Tips for Navigating a Virtual Conference by Elizabeth DiLuzio

Happy conference week! I’m Elizabeth DiLuzio, lead curator for AEA365. Today, let’s talk about ways to get the most out of a conference.

Go broad – Identify a few topics you would like to learn more about. These could be methods you’ve heard evaluators mention that piqued your curiosity, topics you’ve read about in AEA365 that you thought were interesting, or challenges you are facing in your work. Find sessions that will speak to these topics, and ask lots of questions.

Meet new people – This doesn’t have to be impossible just because it’s a virtual conference. Use the in-session chat box to respond to the content you’re hearing, to ask questions of the presenters and attendees, and to converse with others in the room. It’s an excellent way to interact that isn’t possible in person. Relatedly, pay attention to the names of people showing up to the same sessions as you. Spark up a conversation about the conference with a few of them. You could ask them how the experience is going for them, what they thought about one of the sessions you both attended, or what upcoming sessions they have on their agenda that they’re looking forward to.

It’s okay to be a groupie – Are there AEA365 authors who really spoke to you this year? Is the author of your go-to evaluation handbook hosting a few sessions? A plenary speaker who you’d like to hear more from? Don’t be afraid to search for sessions based on who is speaking. No matter where we are in our paths as evaluators, we all appreciate the support of our peers.

Diversify your session types – Did you know that there are different types of sessions offered throughout the conference? Strike a balance between more and less interactive ones. This will give you the opportunity to both sit back and learn as well as to dialogue with your peers.

Share your learning with others – An excellent way to cement your conference experience is to write up a summary of lessons learned, curiosities to explore, and next steps. Why not share some or all of your reflections and new resources with your colleagues?

Most importantly, enjoy yourself! Don’t forget to take breaks to stretch, eat, and recharge.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

2 thoughts on “Tips for Navigating a Virtual Conference by Elizabeth DiLuzio”

  1. Hello Elizabeth,

    Firstly, I would like to share my appreciation for your part in this AEA365. Reading through these blog posts has been helpful and engaging.
    The first time I attended a virtual conference, I found it slightly intimating. I got lost in the technical parts of it and felt like a didn’t take advantage of all it had to offer. I have another online conference coming up and I am looking forward to using these tips you have provided. I am going to make them into a “to-do” list and ensure I try out each one. Two points I feel will be the most difficult for me but also one’s I look forward to trying are meeting people and diversifying my session choices.
    Meeting people, for me, is intimidating whether online or in person. I think your suggestion for watching for names that appear frequently in sessions you are interested in and then using general questions to spark conversation are great ways to let your guard down and find people you can connect with.
    I wasn’t aware of the different types of sessions! This is also great advice. I enjoy less interactive sessions normally, because I am a little shy. However, your blog has inspired me to try something new. Thank you for this helpful post!

  2. Hi Elizabeth, thank you for posting this engaging and helpful article. I am currently taking a Masters of Education class which is called “Program Inquiry and Evaluation.” I chose your article for an assignment to respond to and to connect to my own experiences. I am an elementary teacher at a special needs school. We usually have conferences to attend at the beginning of the school year and/or throughout the year. I usually ask myself: what will I take away attending this conference? I find that when I attend a conference, I usually just pick the workshops that seem the most interesting but wont take an extra step and find out about them ahead of time.
    After reading your article, I was able to take away five tips that I will use when attending my next conference (find out about the sessions ahead of time and write down what I want to learn more about, meet and connect new people, search up the speakers before the workshops, diversify the sessions and share my learnings with others).
    Here are some of my biggest takeaways and what I plan on doing based on your tips:
    -Before attending the conferences, I will write down a few topics that I would like to learn more about and then find session that will speak to these topics
    -I will meet new people via the chat box (if the conferences are virtual) which could be less overwhelming than meeting new people in person
    -I will pay attention to the names that are showing up to the same sessions as me and offer to create a group chat to talk about how the sessions are going and which other workshops they plan on attending during the week
    – Once the conference is over, I will share my learnings with colleagues during our teacher meetings
    How do you best prepare for a conference?

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