Conferences have moved to a virtual format and will likely remain that way for a while. Traveling to and spending days at conferences in rooms and events full of people might be one of the last “return-to-normal” business practices we see.

But professional nurses still need the education, networking, and exposure to new ideas that make conferences so valuable. You can still gain a lot from a virtual conference, but it takes some preparation and a new set of expectations.

  1. Understand the Platform

Virtual conferences will use some of the most state-of-the-art platforms to help attendees form and keep the personal connections that make conference learning and networking so easy. Download any needed software ahead of time and then spend some time exploring the conference’s site so you’re able to confidently move from an event to a working group to a panel discussion.

  1. Pay Attention to Your Own Surroundings

You might be home, but a conference is no time to look like it. Wear business-appropriate clothes that you would wear to a typical conference. It’s better to be a little over dressed than to look too casual. If you find other attendees are dressing down, you can always change if that would make you more comfortable (and that’s one of the positive aspects of attending a conference from home). Be aware of your surroundings, too. It’s not always easy to find a well-lit, quiet, neutral background space when you’re in your house (one of the negative aspects of attending a conference from home). Look for a plain wall or one with just a few items on it or find a neutral virtual background. Use headphone to reduce noise distractions. Don’t eat while you’re on video.

  1. Be Prepared

Before you sit down, make sure you have all the supplies you would need at a traditional conference. Just like taking an online class, have your laptop or pens and paper ready for note taking and try to limit distractions as much as possible. And because business card swapping is less likely to happen, practice a good elevator pitch—you’ll need it. Have a brief summary of who you are, your professional role, one or two personal points to discuss, your organization and how it relates to the industry and this conference, and what you’re hoping to get from the conference. You’ll use these pieces of your elevator pitch throughout the conference as you talk with others in breakout sessions or in networking sessions. Practice ahead of time as you would for an in-person event so your delivery is polished and succinct—you need to leave time for others to talk. Then prepare a few questions so you can ask people about themselves. Others might not be as prepared, so asking about them makes the virtual interaction less awkward.

  1. Participate

Ask questions, attend as many breakout sessions as you can, connect with others through the conference’s social media channels, and offer your insight. You might not be attending in person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be fully present. Really listen to the speakers and get as much out of the virtual conference as you can. It’s likely that sessions will be recorded, so take advantage of that bonus to attend all the sessions relevant to your goals. Talk to other attendees through any additional platforms—you’ll find Slack is used by many—so you can participate and also tune into the top-of-mind topics others are asking about or discussing.

  1. Follow Up

After the conference, follow up with people you met and want to keep in touch with. Virtual conferences will become more common, but there will be a time when you might get to meet these new connections in person. You want to make a good impression and build on the strength of your initial meeting—just like when you meet someone face-to-face. Other nursing professionals are navigating uncharted waters right now and are looking to share and gain information on how to proceed. They want to know how the pandemic has impacted nurses, patient care, the nursing industry and the larger healthcare industry, and how they can make improvements.  And with virtual settings being the current norm, you’ll be able to meet up again without having to wait until the next conference.

A virtual conference isn’t the same as in-person and can lack the buzz of excitement and potential so many attendees enjoy at a traditional conference. But there are big benefits to virtual events, and they offer opportunities that in-person events don’t. Instead of thinking of a virtual conference as a second choice, think of a few opportunities you’ll have thanks to this new format. That change of perspective gives you a head start on enjoying this new experience.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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