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Kelly McCormick
December 7, 2020

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many of the largest annual medical conferences were canceled or postponed as the world adapted to working from home (WFH). Physicians, however, have continually delivered quality care to patients, both in-person and via telehealth appointments. Now six months into the “new normal,” the continued postponement and cancellation of large-scale conference events is no longer feasible. These events are essential to continuing professional education. Like everything else from the pre-pandemic working world, these conferences and their attendees must adapt to a virtual format.

Like WFH, Virtual Conferences Aren’t Going Anywhere

According to a Northstar Meetings Group Survey, event planners no longer see an influx of large events’ cancellations. Instead, they see a rise in requests for large-scale virtual events for the next 12-18 months. This is right on track with predictions of continued remote work policies through 2021.

The risks of COVID-19 will evolve within the next year to allow large in-person conferences but virtual events are here to stay. Virtual events may not continue to dominate the conference industry in years to come. However, their perks—low costs and personalized experiences for attendees—are too great for them to disappear entirely.

To make the most out of a virtual conference, you will need to combine best practices for attending in-person medical conferences with your newly acquired remote working skills.

Follow a Pre-Event Routine

When a conference is online, it is undoubtedly easier to under-prepare and log online at the last minute. Ignore this procrastination urge. Follow similar steps to what you would do if you checked into your hotel the evening before an in-person event:

  • Check that you have your registration or login details
  • Familiarize yourself with the platform of the virtual event
  • Review your agenda for the day, identifying breaks for potential networking opportunities and choosing optional sessions to attend
  • Consider questions you may have for speakers or exhibiting companies

Take Advantage of Asynchronous Content

A huge advantage of virtual learning is that some of the content may not need to be viewed live. With different time zones and work-life balance at play, you may find that many of your conference sessions will be delivered asynchronously. That is, pre-recorded for you to view on your own time.

If you plan on taking advantage of viewing recorded sessions later, or going back to complete learning modules at a later time, be sure to formally schedule this time on your calendar so that you can achieve this distraction-free.

Scheduling recap time for yourself later in the week can also be useful. This can be used for reading through downloaded hand-outs introduced during live sessions. You can also re-watch any recorded sessions you’d like to hear again before completing an assessment for credit.

Actively Engage

Learning may be the main reason for attending a conference, but networking with peers is undoubtedly a close second. Engaging directly with speakers as well as networking in groups with your colleagues has never been easier than online.

When event organizers are building the virtual conference, they will most likely include engagement tools within the platform—these can consist of polls, Q&A sessions, and chat streams during lectures. Take advantage of these to share your thoughts throughout the day.

With about 80% of physicians having an online social media presence for personal or professional interactions, there is also an opportunity for conference-specific social media discussions as well. Follow industry opinion leaders throughout the conference. If you want to join the conversation, remember to use the event hashtag.

Still, you may want a more personal experience, and this is also possible. Virtual events mean no crowds around a speaker or a company representative when you want to ask a 1-on-1 question—so reach out to them directly for an individual response.

Lastly, if you’re missing a common favorite part of attending conferences—getting to enjoy downtime with your colleagues—talk to them in advance of the event to plan on attending together, and schedule some time to speak with them over Zoom, Skype, etc. in between your sessions.

Boost Your WFH Mood

Just about everyone has experienced some form of “Zoom fatigue” over the past couple of months. While perfectly natural to feel unmotivated at times in a WFH environment, it can take away from learning at the conference. Try to view virtual conferences as a break from routine and an exciting time to learn and grow professionally. Just as if these events were in person, a lack of motivation and attention going into the day will almost certainly mean your takeaways are less than if you were approaching the day with full concentration and an open mind.

Studies show that full attention to virtual learning is more effortless when viewing the material in full-screen mode. So, go old-school and take notes on paper if you would typically open a second window to type notes. You can also take this a step further and ensure that your workspace is “cleared to neutral” before beginning for the day. This doesn’t just mean having a clean desk. It also includes closing out all those open tabs, open apps, and emails that you may leave idling.

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