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How To: Attend a Conference Virtually | ChroniCarly

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:

Register

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.

Time

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.

Hardware

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!

Software

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.

Buddy

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.

6 Responses to How To: Attend a Conference Virtually

  1. Annette says:

    Totally agree and that’s one reason that going to MedX in person this year seems daunting to me. I watched almost all 3 days of MedX last year and tweeted and RTd about what I heard. There were some amazing ideas and conversations but even from a distance it was tiring.

    I loved the video that symplur put out showing how the tweets from within the conference spread out around the world. That’s my favourite of all the types of things Symplur does.

    Some of the conferences don’t really let you know they are coming up. There was an interesting conference about patient representation in clinical trials lately, and there is an annual one about patient safety too.

    • Carly says:

      Maybe I need to do a post on the reverse topic: attending in person? :)

      Good point about even knowing about conferences in the first place. I’ve been slowly adding some to my list because I heard about them once it was too late to attend. Another good tactic is to find out which events awesome people will attend, either by asking them, or checking out their website (Susannah Fox’s list is a good one: http://susannahfox.com/upcoming-events/). And once you know of a great event, reach out and invite other patients to attend, too.

      • Annette says:

        Even virtually it was an amazing and stimulating conference. I saw one that was an all-day event about functional GI disorders (well some of it) and they shared all of the speakers slides when it was over.
        One I actually attended here in Toronto was about aging for nurses and health staff (did not realize when I signed up ). The information was really useful and they too shared the slides
        Besides MedX the only one I am registered for at the moment is about informed consent. I would love to join you and Carolyn and share conferences that will be presented online. I bet Stacy Tinianov would be interested too.

        Here’s my current one. It’s July 28 from 8:30 to 5:15. Put on by The National Academy of Sciences and called Informed Consent and Health Literacy: A Workshop

  2. Hello virtual conference buddy o’ mine!

    It was indeed fun virtually attending Medicine X last year with you. Even though we didn’t plan this ahead of time, both of us came up with the same idea: book the Friday off, stay in our jammies(!) and watch the conference from afar. And we were able to communicate with each other, ask questions, Tweet comments, and feel like we were still able to focus on keynote speakers throughout the day.

    In my former life in corporate PR, I attended many, many conferences in person. Frankly, I grew to dread the long flights, travel delays and hotel stays away from home, but one thing that almost all conference-goers seem to value is the behind-the-scenes conversation that take place during breaks between the keynote presentations – and that’s what’s so great about a bunch of us sharing the virtual attendance experience online.

    Meanwhile, it’s great news that you’ll be onstage at Stanford this year at MedX 2014. I’ll be waving at you from my laptop at the kitchen table!
    regards,
    C.

    • Carly says:

      I am going to be a little sad and a little jealous of the people at home this year. Knowing I will have a pre-made cheering section (my mom will be watching virtually this year, too!) does make me feel less nervous. I saw so many comments from people who were disappointed that they didn’t get to attend MedX this year, and I hope attending virtually works for them, too.

  3. […] Medicine X has a great way for you to stream the main stage programming at home through their free Global Access program. You need to register, but there is no cost and you’ll be able to watch the conference from Friday September 5 – Sunday September 7. Check out my post on tips for attending virtual events. […]