you want to re-watch or will be unable to watch live, record your screen. There are a lot of helpful tutorials on YouTube about how to do it. Just make sure you don’t forget to record the audio as well!

Conferences are full of so much information, that sometimes, remembering the little things can get lost in the mix. Make sure you’re taking time to sit and really think about what you learned and how you can apply it to your life or business. You can do this periodically (after each session or during meal breaks), daily (at the end of the day’s sessions) or all at once (when the conference is over). It’s easy to walk away from a conference and feel so revitalized and excited about what’s to come, and yet, if you’re not stopping to make sure you’re solidifying some of the lessons you’ve learned, you’ll forget them quickly. Which leads me into my final and most important suggestion…

Once the conference is over, pull out all those notes and go through them page by page, line by line, and remind yourself of everything you’ve learned. That was #7, right? Well, what are you supposed to do with that information? Make an Action Items List. This is a specific list of things you’d like to accomplish now that you’ve received this new information or knowledge. For example, I attended a session called Mastering the Book – Agents Tell All, and one of the many things I wrote down had to do with trends in romance novel covers. I am going to include in my list of Action Items to review a specific type of cover because I’m excited about incorporating this unique perspective into the way I do marketing. So what will those action items look like for you?:

  • following up with specific people you’ve met
  • researching further into specific topics, tools or tricks
  • reworking a current business practice
  • exploring new tactics or technologies.

There are dozens of ways this can be effective. But mostly, it’s about taking the things you’ve learned and putting them into practice

Obviously, a benefit of a virtual conference is not having to deal with the cost of travel (plane tickets, hotels, food, etc.) However, you might still have it in your budget to cover the cost of an in-person event, even though you’re not going in-person. If that’s the case, decide early-on that you’re going to repurpose those funds to kickstart at least one new idea you learn from this conference. It could be something as small as getting a meal with someone you met to further your networking, or as large as investing in a new technology you’ve been needing, like a website. Whatever it is, keep those funds available for your business needs.

I hope this was helpful! I personally found attending a virtual conference to be worth every penny, and I hope you’re able to use this list to make your experience as beneficial as possible.

Drop a note in the comments if you can think of other ways a virtual conference can be useful for you! 😀


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