Natural Products Expo West, SupplySide East, IFT, Fancy Food...spring and early summer is usually a prime time for conferences, and the networking opportunities and educational sessions that we all value to help our businesses thrive in support of helping people live healthier, happier lives.

Of course, this industry is known for making lemonades out of lemons, and as COVID-19 shut down the convention centers and expo halls, we're making the shift to Zoom meetings, educational webinars, and virtual expos. The great news is that this is enabling us to participate in high-quality education and beneficial networking opportunities, without having to travel. We've heard from webinar attendees who are finding silver linings, like being able to have everyone on staff view an on-demand webinar, rather than being the only attendee at a live presentation. Another plus: Conferences can be so jammed with fabulous sessions that you are forced to pick and choose, missing out on valuable content. Virtual events tend to be more streamlined, plus offer on-demand viewing.

One free virtual event that I hope all will attend: "Taking Control of the Immunity & Wellness Market," taking place June 11-12. This event hosted by WholeFoods Magazine and Trust Transparency Center (TTC) will cover the entire development and marketing lifecycle “From paper to product to positioning to profit.” The event features world-class speakers such as Mark Hyman, M.D.; Shelley Balanko of The Hartman Group; JulianMellentin, Director and Founder of New Nutrition Business; and more—check out the details and registerhere.

While there's certainly a lot that can be gained from virtual events, sitting in front of your screen instead of strolling a buzzing expo hall or attending a session in person is a totally different experience. So we asked the experts—people who were putting on virtual events before the COVID-19 crisis—to share their tips for getting the most out of an event. Here, 10 gems:
  1. Set Up Your OOO: "Having just attended a 4-day virtual event, I learned a lot," shares Rich Vallaster, Dir. of Client Relations at Personify, a Constituent Management & Engagement (CME) platform. "Being virtual creates natural distractions—email, phone calls, kids, etc.—that would not occur if you were in-person. Put up an out of office message and commit to working only during the breaks as you would for an in-person event. This level of engagement is required to gain the maximum value."
  2. Plan & Prep: "Organize your personal attendee calendar and gather any materials needed," advises Victoria Petersen of E3 Planning, which specializes in corporate and association event marketing management. This can include downloading brochures and presentations in advance, adds Mary Breslin, Founder of Verracy, who facilitates both live (pre-COVID) and virtual training for Internal Audit, Risk and Fraud. Check out the event's website and plan out your agenda just as you would in person.
  3. Specialize Your Space: Heather Sharpe of Sherpa Group Events, which offers full service virtual event management services, adds, "Set up your space appropriately to engage with the event...close the door and put out a 'Genius at Work' sign if it's for business." Also, test audio/video plug-ins and functionality before sessions you want to attend, advises Breslin. "Some people expect computer speakers, headsets or cameras to just 'work'...but often they don’t!"
  4. Charge Up, Close Out: "Have all your devices charged and any charging accessories handy. Also, if you favor multiple tabs like me, close them all so they won’t affect your Internet/connectivity and so you have less of a distraction," suggests Monica Wolyniec with Boomset, an all-in-one event technology platform for in-person, virtual & hybrid events. Breslin seconds that, noting that it prevents both temptation and lag. "The internet is very taxed these days."
  5. Be Seen: "Treat it like a live conference/expo—be on camera when possible, to see and interact with others," advises Breslin. Boomset's Wolyniec agrees: "If there will be an option for video calling, use it. It’s so nice to connect and match a face to a name/avatar. You can also 'dress your best' or be transparent. I had a less-formal networking meeting during my self-care Saturday routine and answered with a charcoal face mask on."
  6. Use the Tools: During the presentations, refer to the live online Program/Guidebook for agendas, speaker bios and other useful info, advises Anne Feldmann, Director of Operations, ConnectMii, which is the virtual conference experience (VCX) being used for the WholeFoods Magazine/TTC event in June.
  7. Perfect your View: Depending on the event platform, you can adjust your view. For example in a Zoom webinar, Feldmann suggests, use the Side-by-Side mode to view, as this allows you to see the presenter and his/her content, and control how big either of them appears to you (to do that, from your Zoom viewer, click your profile picture, then click Settings; click Share Screen; check box for Side-by-Side Mode).
  8. Interact: Be prepared and ready to participate, recommends Jim Leighton, Founder of RAIN, a creative strategy agency designed to educate and empower nonprofit professionals and Boards to raise revenue. "Participate with the chat function. Provide feedback to the hosts/panelists as you would in an in-person setting. Ask questions. I have been surprised as to how many times my name has been called out with a good question or comment. These are not television shows—these are participatory events." Feldmann also advises asking your questions as they come to you. "Take advantage of the Q&A boxes to post questions while the presenter is speaking, so that as soon as he/she is finished, the moderator can share those questions with the presenter for live answers."
  9. Network: If the event offers the opportunity for one-on-one meetings (Taking Control of the Immunity & Wellness Market is offering this), take advantage. "Follow up with any presenter or sponsoring company, use the Book-a-Meeting link in the Program/Guidebook to schedule one-on-one video meetings," advises Feldmann. "Just click and follow the easy step-by-step instructions."
  10. Socialize! Many would agree that one highlight we miss from all the cancelled conferences is our chance to be together as a community, just enjoying the company. And for now, virtual social events are the next best thing. Again, be on camera if possible, Breslin recommends. Great advice, because we would love to see you--the WholeFoods and TTC teams are ready to kick back with you--our virtual Happy Hour wraps up the week on June 12!
In addition toTaking Control of the Immunity & Wellness Market, here is information on a few of the other virtual opportunities you may enjoy: