As you’re likely already aware, farm conferences across North America are adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic in new and exciting ways. The virtual frontier is here, and many organizations are preparing for a conference season that will occur entirely online. The valuable content of these gatherings will be served up remotely and this new realm of learning, connecting and interacting will pose new challenges for conference attendees. The good news is, the information and expertise of growers across the country will still be shared and the online venues might even have some of their own added benefits to take advantage of. Below we'll discuss some things to consider when preparing for this new virtual conference season.

Block Out Your Calendar

As we continue to cope with the remote socializing of these unprecedented times, we may find that we're spending more time in our homes, on our farms and within a few miles of our regional communities. Many travel plans were dashed and farm and home projects have never gotten more love and attention. It can be easy, in a virtual setting, to multitask and oftentimes this can be very productive on a regular day-to-day basis. The impulse to attend a virtual conference while also completing other tasks will be tempting, but it will ultimately negatively impact your overall experience. Blocking out the time in your calendar to attend the event, fully present, will allow you to make the most of this remote learning opportunity. Putting your phone in a different room during sessions and scheduling tasks to be completed before the conference starts will help you focus on the great content coming through your screen. Sometimes the act of traveling to a conference and staying somewhere other than your home allows you to disengage from your routine which can be beneficial. It will be important to try and recreate that same level of engagement through dedicating the time exclusively to the experience, even if it means telling your mom she can't drop by or asking to take the time off from work.

Minimize Distractions

You'll need to block out your calendar for the duration of the conference experience and you'll also need to dedicate some time before the conference starts to minimizing distractions. This can be as simple as removing things from the room where you will be stationed that distract you such as the tv, your phone, clocks, radios, etc and can even include things like turning the notifications off of your phone, signing out of your email accounts and reducing the avenues for which people and content generating apps reach you. This may also mean hiring help on the farm for the duration of the conference so that you have the space to disconnected from your normal tasks and open up to the new opportunities that will come from the conference or having someone agree to watch the kids. In person help can be somewhat hard to come by in our newly restricted, social-distanced world and it may be that you trade off with your business and/or life partners to each get time to be involved in the sessions that will mean the most for your personal growth.

Prioritize Your Time to Stay Present

Making a plan with your life or farm partners can help you get the most out of the conference, just like it does in person. With so many sessions to attend and only so much time in the day, it is great to review the agenda and make a strategy for engagement. Looking at a computer screen for an entire day is definitely not ideal and it will be important to prioritize what workshops, panels, lectures and chats that are essential. Even though you have taken the time to minimize distractions, it may still be challenging to remain fully engaged as the day goes on. To stay present, set yourself up so that you are comfortable but not so comfortable that you may fall asleep, place yourself in an area that gets good natural light, dedicate a notebook for taking good notes and set up a snack station in the next room for easy refills of conference favorites.

Stock Up on Snacks and Coffee or Tea

It's no secret that one of the more fun things about the conference season is hanging out with people around the snack tables and coffee bars. These opportunities will be missed, but having snacks on hand to see you through to the finish line at the end of the day is a good way to help you stay focused and comfortable. Fruits, nuts and fresh vegetables are all good snack foods that will keep you energized without putting you to sleep. You may not get to mingle at the coffee bar in the trade show area, but I bet the coffee will be much tastier from your own kitchen!

Go to the Chat Rooms and Participate

Some conferences will be setting up chat rooms and other virtual spaces where people will be able to come together and interact. When you sign up for a conference, be sure to look at the entire agenda to discern what these opportunities may look like and set aside time for them. Even though we are unable to be together in person during these events, the chance to connect and engage with other growers, presenters, thought leaders and the like still exists and should be taken advantage of. During sessions, there may even be an open chat for questions and, even if you don't have your own questions to ask, this little sidebar could still be highly informative if you choose to monitor it. Following and using hashtags on social media may be even more important than ever before as a means of revealing the other participants you can engage with. It may feel awkward to try and participate actively in the conference from your living room, but the community you build with these virtual tools is still vital and important, especially if you continue to follow up moving forward.

Attend Sessions Live When Possible

One of the great advantages of the virtual conference is the recorded data. Many of the presentations you will have the opportunity to see will be recorded and those you were forced to miss will also be available at a later date for you to review. This is great news for being able to experience all of the sessions and for finishing out the conference with a stockpile of informative and inspirational content. Though it may be tempting to skip the sessions that are live and tell yourself you will simply review them later, attending the presentations, workshops and panels live will give you a much richer experience than watching recorded versions later on. There is a special energy to being a part of something that is happening in real time that helps you stay full present and engaged. Prioritizing your top sessions of interest for live viewing will help you get the most out of them and those that you had to miss will still be available to learn from at your convenience.

Ask if the Slides will be Available after the Presentation

Every conference will likely tackle the collection and sharing of sessions and educational content differently. Before you attend a session, it can be helpful to reach out to see if the slides will be available after the presentation. Some conferences may just record a video of the event, others may just record audio and others still may have the slideshows available after the session, or even at a later date, for download. In the event that a session you are attending will indeed have a slideshow available for download, you can free up some of your mental energy by taking less thorough notes. Sometimes we can get so busy with strict note taking that we can actually remove ourselves from the experience. When the slides are available to you, you can focus on writing down freer thoughts, inspirations and wisdom shared by the presenter that may have come out candidly or from a question posed by a viewer.

Select a Back-Up Session in the Event of Technical Difficulties

When an educational experience relies so heavily on technology, there are bound to be problems. You know what they say about the best laid plans. Even experienced presenters will run into issues that need troubleshooting and this may interrupt or even prevent a session from happening. It is good practice for virtual conferences to have a back up session lined up so that if the session you are attempting to attend gets delayed or cancelled, you have something you can switch to.

Engage with Tradeshow Booths

Though you won't be able to walk the tradeshow floor and talk to all of the vendors about their amazing products and services, it is likely that many, if not most, of these vendors are still planning to participate in the online version of the conference. Each conference will likely give their sponsors and tradeshow vendors a virtual space to connect with growers about what they have to offer. This may be in a chatroom, a panel discussion, or presentation and connecting with these vendors is still a great way to get your hands on products and services that will support your growing journey. Many companies will still be offering coupon codes and reaching out to them is a good way to ensure you're getting the most out of your participation in the conference.

Don't be Passive, Be Active

All in all, the take home message when it comes to the virtual conference season is that you will get out of it what you put into it. This will look different than a typical conference year, but taking the space to be fully present and engaged with the opportunities offered virtually will provide you with the best experience possible. It can feel natural to passively participate in something from a remote learning setting, but the more you are willing to commit to being a part of the sessions, live when possible, connecting to the community that has come together from their farms and gardens across the region, the more you will be able to continue to build community and make lasting connections that will outlive this difficult time. Even though we can't be together, we all still have a lot of important work today and it is more important than ever that we share our learning experiences, our inspirations and triumphs and come together to talk through our personal and collective challenges.


Check back next month for our announcement about which virtual conferences you can find High Mowing At This winter!