Professional Networking at Virtual Conferences: How to Connect Online
- What You’ll Learn
- Why Virtual Conferences Are Such a Big Deal for Professional Networking
- Why Attend a Virtual Conference?
- Finding the Best Virtual Conferences
- Saving Money on Conference Tickets
- How Virtual Conferences Work
- Selecting Your Conference Sessions
- What Is Professional Networking, Anyway?
- How Virtual Conferences Foster Connection
- Essentials of Successful Networking
- Put in the Work to Build Your Professional Network
- Growing a Contact Into a Connection
- Building a Strong Network
- Where to Go From Here?
- Key Takeaways
Are you looking for a new job, to make a name for yourself in the dev community or to advance your career? If you aren’t putting virtual conferences to work for you, you’re missing a big opportunity.
If you’re not sure how any why to use virtual conferences to build a strong professional network, here’s your chance. In this article, you’ll learn how to leverage virtual events as a unique opportunity to network and create personal connections — all from the comfort of your own desk.
What You’ll Learn
- Why virtual conferences are such a huge opportunity for mobile devs.
- How virtual conferences work, including how to find ones worth your time.
- How to meet other developers online — and why you want to.
- How to grow conference connections into a supportive professional community.
Why Virtual Conferences Are Such a Big Deal for Professional Networking
In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed people’s lives. As global lockdowns escalated, many developers started working remotely from their homes. Large gatherings like conferences were delayed or canceled.
Thanks to collaborative tools like Slack and Zoom, many organizers were able to pivot to virtual events. For the iOS community, one of the earliest big impacts was Apple’s WWDC 2020 going all-virtual.
This has had a major impact on who can attend and take advantage of the networking potential of virtual conferences. For example, when in-person gatherings became virtual, many also plummeted in cost, making these premium events suddenly widely accessible. Suddenly, devs who never would have been able to attend a conference due to costs, time commitments or accessibility issues had those doors opened for them.
Now that the developer community has experienced the convenience and accessibility of virtual conferences, virtual options are likely to stick around. Many conferences that are returning to physical venues now offer a hybrid option, where attendees can choose to participate online or in person.
For individual devs, this means that not only do they have more opportunities to attend conferences, but also that when they do, there is a broader spectrum of other people to network with.
Why Attend a Virtual Conference?
The shift to virtual conferences has made those events more accessible in many ways:
- Attendance is more affordable because there are no travel or lodging costs involved.
- Accessing virtual conferences from home makes attendance more feasible for people in remote locations. Don’t live near San Jose or Logroño? No problem; just log in from home!
- For many with limitations or disabilities, virtual conferences present fewer accessibility challenges. Joining from the comfort of your own environment lets you participate in a way that works best for you.
- Online events require a much smaller time commitment. This makes them feasible for people who can’t spend days away from home due to other responsibilities — like caring for children or other two- or four-footed family members. Rest assured, Rover would rather you attend virtually.
Above all, virtual events offer convenience. They allow you to fit the event around your life, rather than the other way around.
Finding the Best Virtual Conferences
So where can you find great virtual conferences to attend? Start by searching a conference list like cocoaconferences.com for upcoming online conferences.
From there, check the event’s schedule for a healthy mix of talks and networking opportunities. Look for networking events that include smaller breakout groups, because these offer the best chance at meaningful conversations.
Some conferences use software like Remo.co to place attendees at virtual “tables” that simulate in-person networking. That’s a great sign that the organizer is focused on your networking experience.
Here are some conferences offering great virtual experiences at the time of this writing:
- iOS Conf SG currently uses Zoom and Slack and offers networking events like trivia games to encourage interaction with other attendees.
- NSSpain offers a ‘remote edition’ that uses Remo.co to encourage attendees to socialize. They also include networking events between each talk.
- try! Swift World is a weekly workshop. They limit workshops to ten attendees, resulting in a more conversational format. Networking opportunities are also built in, including a Slack channel for communication after the workshop.
Saving Money on Conference Tickets
If you’re unable to afford an expensive conference ticket, the good news is that virtual conference tickets are generally cheaper. For example, 2022 Swift Heroes online tickets go for 10% of the cost of their in-person counterparts. But what if that still isn’t affordable?
For those that need them, many conferences provide scholarships or discounts. For example, 360iDev offers a women-in-tech discount, while try! Swift World provides diversity and economic hardship scholarships.
Furthermore, good planning can save you money. Most conferences offer early-bird discounts.
If you don’t see the right financial aid for you, don’t be afraid to ask — there are a lot of great people out there that don’t want economic barriers to limit your growth!
How Virtual Conferences Work
Most virtual conferences consist of scheduled, livestreamed talks. They typically provide some form of question-and-answer (Q&A) sessions to allow attendees to engage with the presenters. Places to chat, such as Slack, enable discussion and networking.
Most conferences provide a variety of technical talks covering things like language features, new frameworks or architectural case studies. Many try to include a few nontechnical talks on professional growth or other topics important to the developer community. Schedules are usually provided at the same time tickets go on sale.
Selecting Your Conference Sessions
Once you’ve picked some conferences to attend, you need to know how to get the most out of the experience.
Since virtual conferences are open to a global audience, they take into account that not everyone can attend at the same time. NSSpain 2021 had a cool take on this, scheduling a continuous 36-hour conference with emcees across different time zones. That conference, like most others, provided attendees with links to recordings of all sessions so no one missed out due to timing.
Having a lot of attractive sessions at a virtual conference is both a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to end up with a backlog of talks you want to listen to. While you might learn a lot from watching recordings of presentations you can’t attend, your ability to use these sessions for networking is limited or non-existent.
Attending live lets you participate in the Q&A, chat with fellow attendees and engage with others in real time on social media — all vital parts of networking at a conference. Therefore, be sure to prioritize the sessions you can livestream.
Before the conference, take note of the talks you’re especially interested in and book them on your calendar. Give as much weight to those scheduled sessions as you would in-person appointments. When possible, keep some time open between sessions for chatting and networking.
So now that you’re ready to attend a virtual conference, it’s time to think about how to get the most out of the professional networking opportunities you’ll have.