People give me weird looks when I tell them that one of my hobbies is attending health conferences. Health care needs all of us at the table – doctors, patients, nurses, payers, researchers, caregivers, elected officials, developers… We are not going to create real solutions from inside silos – we need to view and understand the whole picture to make meaningful improvements.
So what happens when you can’t even make it to the table?
I was lucky enough to be able to attend MedicineX 2012 in California, but life difficulties prevented me from attending in 2013. Luckily these days, many events stream presentations and often have official accounts livetweeting. You can use Twitter to join in the conversations, in real time. Best of all, it’s free! You can “attend” a conference in your PJs from your couch, while the people in the conference room deal with jet lag, freezing A/C, and uncomfortable chairs.
Here are my tips for easier virtual conference attendance:
While I’ve never seen a virtual conference that cost money, many of them require you to register online. Check this out in advance, so you can be ready on the day of the event.
The great thing about virtual attendance, is that it allows you to save all your travel days. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to engage fully during your coffee breaks. For MedX 2013, I took Friday as a vacation day from my job, so I could spend the entire day following the conference. I was able to watch all the main stage presentations, and follow the back channel on Twitter. Be warned, even from the comfort of home, it was a long day.
You’ll need a computer or device to stream the presentations, obviously, but if you have additional screens, you may want to use those, too. I prefer to dedicate my laptop to streaming and use my smart phone for Twitter. You could use a tablet, or juggle multiple tabs in your browser. Remember to have power cords nearby!
Events usually have hashtags that allow you to follow the conversation on Twitter. Tchat.io is great way to automatically add hashtags to your tweets (free). You might also want to use a Twitter client like TweetDeck or HootSuite, which will allow you to view everything in columns for @replies, hashtags, and direct messages. Conferences can move FAST, so you may find these tools help you keep up with the “fire hose” of information. Take these tools for a test drive before the event.
A conference buddy is a great way to feel more connected to the event. I had a lot of fun “attending” Medx 2013 virtually “with” Carolyn Thomas (of Heart Sisters). You can also buddy up with someone attending in person, which is a great way to get insight into those breakout sessions that may not be live-streamed. At this year’s Health Datapalooza, I had a very nice woman engaging with me via Twitter. I was surprised to find out that she was following virtually and asked me a few specific questions about the panel I was attending. Some events even take audience questions from Twitter, so that’s a great way to take your turn at the microphone.
What are your tips for attending virtual events? Do you have any questions I didn’t cover?
Edited to add: In order to view Stanford’s MedicineX for 2014, you must register for their free Global Access Program. Clicking the linked text will take you to the page.