Your survival guide to attending a virtual conference
August 24, 2020
The next real estate conference you are most likely to attend won’t require you to drive or fly. You won’t have to book a hotel or dinner reservations. Instead, you will go online via your computer or smartphone.
Virtual conferences have rapidly taken to replacing major in-person meetings and conventions in every industry. Even the largest meeting of Realtors, the annual convention of the National Association of Realtors, has announced it will be virtual this fall.
The NAR Annual Convention announced it will move from an in-person event that was set for New Orleans in early November to a fully virtual event online from November 13-16.
Attending a conference or convention online sounds a lot easier, right?
Be forewarned that attending a virtual convention for three or four days in a row can be as exhausting as attending one in person. But you can reduce the stress and strain that can come from attending a virtual meeting by following these tips before, during, and after an all online conference.
Before a virtual conference
Plan early: Block your calendar as if you are attending a real conference. Select your “must attend” events. And if technology fails during a must-attend session, have a “Plan B” alternative as a backup. Make sure you build in breaks – even if the schedulers appear to overlook this need – we are all learning how to adapt!
Take a test drive: If you have never attended a virtual conference before you block your schedule for three or four days, test out a half-day online event. There are many free conferences and meetings online locally and nationally that cover many industries, including real estate. Try out how it feels to attend a virtual conference – being online for four or more hours straight – you’ll discover in advance if you need better equipment. You might find you need a more comfortable office chair or a large computer monitor. It’s better to learn this in advance of attending a multi-day event.
Be tech ready: Explore the website of the conference you are planning to attend to see if it offers a mobile app. The earlier you can download, install, and set up the app, the better. There are often built-in tools such as an event schedule calendar featuring alters, a list of attendees, and ways to connect with others. If you know the conference is going to use video, some browsers (Google Chrome, Windows) allow you to add features that can speed up video playback. Research and install these, and they might come in handy. Finally, test your viewing technology. If you are going to have interactive sessions where you can be seen and heard along with other participants, make sure you have the essentials for two-way participation. You need to make sure you have the right set up: a good video camera, proper lighting, and a microphone. While built-in cameras and mics may work fine, investing the dollars you are saving by attending virtually to better equipment can help you make a great impression.
Remember to clean your screen: Smudges can make a laptop’s camera blurry. Set your brightness level. Make sure everything is plugged in well in advance of your meeting. If you know you are using technology like Zoom, Webex or GotoMeeting, make sure you have the latest software installed well before you try to connect.
During the virtual conference
Breaks will save your back and your eyes: You need to stand and stretch – and often – when attending a virtual conference. You will not be getting up anytime soon to walk several blocks to your next session like you would at a regular convention. So, don’t be stuck at your desk either. Walk around your room, and remember to exercise your eyes as well. Eye fatigue can give you headaches if you stare at a screen too long. You can learn about different ways to exercise your eyes here. Remember, breaks are vital to virtual conference endurance.
Use a video playback speed hack: Most virtual conventions won’t be completely live, as it takes too much bandwidth. While live sessions may be more common for smaller breakout panels and workshops, General Sessions are most likely going to be on video. There’s a hack to speed up your viewing to squeeze out extra time to get all the content still but stay on top of your regular business responsibilities.
The most common commercial video platform is Vimeo and YouTube for general videos. YouTube has a built-in speed adjustment found by clicking on the gear icon at the bottom of the YouTube video player. Microsoft Edge offers users a tool that adjusts YouTube playback as well. Vimeo Pro and Business accounts also have this feature built-in, but Google Chrome users can add a plugin that allows them to control Vimeo videos’ speed. This can be a huge time saver when you have a presenter who speaks slow. While the average person speaks at a pace of 100-130 words per minute, our minds can fully comprehend speech at 180 words per minute.
Ask questions and engage whenever possible: A virtual conference can’t replace the energy one gets from being in a room with other people. Keep the Chat Box open and do your best to ask questions. Use the Chat Box to read and comment to all – or directly to others – when you have a thought to share. Being engaged online can help you get more out of a virtual conference. If you get the opportunity to participate in a live two-way session, make sure you look directly at the camera, frame your face correctly, and avoid backlighting so you can look your best.
After the virtual conference
Recorded sessions: If you know for sure you’ll have access to all or some recorded sessions soon after the virtual conference, take advantage of it. Look at the convention schedule for potential conflicts of overlapping sessions you want to attend. If you know one session will be available for playback later, visit the one that won’t be viewable. It’s great when you can “attend” a virtual meeting you would have certainly missed in person.
Electronic handouts: Often, a speaker will mention that they will make their PowerPoint presentation or other material available after the meeting. Send yourself a reminder to follow up to collect these items if you don’t automatically receive them as promised. This often saves you a lot of time taking notes – or trying to capture a screenshot.
Post-conference networking: While we can’t attend a major real estate convention in person, we can try to take advantage of the fact that more people than ever are likely to participate in a virtual meeting of the Florida Realtors or the National Association of Realtors. That means a shared experience with more people whom you know. And while you may not be physically sitting next to them, think about how you might follow up with them afterward to discuss. Perhaps even hold a Zoom meeting post-conference to share what you learned and discover what others learned.
The great thing about virtual conferences is that it is hard to beat the ROI — return on investment – it offers versus an in-person meet. The downside is that even the most creative attempts at hosting a virtual Happy Hour can’t replace having a drink in the lobby bar with a colleague or friend.
The good news is you can get a lot out of a virtual convention if you get organized, stay focused by taking breaks and creating ways to stay engaged. You still might need a vacation afterwards.
And if you have any issues with your technology, remember you can always contact Tech Helpline. Your tech support team available as a member benefit at no additional cost.