Conferences are a great way to network, earn CPE and stay up-to-date on new developments in the profession, but for some professionals, the travel time and expense can be obstacles. Virtual conferences offer the same content and CPE credits, but with some features that are unique to the online experience. You may even find that it’s more appealing than attending on-site.
Benefits of virtual conferences
Perhaps the best reason to attend an online learning event is the flexibility to view sessions when and where you want. With a virtual conference, you’ll get to choose from all the same thought-provoking sessions and speakers as on-site attendees. Plus, you’ll likely receive the handouts and presentations in advance of the sessions. This can help you prepare your questions ahead of time if the session includes a Q&A period. You’ll also be able to access sessions that are held concurrently via the archive, so there’s no need to choose between two interesting topics; you can view one via livestream and watch the other later. And if you missed that key point the speaker made, you can go back and listen again.
Another big benefit is the ability to network with attendees via the conference platform. You won’t have to search an exhibit hall or wander through a networking reception hoping to run into that person you’re looking to connect with. Instead, you can reach out via the event platform to any attendee at the conference, so you won’t miss making those important connections. And if you’re an introvert, networking virtually may be more within your comfort zone.
Tips to help extroverts get the most out of virtual conference
As an extrovert, I get energy from being around other people. Talking about new ideas helps me remember key points and synthesize new information. If you’re like me, don’t rule out attending an online learning event instead think about how you might create a group experience in your office. Maybe you want to book a conference room and invite colleagues who are also attending to watch sessions with you. Or schedule group discussions at the end of the day when on-site attendees are at a reception. Another idea is to teach what you have learned to your co-workers after the event. This is an excellent way to help retain your knowledge and show leadership in your organization.
How to prepare for an online conference
You’ll want to make sure you create your schedule ahead of time and make conference attendance a priority. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going on in your office or at home, but don’t put off attending sessions, if possible. Block your calendar and find a quiet place where you can focus so that you can get the most out of your investment.
Don’t forget to plan to participate in the extra activities as well. Many online conferences have several ways to engage via the conference platform or social media, such as morning coffee chats, online polling and one-on-one time with speakers. You can also talk with other conference attendees on Twitter and share key takeaways on LinkedIn. If the event has Facebook Live interviews with speakers, be sure to post comments. By trying at least one of these activities per day, you’ll gain deeper insights, grow your network and enhance your learning experience.
Consider adding online conferences to your professional development program to help you stay on track to get your CPE requirements and develop your skills and competencies. You’ll enjoy the flexibility, the affordability and all the content.
Jennifer Gardner, Communications Manager--Social Strategy, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.