How to get the most out of a virtual conference -the survivors guide
As a child, I loved to read, and one of my favourite books was ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dahl. Charlie was a young boy, who, against the odds found a golden ticket and won a tour of an amazing chocolate factory. In June, I applied for the PCRS Scientific Mentorship Programme with the opportunity to participate in major respiratory conferences supported by mentors, and to learn about the latest in respiratory research and transfer that learning into primary care. I applied hoping I would gain a place, but knew that many others would also apply and competition for such an amazing opportunity would be very high. I thought my chances of being successful would be miniscule. So you can imagine how excited I was when I got an email from the PCRS in late August …...’Dear Bonnie, on behalf of the Primary Care Respiratory Society, we are delighted to inform you that your appplication for the PCRS mentorship scheme has been successful’. Now I know how Charlie must have felt when he found the golden ticket. Excited, overwhelmed and stunned. Instead of going to a chocolate factory I was going to not just one, but three major conferences and the first, the European Respiratory Society conference was only a couple of weeks away. Unlike previous years, due to Covid-19, the conference was not going to be held in a beautiful European city (this year should have been Vienna) – it was going to be virtual. Instead of meeting the other successful candidates and mentors in person before, during and after the conference, we would be meeting on Zoom and communicating in a whats app group. I must be honest, I am not a very technical person and the notion of virtual meetings and conferences are a new concept to me, so I have compiled some top tips on how to survive (and maybe even thrive) the virtual conference….
- Before the conference begins – make sure you have booked time off work and can attend. Clear your diary ahead of schedule so there are no interruptions. Treat a virtual conference in the same way you would a real life conference.
- Look at the programme in advance and decide which sessions you would like to watch. If there are multiple sessions, have a second choice in case the one you have chosen turns out to be a disappointment.
- Before the conference begins, consider what your expected outcomes are – what do you want to get out of the conference - this will help you to choose appropriate sessions.
- Choose a ‘wildcard’ - a session you would not normally attend. You never know – this could be the most memorable (hopefully for the right reasons)!
- Technology – make sure that you have a device with a decent sized screen. Some presentations include slides with writing and images that would be hard to read/see on a small screen.
- You may need a bluetooth speaker if the speaker on your device has poor sound quality.
- Headphones are useful especially if there are lots of distracting noises in your environment, or if others in your household do not wish to join in.
- Make sure you keep your device is fully charged. An extension lead enables you to be mobile if necessary.
- Have a pen and notepad handy.
- Save your login to your favourites bar so that you can join the conference easily each time you turn on your device.
- If, like me, you are not very technical, find someone who is able to help you get set up
- During the conference – remove distractions – put your phone away so you aren’t tempted to check emails, social media, or the news.
- If anyone else is at home, ask them not to interrupt you unless necessary and find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed so you can concentrate.
- If you are attending a session and it turns out to be a disappointment, don’t be afraid to change to another session. Unlike a real life conference, no one will know you have left and you will not have to try and escape without being noticed. This is one of the advantages of a virtual conference.
- Make a note of sessions that are worth revisiting, again this is an advantage of a virtual conference where sessions are recorded.
- If you make notes, keep them short and to the point – how many times have you been to a conference and written copious notes and never read them again.
- Self care – plan time for breaks – go out for regular walks or some other form of exercise. Take time out to move away from your screen.
- Keep hydrated – have a bottle of water by your side and make sure you drink regularly. Plan meal breaks.
- Make sure the chair you sit on is comfortable and that your screen is in the correct position so you don’t put a strain on your back or eyes.
- You do not have to watch every session back to back. Sessions are usually recorded so you can watch them at your leisure. Most virtual conferences enable participants to watch sessions for several weeks or even months afterwards. If you plan to watch sessions at a later date make a note of which sessions you are going to watch and set aside some time to do so. If not, you run the risk of running out of time and missing something you wish you hadn’t.
- Interacting with fellow delegates - conferences are usually memorable for the social interactions that we have with our fellow delegates. A virtual conference can be isolating unless you can link up with others who are attending. Find out who else is going and form a whats app group. By doing this you can let each other know what is worth watching or maybe what can be missed. Join twitter and share your experiences in real time, and find out what others are tweeting. If you have set up a social group you could also have a zoom meeting each evening to reflect on what you have learnt from the conference that day and how it will affect your practice.
The positives of a virtual conference - virtual conferences are more affordable and accessible. Not only is the cost of the conference reduced, but the accessory expenses are eliminated – the cost of travel, a hotel room, and food and drink. For many, travelling across Europe would be a considerable expense and mean taking additional time off work and away from family to attend the event.
Virtual conference sessions are accessible after the event has finished. This means you can watch additional sessions – very useful when sessions that were equally appealing clashed with each other. They are more environmentally friendly without long distance travel for presenters or delegates and there's no chance of being tracked and traced!
The negatives of a virtual conference – even if you set up a social group, attending a virtual conference can never replicate the excitement of meeting old friends and making new ones. It can feel a bit lonely. I also missed visiting the show stands and seeing company representatives and discovering new technologies. If you visit a virtual conference there are no free pens or mugs or shiny brochures!
Being selected for the PCRS mentorship scheme has been a highlight of 2020. A year which will now be forever memorable not only for a virus that has changed the way we live and work, but also for the amazing opportunity that the mentorship scheme has provided.
Nurse Practitioner, Essex