Student affairs conference season is here!
If you’re attending a conference opportunity, you know that there are some fantastic presentations, roundtables, and opportunities for networking waiting.
However, virtual conferences run quite a bit differently than in-person opportunities, and you may be wondering how it’ll all work.
Fear not! After attending NASPA Region I’s virtual conference this past November, I have made my list of essential tips and tricks you can take with you to your next e-conference.
1. Do your research
Deciding which e-conference(s) you want to attend is a critical first step. With nearly every conference moving virtual, the options can seem overwhelming.
- How much time can I commit to each conference?
- How much of my professional development funds can I spend?
- Do I resonate with each conference’s theme?
- What sort of opportunities will there be for networking?
- Are there any awesome presentations I need to see?
2. Make your schedule ahead of time
With so many impressive conferences and presenters, you may feel dazed when you’re faced with an agenda chock-full of intriguing programs. To help address this conundrum, many conferences offer a pre-conference scheduling tool. If your conference does not, you can utilize schedule tools like Calendly, Fantastical, Any.do, or simply use a classic paper planner.
If you like to plan ahead, make sure you check back on your conference’s web page from time to time to see if any new programs have been added as the date gets closer.
3. Dress to impress, but make sure you’re comfortable
The age of work from home has certainly changed up the norms for workwear. While e-conferences might be a shoes-off occasion, remember that there are still opportunities for networking, job searching, and learning. So dress as business-formal as you would for an in-person conference while taking these questions into consideration:
- Will I be comfortable sitting in this outfit in my home office all day long?
- Will my clothing inadvertently blend in with my background?
- If I have to stand up to get a snack during the conference, will my full outfit be appropriate?
The Wardrobe Consultant provides practical advice for video calls, such as swapping out distracting patterns for bold colors and avoiding reflective jewelry.
4. Have a professional background
A distracting, unpolished background is a surefire way to throw your networking opportunities astray. Follow these tips:
- Prop your computer up a bit so the camera angle is a bit above eye level.
- Avoid fluorescent and overhead lights. Ideally, the light source should be coming from behind the camera onto your face.
- Have a neutral, uncluttered background to prevent distractions. Pick up any strewn items, remove laundry and clothing items, and organize any papers or books in your background. While a blank wall has become a popular background option, bookshelves and non-distracting art pieces are also unimposing.
- Banish unwanted scene-stealers and warn any noise-makers in your home against interrupting your conference experience. Although we all chuckled at the video of the BBC anchor whose toddler stole the show, this may not be so funny if it were to happen to you while chatting with a potential employer.
As a bonus, take a test photo from your computer or do a trial run with a friend or family member so you’ll know how you’ll appear ahead of time.
5. Polish up your LinkedIn
LinkedIn profiles have become a key part of many e-conferences, with some platforms even having a function wherein your LinkedIn hyperlinks to your conference profile. If it’s been a hot-minute since you’ve been on Linkedin, here are some of the top things to check over on your profile:
- Current job title
- Volunteer or knowledge-community experiences
- Recent publications, speaking engagements, and blog posts
- Profile and cover photo
- As a bonus, ask those in your professional network for endorsements.
NASPA Region I’s recent e-conference allowed me to have a link to my LinkedIn profile, and I was able to expand my network by about 20 people as a result!
6. Register on the platform ahead of time, and practice
Many conferences and events require you to register and make a profile prior to logging in. As early as you are able to, register, log in, and practice using the site to familiarize yourself with the tools and modules you’ll use during the conference.
7. Take time away from the computer
Zoom fatigue is an all too real phenomenon. Remember to take breaks between presentations to make sure that you are fully able to engage and stay present within the next session.
8. Interact with the presentations
Have the chat box open to interact with the speaker and fellow conference-goers. Many presenters will invite you to introduce yourself, so take advantage of that offer. You may also notice someone in the chat who you’d like to network with later!
9. Get involved in pre-conference events
Many conferences are hosting pre-conference events. These may be in the form of early sessions, interest group meetings, mentor/mentee programs, poster presentations, and social media engagement opportunities. They can add to your professional development and help you gain even more out of the conference experience.
10. Hop in networking rooms
Easily my favorite part of NASPA Region I was the networking rooms. They were an enjoyable opportunity to meet someone else in student affairs in a one-on-one setting. Our profiles were even directly linked to our LinkedIn so we could connect and chat later.
11. Follow conference social media accounts & join social media groups
Many conferences have their own Instagram or Twitter accounts for the conference or take over their association’s main account. Follow and interact with these accounts through polls, quizzes, tips, and reshares of other conference-goers for an added dimension of interaction. Additionally, join any groups that may assist you in navigating the e-conference experience. For example, I’ve found lots of helpful info from the Facebook group NASPA21 First Time Attendees.
12. Take advantage of the fun stuff
Another highlight of my NASPA Region I experience was the bingo night. Although I didn’t win the coveted fleece vest prize, it was still a great opportunity to laugh and connect with colleagues outside of the more formal sessions. Check out your conference’s agenda for trivia, game shows, bingo, and more.
I know that attending a virtual conference can feel strange and daunting.
However, just as much, if not more work has gone into building these e-conferences to make them as amazing as an in-person experience. They can truly be a phenomenal opportunity to connect with SApros across the country and engage in awesome professional development.
For more tips on conference success, check out 16 Savvy Ways to Make Your Next Conference Presentation Your Best Yet.
What additional advice do you have on attending an e-conference? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.