5 reasons you should attend more online conferences
My first conference experience was at 17, a science competition in Boston, USA . 17 year old me felt out of place; rightfully so in a room of scientists when I hadn’t even finished A- level biology. My sessions were spent collecting freebies and just soaking up a new environment and new city. Fast forward to my current experience, I’ve only ever attended online conferences and as I've understood more, I couldn't help but notice all the things I’ve gained , without leaving my house !
a formal meeting of people with a shared interest, typically one that takes place over several days.
The rise of online meetings might be the best thing to happen to early career professionals finding their feet. In the academic environment knowledge has been hidden behind paywalls but the pandemic brought about a sense of urgency to share information quickly and accurately among experts, industry leaders and the general public. While conferences are a space to exchange and build upon ideas, the benefits of attending span greater than networking and knowledge exchange for the early career professional.
The job searching process IS exhausting so being ready for an interview in advance makes it a little better and hopefully a much shorter process. Preparing for interviews shouldn't be focused on when you “need” the role. It takes time to find the perfect role at the right time so conferences are a good time to passively gain knowledge and essentially “shop around” for new roles.
What do you gain and how does it help at an interview?
Answering industry based interview questions: Entering a new field means your gained experience is limited but that doesn’t mean your knowledge on the field and challenges have to be gained from real life experiences. Typical interview questions include
What are the challenges you expect in this field/ role ?
Can you explain the process for e.g The publishing process
By attending conferences these questions can be easily answered. Most likely a speaker would have outlined the challenges of a project or explained a technique, process or work-flow.
Understanding progression within a company: This may apply to online “talks” rather than the typical conference format. Depending on the event , many conferences now have career panels alongside poster sessions or structured talks. Before leaving one role for another, seeing your potential growth can really help you weigh up the pros and cons of your next steps or industry. Did it take 5 years to get to the next job role? Are the employees unclear of what their next steps could be ?. Are entry level employees content and do they all come from the same background? Asking questions like this can help you answer sometimes the dreaded question of interviews like:
Why did you apply for this role?
Where do you see yourself in the future or how does this role tie into your long term plans?
2. How to pitch yourself
Tell us about yourself ?... Whether at an interview or in person, perfecting your “elevator pitch” about yourself can be a daunting experience if you haven’t thought of what to say. For early career professionals you may feel like you don’t bring much so the anxiety of it all can also be a hindrance. Conferences and online talks are a perfect place to refine your pitch by observing panelist and hosts then essentially coming up with a combination of your favourites.
All conferences have introductions. Panellists, hosts all introduce themselves and in this you can pick up words, cues and styles on how to present yourself and what skills or experiences people focus on when they talk about themselves.
Pitching myself is something I personally still find quite awkward but through “borrowing” I’ve found a style that suits me. In planning an intro, the people you are introducing yourself to matter. So before you start think of a few things.
What is this event about and who will be attending?
What skills do I have / projects I am working on do I want to share ?
What am I trying to learn and can I categorise them into fields ?
E.g My name is X, I just graduated XYZ / I work at X doing ABC and I am really interested in ABC or I am working on ABC and would like some input . I have recently been doing ABC and have found something difficult/ interesting?
3. Find out about new fields / Job titles / companies
The definition of a conference is: a meeting of people with a shared interest . With this we focus on the people attending and the work they do. Focusing on the attendees you can directly find out about companies and job titles but for this section its paying attention to the list of sponsors and in the more formal setting vendors. Career building is a two way street where companies are looking for talent and talent wants to be found. I think it's a good way to identify organisations that are interested in causes you are passionate about and in the sense of talks / short panel events - these are more intimate settings where you get a deeper understanding on the goals of a company and how collaborations come about.
Now back to the people that attend conferences. That trusty name badge that's sometimes peeling off if its a sticker or propped up perfectly if its a pin holds valuable information. : The JOB TITLE. One thing I’ve come to learn about the world of careers after many career interviews. There are an endless range of job titles and you sometimes know what you want to do but haven’t really placed a name on the role. Keeping an eye out for titles that align with your interests can make future job searches much easier or even highlight something you were unaware of.
4. Building your presentation skills
As a visual learner and with my growing interest in design. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for how things are presented and communicated. The range of talks and styles conferences expose you to can help you either find your personal style or inspire you to even greater heights on how to really get your work across.
There is just something so amazing about a well put together presentation where everything is very interesting, I remain engaged but I can tell the speaker put so much detail in making it visually pleasing.
Back to my “ borrowing tip” . Try new styles, paces of presentation and if you dare put more thought into the colour scheme. As an early career professional / graduate conferences set a picture of the standard of presentations required in your field and most importantly noticing how people answer or deflect questions posed to them.
I think the best skills gained are those over time in a passive rather than rushed manner.
What can you take from presentations?
Style: What caught your eye and why?
Questions asked and how they are answered
Pace and tone of the speaker
5. Gain new knowledge and network
Okay now we're back to familiar territory ! Gaining new knowledge I wont even keep it specific to your direct field but something that you are mildly curious about. I find these talks/ conferences the most enjoyable. Your pursuit of new information can really stop at attending, enjoying that space and passively picking things ups. My highlight was attending the WHO infodemic conference at a time when I was building my sci comm and sharing Covid-19 information. While this was a very new field to me, it gave me confidence to continue as my thoughts were in line with the experts and I was gaining knowledge of new resources to read and share in a way I had’t thought about before.
The beauty is people are talking passionately about things. If you aren't familiar with a specific skill, the knowledge gained in a conference can be translated into light interview discussions as well.
How can you use this knowledge ?
Learning new things passively with up to date information
A talking point in interviews / CV's and can help contextualise things
Stay up to date in your current field
Learn something new about a new field
Gain access to new resources
the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting
Now networking will always be a thing you either love or hate or just don’t know if you’re doing it right unless you are a LinkedIn pro.
The pressure of getting something out of networking in your early career days and being able to offer something back is what makes it long. TCIM has two posts on networking :
Maintaining relationships which are good stepping stones on navigating the networking space.
While the definition is the exchange of information. Online networking means you can really gain a lot of information before ever actually speaking to the person. But how do you make the most of networking in a conference setting, online or in person?
I’ve found going with an aim makes the process much easier and you don't have to really feel like you have much to offer because someone will be interested in what you do based on how you pitch yourself ( go back to point 3)
Networking with a plan
Are you interested in understanding the work ethic and environment in a new country
Want to ask about funding and Visa requirements
Share more about your own work and finding people interested
To end put them all together and use this approach with in person events, online events outside of conferences and the process of finding what you want naturally becomes a lot easier and less pressured. The career path is a journey that you should try and enjoy regardless of the intended destination.