Navigating online conferences can be rewarding; but only if you change your mindset.
Suzanne Gaby, Director, Public Health
Life-long learning is a priority for me. I look forward to attending and presenting at professional conferences to learn from my peers and share what I have learned through my work. That said, I entered this years’ online conference environment with trepidation – viewing virtual conferences as poor substitutes for the real thing.
How can you turn a virtual conference into an opportunity for professional and personal growth?
This fall, I got my chance to find out at the Canadian Public Health Association Tobacco and Vaping Control Forum 2020. The event brought together over 400 researchers, policy makers and professionals from across Canada to talk about emerging issues, trends and research in tobacco and vaping control. I was also asked to present on Argyle’s exciting new program to support vape cessation for Canada’s youth (more about that later).
I discovered you can get a lot out of online learning and networking opportunities, but only if you change your mindset and your approach. Here are my top tips to get most out of your next virtual learning event.
Share your knowledge – visually
Being generous with what I learned over the last year has led to more professional growth, especially in changing how knowledge is shared in the virtual environment. Instead of quickly putting together a PowerPoint presentation the day or two before the conference, I worked closely with our team to put together engaging and dynamic videos well in advance to stimulate discussion among virtual participants. We had a great story to tell about VapeFree.me—our new digital vape cessation solution created in partnership with Amira Health – and how it can address the youth vaping epidemic. Our presentation did more than showcase our work; they generated great discussion amongst conference delegates, led to new contacts and contributed to an important national discussion on youth vaping.
Prepare, even if you are not presenting
I knew I would have to prepare as a presenter, but it was equally important to be prepared as a participant. Getting familiar with the technology beforehand decreased my stress and ensured that I didn’t miss any crucial content. Knowing how to use the platform allowed me to focus on interacting with the other participants and speakers. In this case, information and presentations were shared ahead of the conference, which was helpful in forming questions in advance.
Curate a list of thought leaders
As I reviewed the content prior to the event I was able to identify thought leaders with whom I wanted to connect throughout the conference and afterwards on social media. Curating your list of thought leaders will help you to stay focused on what is important to you, especially during a conference that has so much to offer.
Participate with intention
Have you ever been sleep-walking through a conference, checking emails or stepping out for a quick call? Believe me, that is even easier to do at a virtual conference. I found I needed to set an intention to participate and be fully present. This meant turning off computer notifications and turning on my “out of office” message. I set a goal to ask at least one question at each session, forcing myself to be present and pay attention.
Being online is also an opportunity to move out of your comfort zone. Those breakout rooms to discuss a case study are much more intimate when you are all online. Instead of giving into the temptation to jump off the platform, lean into the opportunity, make new connections and learn from others in your small group.
It turns out I can grow professionally and personally through virtual conferences and events, if I’m willing to share what I know, prepare properly, follow thought leaders that interest me and participate with intention.
And that presentation I made? Well stay tuned for more information about our exciting partnership with AmiraHealth to provide vaping cessation tools for Canada’s youth.