It’s the annual convention you look forward to attending every year, but this time, the event destination is wherever you plug in your computer.
Providing a temporary solution to the travel restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual and hybrid events have exploded in popularity. While travel is slowly resuming, the advanced planning required for large-scale events means in-person conventions and tradeshows may take longer to return. According to PCMA’s COVID-19 survey, 87 percent of meeting planners have already cancelled events due to the pandemic, and approximately 70 percent anticipate taking those events online.
Advancements in technology and an innovative industry have taken many of the headaches out of virtual events, but it can be difficult for attendees to navigate these events without a solid game plan in place. To help you formulate your own strategy—and in conjunction with Direct Travel virtually exhibiting at BTN’s Business Travel Show America—we have provided our insights here for getting the most out of virtual events.
Do Your Research
Like any conference or event, whether you attend it virtually or in-person, do your research in advance to increase your productivity and sense of engagement.
In the case of virtual events, testing the technology is a key first step. Take the time to go through the event agenda and assess what equipment or preparation will be required. For instance, the needs and capabilities of a direct messaging conversation with a travel supplier are different than a video networking call with a small group of fellow attendees. Be prepared with a backup option, such as access to another computer or use of the event’s mobile app, in case your primary technology unexpectedly fails.
Although virtual convention halls simulate the in-person experience, it can be overwhelming to navigate a lengthy list of vendors and suppliers without the ability to physically walk by the booths and examine the offerings. Give yourself extra time before the event to read through the list of exhibiting vendors and determine which ones you would like to meet with and if you’re able to schedule an appointment in advance. Similarly, access the agenda online before the event to determine which workshops and sessions will be of most value. Make note of any programming which must be attended live and which can be watched later.
Create Your Own Zone
Perhaps the most important part of attending virtual events is to create both a physical and mental space that will allow you to be fully immersed in the digital environment. This is especially important as more and more of functions of daily life move online and create a feeling of stress and technology burnout—aka Zoom fatigue.
Start by proactively blocking off time on your calendar. Depending on the length and nature of the event, you may want to set automatic email replies notifying others that you’re unavailable. Although you might not spend all of the scheduled time in the virtual world, you should try as much as possible to treat your attendance like you would any other event. Virtual or not, conferences and conventions are learning and networking opportunities—don’t risk capping your potential with preventable distractions.
Keep a supply of snacks and water nearby, and make use of scheduled breaks in the program to step away for the screen for a short period of time. Consider keeping a physical notepad handy to give your hands a rest from the keyboard and to avoid unnecessary toggling between computer windows. Plus, writing your notes by hand will provide a stimulation unlike typing and may lead to better retention of information.
Know Your Objectives
Attending an event is an investment. Regardless of whether it takes place online, in-person, or a hybrid of both, it represents an investment of time, energy, and often company dollars. If you don’t go into an event with a clear objective established, you will likely leave disappointed.
To determine your objectives for attending, ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I attending this particular event instead of a similar, competing event?
- Who will be there that I want to meet with and what questions do I need to ask?
- What is my organization expecting me to bring back from this event?
Once you have a firm understanding of your objectives, you can map out a streamlined agenda and prioritize the sessions you want to attend and suppliers you need to connect with. This will also help in scheduling advance appointments, which are easy to arrange in a virtual environment. Although not always required, making advance appointments gives both parties a chance to do research beforehand and ensures a more efficient use of time. Ultimately, following these steps will help you make the most of your next virtual event.