Make the Most Out of Virtual Events


Empty conference centers were an early sign of the pandemic as large-scale events, including professional conferences, were shut down to stem the outbreak of COVID-19. Unable to board a plane for business travel or even to enter offices, workspaces and project sites, we adapted to the new reality and pivoted to virtual interaction.

Initially, the need to carry on took the form of virtual meetings. But as the pandemic continued, we found creative ways to connect for personal growth, professional development, learning and entertainment. The interchange of ideas is essential to success in the business world, and this is especially true in the community of project managers where contributions to the body of knowledge and the sharing of best practices support positive outcomes for all.

People have always found creative ways to respond to difficult situations, and the virtual world has offered us engaging and meaningful ways to come together even as we remain physically distanced. We can listen to musicians perform in a virtual symphony, attend a virtual film festival from our living room or take in a museum exhibition while eating lunch at our kitchen table. Without packing a suitcase or booking a flight, we can attend a lecture in another time zone or spend a day at a business conference.

“When COVID-19 struck,” explains Julie Ho, PMI events product manager, “PMI recognized the need to find a way to keep the community together. That connection—whether in person or virtually—helps keep us human and beating the same beat, which is project management. Building on what we’ve learned from prior events in our Virtual Experience Series, October’s event is built and will be produced for everyone, regardless of location. We are really bringing everyone together over the two days.”

But how can we make the most of these opportunities that have been presented to us?

Make it a special event. With our work lives so demanding, attending a virtual event offers a chance for a “change of scene” and a break from routine. Clear your calendar and be fully present. Like putting on a pair of virtual reality goggles, the secret is to trick the mind into thinking it is in a real-world environment. Jacob Trefethen, cofounder of a virtual reality video platform, explained to MIT Technology Review that “the idea is to cut down on interruptions that remind the viewer that the virtual world is, in fact, not real.” As at an in-person event, a virtual conference offers the opportunity to step away from the everyday to refresh and imbibe new ideas.

Know your purpose. Priya Parker, a presenter at PMI’s first virtual event and the author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters,” has said that at the core of any meeting there should be a sense of purpose for coming together. Choose a virtual experience that supports your purpose. Are you primarily interested in advice for advancing your career? Do you want to understand new developments in your industry? Do you need to learn how other project managers are adapting to the new world of work? Review the offerings and choose presentations that target the skill set you want to focus on. Don’t try to do it all or you’ll wind up with virtual sore feet.

Familiarize yourself with the platform. Virtual events can go by really fast. A little advance preparation can enhance your experience and make it more productive and enjoyable. Check the network requirements and download any necessary software or apps before your event starts. Many platforms offer you the chance to engage with the presenters by asking a question or providing feedback. Use the chat function and networking tools to connect with other attendees. Unlike real life, virtual events sometimes give you a second chance to catch up on what you missed the first time around. If extended access is offered, take full advantage of the offerings by watching a session you were unable to view on the day of the event.

Share the experience. Depending on your situation, you might be able to gather with a few colleagues to enjoy the virtual conference together. But even when you are unable to gather in a physical space, you can arrange a group chat while viewing a conference session. Conferences may offer a discounted group rate, and your group can carry on the discussion afterward. Social media provides additional opportunities to share and interact. Many events have a hashtag, Facebook or LinkedIn group where you can tweet or post your comments and read what others have to say. Be sure to follow up if you have requested information or promised to share some. If you receive a survey form asking for your feedback, be sure to share some impressions.

PMI’s Virtual Experience Series, with speakers and sessions to help you navigate the new world of work, will return 6-7 October—the final event for 2021. This two-day event will be broadcast live across regions to accommodate our global community. In addition to enjoying live sessions, other program sessions will be available on demand through 31 January 2022. The Mainstage schedule includes award-winning chef and restauranteur Marcus Samuelsson, entrepreneur Peter Hinssen and Time Magazine’s 2020 Kid of the Year Gitanjali Rao discussing issues of global impact and how to meet new challenges with new solutions. The Working Wellness Theater will feature sessions on maintaining work-life balance, practicing gratitude and annihilating technostress. Ho, events product manager, said that the event provides opportunities to network, exhibits to explore and four learning tracks: power skills, ways of working, hot topics and business acumen. “We have designed the event to promote human connection, bringing together rising leaders and people from diverse backgrounds, all with the mission of making change,” she adds.

Virtual events have a lot to offer. We all enjoy growing our professional expertise and making connections. Virtual events give you the opportunity to expand beyond your physical boundaries and engage with a broader range of people and experiences. With so many benefits and inherent flexibility to accommodate to our individual needs and schedules, expect virtual events to stick around even as life returns to normal!

Digital Exclusive article developed for Project Management Institute, Inc. by staff content writer Shari Rathet.  

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