With the emergence of COVID-19, virtual conferences and seminars have been rising in popularity and have exploded as an industry necessity. For many of academicians and students, this will also be the first time that they attend a virtual conference/seminar. By making the most out of their virtual experience, they will be able to walk away with a robust network and valuable insights that they can use in their own research work.

Based on our very first virtual seminar, Virtual Language and Communication Postgraduate International Seminar (VLCPIS) 2020, we have put together a list of tips that will help presenters and participants maximize their experience at any virtual conferences or seminars they attend.

1. Familiarize yourself with the tools.
As presenters, do test your audio and ensure a strong Wi-Fi connection. It is highly advisable not to wait until the day of the conference to test out the platform on your device. Laptops or desktop computers work better than viewing on a smartphone, though most conference platforms are compatible with mobile devices. Most importantly, always be alert of your video and speaker settings! There will be times when you accidentally switched on your video and microphone while the presenter is talking. It will be more embarrassing if you are acting inappropriately while your video is switched on or when you are busy talking to someone else while your microphone is switched on.

2. Minimize distractions.
It is important for you to treat a virtual conference as you would a face-to-face conference with respect to your calendar and task load. Prioritize the time to be truly present in the experience, engage with the sessions and presenters, and use the networking tools regularly to connect with other presenters and participants. Whether you’re working from home or the office, distractions are bound to arise. Limit them by setting up a quiet space where you can participate in the conference and do not forget to set your phone on silent mode. If you’re logging on from home, try to find a quiet space where you will not be interrupted by your furry, four-legged “co-workers” or children.

3. Organize your session schedule.
Just like attending a face-to-face conference where you need to organize your schedule and have a plan, but with online conferences this is even more important. It is a common practice for organizers of any conference to provide pre-scheduled sessions to enable Q&A session with the speakers. The sessions also will be available on-demand after the conference, providing attendees more flexibility. By taking a close look at the conference schedule beforehand, it allows you to prioritize the sessions you want to attend live.

4. Be an active participant.
What you get out of the conference depends on what you put in. Introduce yourself in the chat and see what new connections you can make. Is there a topic that you are interested in discussing? Start a conversation! Do you have a question for the presenters? Do not be afraid to connect with them. You never know how the connections you make today will benefit you tomorrow. It is also a good way to feel closer and more connected to the presenters and other participants, even if you are far apart.

5. Take breaks.
A conference can take a whole day to finish. During a face-to-face conference, you typically move from room to room to attend different sessions while checking out the snack bar, and talking with new people as you roam. You will want to make sure you do that during a virtual conference too. Get up, walk around, stretch, and get some brain-boosting snacks to keep yourself alert and active when attending any of the sessions.

While the current situations forcing conferences online might be impermanent, the trend of digital events likely isn’t. Now is the time to take the advice, embrace this transition, and jump headlong into virtual conferences to benefit your research and your career. Most importantly, do not forget to have fun! Many conferences plan fun activities and contests too. Interesting, isn’t it?

By: Nur’ain Balqis Haladin & Farhana Abu Bakar