A Guide on How to Attend a Virtual Conference

Are you a first-time virtual conference attendee? Are you looking for ways to maximize the effectiveness of your time?

Attending a virtual conference or large networking event is exhilarating for some and terrifying for others. Remembering a few useful tips can increase your overall virtual conference experience. Here, we investigate the ways you can have an organized and distraction-free session, so you get the most out of your virtual conference.

This resource has been brought to you by the McDonald Institute Highly Qualified Personnel Advisory Committee (HQPAC). We strive to make your experience with the McDonald Institute as memorable and impactful as possible. At the end of the article, you will find personal experience quotes from members of our HQPAC. If you have additional tips or tricks to improve the conference experience or would like to share your own experience, please feel free to leave a comment or send an email to Max Edgington.

Before you arrive, get to know the event

Before you arrive at the event, you should get to know how it is structured. Take some time to review the provided conference documents, click through the website (e.g., About, Activities, Submitted Abstracts etc.) and download any platforms or resources needed to participate.

Look for updates on social media associated with the conference and prepare links to websites that will be used ahead of time.

Pay careful attention to where event announcements and communications will be broadcasted. Additionally, you should be aware of who you can talk to about issues. Most events will have an ombudsman who is an official appointed to investigate event complaints. Knowing these resources will help you immediately tackle any issues that might occur.


👉 Quick tip: Many virtual conferences use Slack to encourage participation between participants.

Be familiar with the conferencing platform

Preparing yourself on how to use the conference software ahead of time will reduce and stress or confusion on the day of the event. Take some time to:

  1. Register using the provided registration method.
  2. Install any necessary conference platform(s)
  3. Understand how to log in.
  4. Understand how to interact with the speakers.
  5. Understand how to chat.
  6. Understand the various features that are available to you.
  7. Attend any tutorial or information sessions on the platform or investigate online tutorials.

👉 Quick tip: Audio issues can often be avoided by using headphones.


Plan out your conference experience ahead of time

Consider the following methods to understand how best to schedule your conference experience.

Check the conference schedule. Often, there are parallel talks or events. You may consider choosing sessions that seem interesting or relevant to your research beforehand. This ensures you will not need to decide what  you are attending last minute.  Conversely, you might find a new passion by attending talks with titles or abstracts that do not immediately interest you.

Make a wish list of presenters whose sessions you would like to attend. If you do not recognize any of the presenter’s names, take a few minutes to learn about the presenters and any research or journal articles they have contributed. This will give you a deeper understanding of the presentations and time to prepare questions for the speakers in advance.

Consider including social events in your schedule. One of the advantages of virtual conferencing is the opportunity to network (more on networking).


👉 Quick tip: If you use a personal or work calendar, add the sessions you are interested in into your calendar. This will ensure you get an alert and reminder for each event.

Test your audio and video equipment

Reduce stress once you arrive at the conference by ensuring your audio and visual equipment performs without issue.

If possible, log in to the conference platform early and test your microphone volume and quality.

Preferably, use a headset with a built-in microphone to ensure the best audio quality during questions periods or conversations. Test  if you can turn your webcam on and off. If you cannot log in to the conferencing platform early, try using your built-in webcam application. Use the record video feature to perform a similar check.

You should pay attention to how you set up your webcam background. To ensure you make a professional first impression, consider the following tips on how to set up your webcam background:

  1. Avoid a bright background. You should be in a well-lit space, with light sources facing you to avoid backlighting.
  2. Using a desk lamp will provide light and reduce shadows on your face.
  3. Reduce or remove distracting objects in your background. While some background features provide character, significant clutter can become distracting for other attendees.
  4. Use a virtual background if you are having issues with your physical background.

Take a moment to adjust yourself within the image. Ensure that your laptop webcam is level to your face, so you can look directly into the camera. Although it may take some time to get used to, this provides a personal feel for other attendees. An important note that it is okay if a portion of your head is cropped. In particular, your eyes should be in the top third of the frame.


👉 Quick tip: once the conference has started, try to adjust yourself to be the same size as other attendees and remember to use full screen!


Reduce distraction

Since conferences tend to be very busy, it is pertinent to take time to reduce external distractions as much as possible. The pressure to do work and check messages may be higher than usual. Although you should allow yourself to take breaks, try to have a few sessions a day where you immerse yourself in the talk, and attempt to understand the main ideas being conveyed.

