How to make the most of a virtual conference

Just as you usually would in a “normal” conference, there are opportunities to attend sessions, ask questions and communicate with peers at the virtual variety.

Face-to-face (F2F) conferences have long played a key role in professional development but in the global initiative to flatten the curve of COVID-19, most of these physical events have been scrapped. Is now the time to try a virtual conference?

The global pandemic has brought your standard office-occupied, 9-to-5 working life to a screeching halt, but that doesn’t mean your continuing professional development has to stop.

Those looking to network, be inspired or educate themselves can still find a way to do so, all via their own laptop or desktop screen. 

With online virtual events such as the Public Practice Conference and CPA Virtual Congress, you can stay in the comfortable surrounds of your own home while listening to some of the world’s most interesting speakers talk about what has inspired them. 

Benefits of being virtually there

Virtual conferences are often designed to be more cost effective and user friendly, spanning different time zones and opening up availability to multiple locations. 

At larger conferences, finding the right physical room while navigating unknown hallways can often prove difficult. At virtual conferences, with the click of a mouse, you can access the most relevant discussions, content or keynote speakers. 

The website-based nature of virtual conferences also means additional software is rarely required, side-stepping the challenges some more technologically inexperienced delegates raise with online conferences. 

Nodding to the fact that face-to-face conferences have long been a staple of professional development, virtual conference set-ups can cater for that familiarity. 

Just as you usually would in a “normal” conference, there are opportunities to attend sessions, ask questions and communicate with peers at the virtual variety. This year, CPA Australia’s virtual conferences – October’s Public Practice Conference and CPA Virtual Congress in November – are using 6Connex technology, which promotes interactivity within its platform. 

Why planning ahead pays at a virtual conference

Graeme Beattie FCPA, partner in Worrells Solvency and Forensic Accountants, has “attended” several virtual forums and  sees a range of benefits in online events such as the Public Practice Conference.

“You can learn and network without having to factor in travel time, transport options and accommodation costs,” he says. 

“But it pays to ensure the mechanics are right. Check your internet connection is working properly, have your contact information ready to distribute to people, and prepare some questions to ask presenters.”

A virtual conference offers flexibility but getting the best from it requires focus. Dedicate the whole day to it, with all other work put on hold. 

Decide which conference events are most relevant to you; depending on the platform used and the nature of the content, some or all of the material may be archived for viewing at a later time, meaning less need to frantically take notes of a speaker’s address. Ensure that any follow-up material is collected.

“As a business owner who is constantly looking for talented employees to manage our workload, I’m interested to hear about future employment trends and opportunities,” he says. “Like many practices, our ability to grow depends on the success and happiness of our people as well as our ability to attract new staff.”

He suggests that any CPA Australia member who has to convince a sceptical employer about the value of a virtual event should highlight the breadth of topics to be presented at the conference. 

They might also emphasise that comprehensive professional development opportunities are rare at the moment. Beattie makes the point that now, more than ever, it is important to be aware of new developments and to network with other finance professionals. 

The online connection model

Conference participants should also prepare for a different form of networking. While there will not always be video capability for audiences at virtual conferences, with cameras fixed only upon the speakers, participants may have the opportunity to connect with people they otherwise may not have known were in the same room in a F2F event. 

Depending on the platform, delegates might have the opportunity to message each other (without seeing each other’s email addresses) or connect via LinkedIn if the information is provided. These methods of connection can take some getting used to but as nearly everyone is in the same boat, don’t worry if there are some awkward moments.

“The biggest challenges for me in the current environment are the social isolation as well as finding the time to think Big Picture,” Beattie says. 

“This conference [the Public Practice Conference] offers a break from the usual daily activities, providing the opportunity to take a step back and reflect while absorbing the lessons offered by respected experts. 

“It is also the first time I will be able to network with a group of other accounting professionals in this style of event, something I’ve missed in recent months.”

Benefits of a virtual conference

  • Peer-to-peer communication is enabled by at-hand networking channels
  • The scheduling is easier to navigate
  • More flexibility is afforded – if sessions conflict, you have the option of watching a recorded discussion at a time that suits you
  • Polls and online interactivity can be observed in real-time
  • You can travel without travelling by attending a conference in a foreign “location”
  • You don’t have to travel further than your own house!

CPA Australia is hosting two virtual conferences in 2020: this year’s Public Practice Conference will be a one-day event on 8 October, with the theme “Build the Firm of the Future”. It provides nine hours of CPD. CPA Virtual Congress will be a global online event hosted over three days from 10 to 12 November, where participants will gain insights into strategy and change leadership, innovation and finance transformation, navigating the complexities of a COVID-19 impacted world, as well as learning how to leverage digital connectivity to achieve outstanding success. 

September 2020
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