Tips & Best Practices for Attending an Online Conference
by Ana Cackley/
June 03, 2020
Atla Annual 2020 Online is almost upon us! We hope you’re as excited as we are. In preparation for the big day(s), we’ve collected some tips, tricks, & best practices from our amazing staff (who have also been attending a lot of online conferences lately) to help you make this experience a fantastic one. We’re all bummed that we can’t be in Detroit this year – I was particularly looking forward to the Detroit Coney Dogs – but we’re doing our best to make sure that Atla Annual 2020 Online is a great time! Check out these suggestions from our staff:
First up, let’s look at where you will be “attending” Atla Annual 2020 Online. How can you make it as comfortable and practical as possible? You might want to…
Change it up!
Tawny Burgess, Marketing and Communications Manager, says, “If you are currently working at home, moving to a different space in your house (or even outside if the weather is nice) will help break up the routine and differentiate the conference experience from the regular work schedule.”
Gillian Harrison Cain, Director of Member Programs, says, “Put your tea, water, snacks, etc. within easy reach so that if you want a bit to drink or eat, you can do so easily.”
(i.e., Don’t slouch like I do.) Margot Lyon, Director of Business Development, says, “Check your ergonomics set-up for optimal comfort. Harvard offers some low-to-no-cost pointers.”
I definitely find it hard to concentrate on a screen for hours and hours at a time without losing focus. Here are some ideas to help keep your attention on the presenters:
Roll with the “waterfall.”
Gillian says, “You may be overwhelmed at times with a waterfall of comments in the chat. You don’t have to read them all. If there’s anything important from the organizers, they’ll repeat it or send it to you directly. If you find the chat distracting, close it; it’s supplemental, not primary.”
Close your email…
“…and other programs so you can focus on the content, if you can. It’s easy to get lured into the idea of being able to multi-task. I find that while I might be doing multiple tasks, I’m really only focusing on one at a time and might miss valuable content from the presentation,” says Gillian.
Gillian says, “This would be true for online or in person, but sometimes the act of taking notes (whether writing or typing) can help you remember better what you’ve heard, even if you never refer back to the notes.”
While some of us have been doing a LOT of virtual events lately, we’re all used to attending Atla Annual in person, not online. So, here are some tips to help you master the ins and outs of video conferencing!
Download Zoom before the conference starts.
Never used Zoom before? Download it here. Try to set it up BEFORE your first session. Trust me, there is nothing more annoying than wanting to be punctual and then having to wait for software to download. Do yourself a favor and get it done beforehand! If you get stuck, experience issues, or just want to know a little bit more about the platform, you can find video tutorials here, and Zoom’s FAQs here.
Gillian says, “Type ‘Hi from <your town, city, state>’ in the chatbox when you enter a session. Use the chat to greet others you see that you know, and send a welcome message to those you don’t. Use the private messaging capabilities of the chat to connect with your colleagues one-on-one. Just because it’s an online environment doesn’t mean you have to give up those ‘hallway conversation’ moments… you just have to do them differently.”
Try out different settings!
Margot says, “Zoom has a dark mode that inverts colors for light text on a dark background. It can help your eyes with some of the brightness, and help in general with managing settings and buttons.”
Gillian says, “Know the controls to mute and unmute quickly. Use them.”
Turn on your video.
While most of the sessions will be recorded, not all will be. The Virtual Vendor Social, where you can visit and chat with our exhibitors, will not be recorded. Christy Karpinski, Digital Projects Coordinator, says, “I think knowing you are not being recorded makes it feel more okay to turn on video for a lot of people.” Please feel free to turn on your video for the Virtual Vendor Social! But that being said…
Even if you CAN be on video during a session, you don’t HAVE to be.
Gillian says, “While it’s nice, and often useful, to be on video, it’s not required. And if you have to step away, or your attention is focused elsewhere (email, a patron that just walked in, a dog that just jumped on you), go ahead and turn of your video, and turn it back on when you can fully engage again. And if having your video on is distracting for YOU, turn it off. You have control over your environment and experience.”
Maybe you’re presenting at Atla Annual this year! We can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Jamie Lin, Education & Professional Development Manager, is working on a Presenter’s Guide and will be sent out to presenters soon. In the meantime, here are some tricks to help you nail your session:
Put yourself through your PACES.
A useful acronym to help you remember what to focus on is PACES (Plan, Audience, Content, Engagement, Socialization). You can read more about the PACES technique here. Check out even more tips for giving online presentations here.
What should you wear?
Denise McFarlin, Meeting Specialist, says, “Pastels broadcast better (preferably no stripes – they make the screen appear to jump). Your clothes should contrast with the background, and use a solid screen background when possible. Consider a conservative outfit, which will not draw attention away from your face.”
Finally, don’t forget to be nice to yourself. There’s going to be a lot going on and we don’t want you to wear yourself out. Take some time to prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional health with these strategies:
Tawny says, “One of the best parts of attending conferences is the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and snacks. I made it a point to pick up some special treats from the grocery store ahead of time and enjoyed them during the conference. If it’s in your budget or you have learned to enjoy food delivery as I have during this sheltering-in-place, choose a day to have your lunch delivered from your favorite restaurant.”
Stand, stretch, walk.
Gillian says, “If you can, stand during some sessions. If you’re not on video or have a tall counter or standing desk where you can place your computer; varying your position can help with your attention and energy. Take a walk or do some stretching during the breaks provided. We have the inclination to jump into an email or other work since we’re still on the computer, and then jump right back into another session which (for me) leads to serious screen fatigue.” Margot adds, “Give your brain and eyes a break when the online event is over. Go on a drive or walk for 10-15 minutes, just enough time to think, decompress, and give your eyes, ears, and mind a change of scenery and a chance to relax.”
Know when you’ve had enough.
Gillian says, “As much as you may want to attend every session, it simply may not be possible. You may have demands of work or family. Or you may not be able to ‘face’ yet another hour of screen time that day. Prioritize the sessions or interactions that are important to you, and maybe plan to watch the recordings of other sessions you may be interested in at a later time. Be gentle and good to yourself.”
We hope you find these best practices for online conferences useful for Atla Annual 2020 Online! If you have any suggestions for fellow presenters or attendees, share them with us on Facebook or Twitter. Still have a question about Atla Annual 2020 Online? Check out our FAQs or contact us.
Enjoying the Atla Blog?
Subscribe to receive email alerts of new blog posts of a specific type. Members, subscribers, publishers, or anyone interested in the study of religion & theology are welcome to sign up to one or all alerts to keep up to date with the Atla community. If you or your institution are a member, the Atla Newsletter delivers a monthly curated email of top posts to your email inbox.