Here are some helpful tips to further reduce distraction:

  1. Find a quiet spot in your home where there is not much noise.
  2. Inform your colleagues that you will be at a conference and ask if they can save communications for after the conference events that
  3. Let your family or roommates know when you will be attending the conference and ask them to provide you with a quiet space during your conference hours.
  4. Bring a notepad in case switching between your note application and the conference becomes distracting.
  5. Use an app like Self Control to eliminate the usage of distracting websites.

 Virtual Conference Social Etiquette

To help you remain professional in a virtual setting, here is a list of common virtual conference etiquette.

  • Try to arrive 5 minutes early. This will let you settle in and perform any last-minute checks with your audio and visual equipment to ensure everything is working.
  • If you are in a smaller group setting, it is appropriate to introduce yourself over the voice chat, with a simple “hello”.
  • What is important is making the initial effort to be social with other attendees. If you are in a large group setting, it is  more appropriate to introduce yourself in the text chat.
  • While you are not speaking, please  mute your microphone and likewise your cellphone. This ensures unnecessary noise does not get picked up in the call. When asking a question, use whichever interaction tool the conference organizers have recommended. For example, in Zoom, you may be asked to use the “raise hand” feature when you want to ask a question.
  • You do not need to attend or absorb every talk or every session. It is common to feel like you are drifting during long sessions. If you need to take a break to stretch, use the washroom, or get a snack, turn your webcam off while you are away from your computer.
  • Dress professionally. While conferences are virtual, it is still recommended to have a professional appearance to ensure you create the best impressions with other conference-goers.

 Once you arrive to the virtual conference

When you log in to the virtual conference, consider looking through the attendees on the call. This way, you can spot any familiar names and strengthen your connection with contacts you have already met. Optionally, consider asking someone you already know to be your conference buddy. A buddy is useful to discuss ideas, exchange notes on sessions you missed and ask to take a break when you need to refresh. You may want to schedule regular meetups with your event buddy throughout the conference.

To stay engaged, think about taking notes and participating in the Q & A sessions. By taking notes, you will keep yourself engaged and make it easier to formulate questions. A good goal is to try and ask one question per session. Asking questions will get easier as time goes on, in addition to making the environment better for the speaker, for the other attendees, and for yourself.



A virtual conference is a valuable opportunity to connect with like-minded researchers. Putting in the effort to make new connections generally nets you the best possible outcome. If an individual piques your interest throughout the conference, consider sending them a private message on the conferencing platform. After you have introduced yourself and received a response, it is acceptable to ask the individual if you may add them on LinkedIn or continue to talk over email.

For more social opportunities, consider seeking out sessions where there are fewer people within the group. Smaller groups offer more options for attendees to speak directly to the speaker and other audience members. Larger groups may mean that you will not interact with the speaker or have personal interactions with other attendees.

One of the main perks of virtual conferencing is that you can be interacting while the presentation is happening. During the conference, consider paying attention to the text chat to see shared insights and participate in topic-related discussions. A friendly reminder that there is a balance between engaging too much and too little. Try to remain conscious of whether you are providing useful input in the discussion and you are not becoming distracting for other attendees.

After the event

Consider promptly messaging the contacts that you have made while the connections are still fresh. With your emails and connection requests, make sure you specify where and how you initially met.

Feel free to contact professors about their lectures and presentations if they gave their contact information. Especially if you would like to work with them and you are applying for an academic position.

Lastly, consider attending any follow-up virtual networking sessions after the event. These social events are great opportunities to strengthen future connections.

Happy conferencing!


HQP Advisory Committee Conference Experiences


“The 2019 CAP Annual Congress was my first big conference. It was nerve-wracking to present at this huge event! The connections I made over there (approaching and talking to people whose talks I found fascinating, or names I recognized) are still useful today. So many new ideas come from talks during coffee breaks at conferences, so don’t shy away. I’ve had to email many of the connections I made for help with some problem I encountered in the future and felt much more comfortable with it since I already met them beforehand and could refer to our prior meeting. I might have not even known who to ask for help if I didn’t go out of my way to say hi. “

“Going to conferences is among my favourite grad school memories. It feels meaningful and academically enriching to be immersed in a larger community. Most of all, I’ve made very good friends at conferences with whom it’s always a great pleasure to reunite.”

“The best thing I have gotten out of conferences is understanding where my true interests lie. By viewing talks outside of my direct field I gained an appreciation for what interests me and shifted my path when it came time to choose my PhD topic. I am now on the same experiment as graduate students who I had met two years prior at conferences.”

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