In November 2019, a conference changed my life.
I attended the Library Marketing and Communications Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, where I met my future boss, Kathy Lussier of NoveList.
On the first day of the conference, we had breakfast together and started talking. And by the end of the conference, she was texting me a job opening that eventually led to my current position with NoveList.
Conferences can re-frame your professional life. You may find your next new job. You might make a new best friend. You may learn a skill that revolutionizes the way you do your job. At the very least, you’ll hear speakers who inspire, energize, and motivate you.
We’re heading into conference season and this year it’s all virtual. (The Library Advocacy and Funding Conference starts today–if you’re attending, send me a friend request!)
As I learned from attending the American Library Association conference in June, an in-person conference and a virtual conference are not the same.
But you can have a fantastic virtual conference experience with the right preparation. Here are the six things I recommend you do this year before you log on.
Get your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts ready
It’s imperative that you have a LinkedIn and Twitter profile, and that you use them to engage during a virtual conference. Networking is a big part of the conference experience. And since we can’t network in person, these two social media platforms are the easiest and safest way to interact with new friends.
There are several steps you should take to prep your profiles. Once the conference ends, you can always change your profile back!
On LinkedIn, check to make sure that your profile is set to “public.” To do that, click on your settings and look under “privacy.” This step will make your profile easy to find, especially if you are in the market for a new job opportunity.
Customize your LinkedIn profile URL to include your first and last name. This will make your profile easier to find in search. You can also make this adjustment in settings.
On LinkedIn, ask co-workers, partners, and former colleagues for recommendations. This is especially important if you are job-hunting. You’ll want to give them some time to write their recommendation, so ask as soon as you register for a conference.
Make sure your photo on LinkedIn and Twitter looks as professional as possible and use the same photo for both platforms. LinkedIn says a professional photo will make visitors seven times more likely to visit your profile than picture-free profiles. You can take a great photo yourself! My LinkedIn profile photo is a selfie I took in the backyard at sunset on my iPhone in portrait mode.
Check your header image on both accounts. A meaningful image related to your professional experience can drive home who you are and what you do.
Edit your headlines and your personal details. Include a little about your work and what differentiates you from other people at the conference.
To boost search rankings on Google, include keywords that will appeal to your fellow attendees or the conference hashtag. I’ve also seen people temporarily change their Twitter Profile name to include the conference hashtag for the duration of a conference.
Clear your calendar
My coworkers and I agreed that we made a big mistake when we attended #ALAVirtual20. Most of us accepted meetings during the conference week, even though attending a meeting would interrupt our conference experience.
If you were attending a conference in another city, you would be unavailable for meetings. Adapt that mindset and be intentional about giving yourself the space to focus on your conference experience in a digital setting.
Now, during virtual conferences, I mark myself “out of office” on my Outlook calendar. And I’m clearing my schedule of other busy work.
Take advantage of pre-recorded sessions
Most virtual conferences offer at least some, if not all, of their sessions on-demand. That can impact which sessions you consume.
For instance, this week’s #LAFCON is completely pre-recorded. In preparation, I went through the sessions and highlighted the ones I want to watch. Then I scheduled them, by name, into my work calendar in one-hour increments. That will help me keep track of my choices, watch sessions in an order that makes sense (I can do all the marketing track sessions back-to-back!) and help me stay focused.
Of course, you know it’s exhausting to stare at the screen all day. At a real conference, you’d take a break to eat, use the restrooms, get coffee, tour the vendor booths, or maybe just chill for a bit. Try to mimic that self-care routine in a virtual world. Schedule those breaks into your calendar if you must.
Be patient with technology
If there’s one constant with the pandemic, it’s that every online event will experience technical difficulties. Many organizations are using streaming platforms for the first time. There may be bandwidth issues.
Be patient and polite. Before the conference begins, check to see where you can report technical issues or get assistance.
Follow the conference hashtag
This is a great way to get involved and tune in to conversations from your session and from sessions you couldn’t attend. It’s also a networking opportunity. Don’t hesitate to reach out to folks if you liked what they had to say by replying, liking their Tweets, or retweeting them.
Join me at a conference
The event page has returned to the blog. If you’re attending a conference with me, please let me know so we can connect.
And stay tuned to the blog! Next week I’ll share highlights of what I learn at LAFCON. Later this month, I’ll give you concrete strategies on how to put what you learn at any conference to use in your library.
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