WE20 is here! An incredible opportunity for women engineers and their allies, the annual conference is excellent for those looking to network, engage and learn together. The conference this year promises to highlight engagement and networking, only this time it’s all going to be online.
Like many major conferences this year, WE20 had to make the tough but wise decision to move to an online format this year.
There are several advantages to conferences being virtual this year. The first and most crucial, especially in current times, is the decrease in personal contact and limited need for travel and potential exposure to the virus. Virtual conferences can also be more accessible and affordable, for example, for individuals who are unable, for myriad reasons to travel to the conference destinations. Many of the sessions are also pre-recorded, which allows for some degree of flexibility for attendees who may have rigid work/class schedules. Virtual conferences, if advertised, planned, and hosted well, can potentially see an increased attendance, as well as participation from a more engaged and global audience.
Thanks mostly to the pandemic but also to increased connectivity across the globe, virtual conferences and hybrid ones, seem like they are here to stay.
While in many ways, online conferencing is similar to conferencing in person, online conferences may require an additional set of strategies for successful attendance. We like to view strategizing for the conference as a three-part approach – Before the Conference, During the Conference, and After the Conference.
Here are some ways you can make the most out of a virtual conference like WE20:
1. Before the Conference
Most of the strategizing for a virtual conference happens before the conference begins. Here are some ways you can best prepare for successful conferencing:
a. Register for the conference in advance. While it may be late for WE20, registering early helps attendees save on money, since many conferences offer early bird discounts. Additionally, finding out about and applying for grants to attend conferences are great ways to help finance for them.
b. Identify your goal(s). Ask yourself why you want to attend the conference, and make note of what you hope to gain. Use this to prioritize the sessions and events you most want to attend.
c. Update/upload your resume and rehearse your elevator pitch. Research the exhibitors and identify those you want to connect with. Be prepared with answers to popular interview questions, and have questions of your own ready to ask exhibitors. Remember! It is not only you being interviewed for the position, you are also interviewing the company to see if it is the right one for you.
d. Review the session tracks and use the personal goal(s) you identified to plan for your sessions. We suggest 2-3 sessions a day – don’t go overboard!
e. Connect with speakers or exhibitors before the conference. Do this sparingly, and make your connection a personal one.
f. Update your calendar to make sure you get reminders, as well as adjust for the time-zone of the conference. Ensure you set aside time on your calendar to stretch and relax.
g. Reach out to friends or colleagues to compare strategies and cover more ground.
2. During the Conference
A virtual conference is like a marathon – over Zoom. It is useful to mentally prepare oneself for long hours of screen time, and interact with a tonne of information online. Here are some strategies to help have a better experience during the days of the conference:
a. Find a comfortable spot with uninterrupted wifi, away from noise and distractions. Zoom backgrounds are very useful during conferencing. You can create your own, or even use existing templates such as the ones designed by SWE.
b. Do your homework each day to prepare for the next day. This may include watching pre-recorded talks and taking notes in time for live Q&A sessions.
c. Take notes to review later, since there may be a lot of information to process throughout the conference.
d. Take frequent breaks to stand up and stretch and remember to stay hydrated. Zoom fatigue is real, so plan for ample breaks to get away from your screens.
3. After the Conference
Like with in-person conferences, the learnings from virtual conferences don’t end when the sessions end. Once the conference is over, make sure to take the time to process the information you collected through the sessions. Here are some things you can do after the conference is over:
a. Debrief and unconference by getting together with friends or colleagues who have attended the conference. Spend time reviewing what you each have learned.
b. Share your experience! Bring your new learnings back to your section or workplace. This will help you gain additional insight on ways to implement new ideas, and it may be useful for others as well.
c. Send thank you notes. This is a great way to network post-conference. It is also a wonderful way of letting speakers and exhibitors or even conference organizers know that the effort they put into making the conference a success helped someone.
d. Finally, revisit the goals you had laid out for yourself before the conference. Were you able to realize all your goals? What could you have done better? Be introspective and metacognitive as you think about what you have learned, and identify gaps in your actions that you can better the next time around.
These were some of the strategies that have helped us over the past few months, as we have attended virtual conferences. We collected all of our ideas and put them together as a deck/checklist for anyone interested.
We would love to hear from you! Do you have specific strategies that are useful to you? Share with us in the comments section.
This article was written by SWE-NY Board Members:
Dr. Sreyoshi Bhaduri
Dr. Sreyoshi Bhaduri has been a SWE Member since 2013 and currently serves as Vice President at the SWE New York Professional section. Sreyoshi leads Global People Research & Analytics at McGraw Hill, where she works on research leveraging employee data from across 45 countries to generate data-driven insights for policy decisions impacting organizational effectiveness, culture, and talent. Sreyoshi has an interdisciplinary background with degrees in Mechatronics, Mechanical Engineering, Statistics, and Engineering Education. Sreyoshi is a maker of lists and itineraries, who — likes statistics, loves dogs, practices feminism, dabbles in writing, and enjoys tea and long conversations.
Gina Trivellini earned her B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2015. She has previously worked for Pratt & Whitney and JetBlue Airways and is currently an Operations Leadership Program Associate with Raytheon Technologies. Gina has held a variety of roles with SWE throughout the past decade; most recently, she was the President of SWE New York. As Treasurer, Gina is focused on building SWE New York’s scholarship fund and partnering with new organizations and corporations to secure funding for STEM outreach and professional development events. In her downtime, Gina loves traveling and cooking.
Christine graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2017 with a B.S in Mechanical Engineering and B.A in German Studies. As a project manager at Otis Elevator Co., she works with field mechanics, suppliers, and customers to complete modernization projects in Downtown Manhattan. Christine has been a member of SWE since 2013, and was most recently the Community Outreach Chair for the Greater New York region in FY20. As President of SWE New York, Christine works to incorporate new ideas to support the development of future female-identifying engineers, as well as engage our community in fundraising efforts, scholarship opportunities, diversity actions, and social events! In her free time, Christine enjoys bike-riding in Prospect Park.
Susan earned her B.E. and M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Stony Brook University and City College of New York. As an active member of SWE New York, Susan has been involved in membership, professional development, scholarship, and community outreach committees. As our FY21 Membership Chair, Susan connects with our membership and releases communications about upcoming events and resources. Additionally, as the Professional Organization Liaison, Susan builds relationships with other professional societies within the Greater New York region to offer expanded resources to our membership and engage new underrepresented communities on the benefits of joining SWE. In her free time, Susan enjoys music, dancing, and pretending to hike!
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