We’re skeptical. Really skeptical. Can virtual conferences actually deliver as much value as in-person events?

As many professional conferences are making the shift to a virtual or hybrid format, continuous improvers must follow suit and make the shift, too.

If you are still skeptical, here’s how to maximize the value of your upcoming virtual conference (and maybe actually start loving them too!).


Not Your Standard Out of Office Message

Your out of office message is gentle way to say, “please don’t bother me today.” But it’s also a commonly missed communication tool. Let your coworkers know you are working on learning new super-star skills and focusing on your own personal development. Conferences not only help you grow; they also help you become an even more valuable contributor to the team.

But don’t just use a standard out-of-office message. Make it fun! Let others know that you want to share lessons learned. Here’s an example:

“Hey Team, I am currently ‘out of the office’ making professional development a priority. I’ll be attending CII’s Dam Good Virtual Conference on Thursday and Friday. Feel free to reach out to me on Monday to chat about what I learned. I’m eager to share my learnings with you!”

Not only does this communicate that you want to focus on the conference, but it gives your team an invitation to ask about it. You know the saying, “Knowledge shared is power squared!”. And you may be surprised at how many people ask you about it on Monday.

And note, since you aren’t exhausted from traveling and sleeping in a hotel, you’ll be ready to share first thing Monday morning!

Turn Ideas into Action

After all that inspiration, the enthusiasm tends to last for days or weeks afterwards, but we often fail to actually implement new ideas. To get the most from your time “out of the office”, make sure to create an action plan.

Before the conference starts, create a 2×2 matrix on a whiteboard or on flipchart paper. Yes, we’re asking continuous improvement and process improvement professionals to use their own tools. We use “Impact” on the x-axis and “Ease of Implementation” on the y-axis. Use this graphic as your guide.

As you have lightbulb moments, write each one on a sticky note and put it quickly on your 2×2 matrix. When the conference is nearing a close, group similar sticky notes into an affinity diagram. Reevaluate each idea in comparison to your other ideas. You may need to shift your stickies around the 2×2 matrix.

Now, turn this into an action plan. Write down things you can do this week, this month, and this year based upon what you learned. Assign a deadline to each item. Display your action plan in a visible space. We primarily work paperless, but printing a hard copy of your action plan increases your odds of success. Share this plan with your supervisor and team so they can help hold you accountable.

Have ideas for your entire team to implement? Add this to your teams’ agenda for the next meeting. Your team will benefit too!

Ditch the Business Card

LinkedIn is the new business card. It’s time to update your profile.

Update your job title, location, and your headshot. Spend time scrubbing your LinkedIn profile, because this is where you will build your network. Make sure to have (at least) two or three previous job positions listed on your LinkedIn profile.

Next, copy your custom LinkedIn URL. Sharing your URL is a quick and easy way to connect with other continuous improvement professionals in a virtual conference. Simply send someone your URL so they can connect with you during the conference. Expert tip – as soon as you connect with someone new, send them a note that says, “Nice connecting with you at the virtual conference today!”. It helps you remember how and where you connected!

Set a goal to connect with at least 5 new people. Within a month after the conference, choose 2-3 people to invite to a virtual coffee. Invite them to a short 30-minute video conference so you can get to know each other and learn how you can support each other.

Feeling like it’s a great connection? Continue meeting regularly for a peer-to-peer networking group or ask if they would be willing to do a cross-sharing session – your team tells about your continuous improvement program, and their team shares their program. Ultimately, these connections can be invaluable in your future.

It’s Time for Lunch!

The night before the conference, pack your lunch! No, we are not going back to elementary school; however, we are accustomed to going to conferences where coffee, snacks, and lunch are all provided.

Now, in this virtual world, we need to plan ahead. Instead of using your break time to prepare snacks or using your lunchtime to prepare a meal, pack your lunch and snacks in a lunchbox. Don’t forget to start your coffee pot too. This opens your break time to maximize your ability to engage in the conference events.

Actively Engage

Virtual conferences are about so much more than listening to speakers, panelists, and keynotes. You are in control of how much you learn, so it’s time to take an active role in your own development.

When the speaker asks you to participate in polls or chats, do it! This forces you to pay attention to the content. Plus, you’ll feel a stronger connection to the topic and presenter. 

If you feel a particular connection or have common history or interest with one of the speakers, then contact that speaker and ask to connect outside of the event. Most speakers are happy to continue discussing their expertise! Or invite them to a chat on the next break. At a minimum, ask a question during the session. It may trigger new concepts or help you think differently about a topic.

If the conference offers meet-ups, chats, coffee sessions or other informal networking, join one. Informal events at the conference are the quickest way to grow your network. You would normally do this during an in-person conference, so why not go virtual?

Learning is more effective when it is an active rather than a passive process. – Kurt Lewin

We get it. We love connecting with people….face-to-face…in the same room. But we can still embrace the benefits that virtual conferences can provide.

Using these methods to prepare for a virtual conference will help you get the most out of the event and set you up for opportunities to learn and implement best practices.

Ready to practice? Join CII for one of our upcoming events.

Author: Allison Greco

Author: Allison Greco

Founder, CII

I created my foundation with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and MBA from the University of Oklahoma. Over the past decade, I have held Continuous and Process Improvement roles for Black Hills Energy, Williams, the US Air Force and BNSF Railway. I’ve started new CI programs and reinvigorated stale ones. Along the way I earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and became a licensed Professional Engineer.