By Elizabeth Cummings posted 02 Jun, 2021 20:02

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One of the things I love about going to conferences is that feeling I get as I walk into the venue on the first day. There is always an excited buzz and hive of activity going on. From the colour and array of the expo tables and information stands to the smell of the last minute coffee deliveries to the nervous energy of the presenters running through their speeches in the corners of the vestibules.

With a virtual conference, things are somewhat different. Everyone has a prime seat – in front of their own computer. There are no coffee queues or meal requirement forms to fill in and no one will see exactly how engaged or otherwise the audience is. So how do we ensure we remain motivated to make the most of these virtual events? Having done a few online conferences now after more than a year of pandemic pivoting, I have put together a few of my own top tips to help make the most of the forthcoming International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED) this month.

1.     Log on to the conference portal and check your profile is visible, including a decent profile picture of you. There is nothing worse than faceless avatars so make sure your profile lets people see you are a real human and ready to engage!

2.     Check out the keynote as well as the programme outline. For ICED, there is a myriad of presenters so take the time to go through these to identify those that meet your interests and professional needs best and schedule these into your diary.

3.     Consider sending out introductions to those you wish to engage with. You might not be in the same room, but you can still build new networks and look for future peers to collaborate with within your area of research.
4.     Have your desk space ready for the conference. Block out time, tidy your desktop, and have a laptop/pen and paper ready to take notes.

5.     Ahead of the session you are attending, take time to plan your environment. Switch off IT distractions, ensure your room is quiet, at a comfortable temperature, and, if you are going to be part of a live session, make sure you are well-lit.

6.     Furthermore, if you are presenting or being seen on camera it is worth checking what your audience will see, nothing worse than a squint picture frame or blinding sunlight pouring in from the Venetian blinds behind your desk.

7.     Do you have your food/drink sorted? Sessions go on throughout the day and as you will not be heading to the shared dining space or out to conference canopy networking vents, perhaps get a supply of tasty snacks and supplies in ready to grab when you feel hungry or fatigued.

8.     Speaking of fatigue, sitting in front of your screen for long periods of time is a killer so get up stretch and make times for breaks so you can last the distance.

9.     Have a look out for pre-recorded content and engage in the sharing sections. There is often an opportunity to comments or share/respond to presentations. Use these, the presenters have taken time to curate content and they genuinely wish to share and have a dialogue about their given topics. Even a ‘like’ button is better than no engagement – let the presenters know you are out there!

10. Have a look at what others are presenting and consider whether you might sign up next time. Not only is it a good intellectual challenge but also helps build conversations in your field and encourage growth, research, and development in that area.