How to “attend” a professional meeting without attending

By Abigail Lynch

The American Fisheries Society (AFS) annual meeting begins next week.  For North American fisheries science professionals, this is the mecca for our field.  Professional meetings are undoubtedly important; they are dynamic and inspiring forums to share research, discuss new ideas, and form new collaborations (see previous Fisheries Blog posts on the value of professional conferences, outcomes from conference collaborations, and a student’s guide to conference networking).  As a picture is worth a thousand words, so too can an in-person meeting be worth a thousand emails.  Often even just a brief interaction at a professional conference can sometimes catalyze big results (such as Solomon’s recent example).

But, is there anything that you can do to garner some of those valuable benefits from professional meetings even if you CANNOT attend in person?

I remember the first opportunity I ever had to present at an AFS meeting I could not attend.  The meeting was in San Francisco and I hadn’t been able to cobble together enough funding for travel.  I remember the other graduate students coming back from the meeting excited and inspired and I was devastated to have missed out.

There are many reasons, financial, personal, professional, which inhibit us from attending every relevant conference and meeting in person.  While other means of communication and engagement will surely never replace the experience of being present at a conference, we do now often have alternative means to participate in some capacity.

Remote attendance

Some conferences are now exploring options for remote attendance.  With dramatic improvements in videoconferencing technology, remote participants can listen in to sessions like a standard webinar.  Though the personal interactions are limited with this approach, remote attendees can still “attend” the conference in real-time and can follow-up with speakers for more engagement.

Collaborator engagement

A more removed option for being present at a professional meeting without being present is to have your colleagues and collaborators be your eyes and ears.  There is a distinct hurdle with this option of “being out of sight, out of mind.”  But, you can ask that someone present on your behalf and can even set up side meetings for colleagues in attendance (as a professional match-maker?!?).  These approaches require follow-up after the meeting with your designated “proxies” to maximize the benefits and outcomes but they are often the second-best option to attending yourself.

Social media

In recent years, social media has exploded as a resource for professional conferences and in support of professional communities.  Twitter, Facebook, meeting apps, have become a means to connect participants, “micro-blog” presentations, and communicate discussions broadly to linked audiences.  The suite of social media tools prepared for a professional conference can serve as a key resource, especially for individuals not onsite.  For example, if you follow specific hashtags on Twitter (e.g., #AFS148, #FishSci, #Fishpolicy, #FishHabitat) or join certain Facebook groups, you can keep up-to-date on relevant events at a conference.

You can even join the conversation remotely with specific requests for information.  For example, if you’re an inland fish person, you could post something like “For all inland fish biologists at @AmFisheriesSoc #AFS148, I can’t attend but would love to hear about #InFish topics and speakers.”  This sort of request could be made via Twitter, Facebook, or the Meeting App.  While this won’t be as good as talking one-on-one with the speakers themselves, it may still provide some means to participate more actively in a conference even if you are not physically present.

(Please consider adding your own additional tips for remote engagement in professional meetings in the comment section below.  Thanks!!)

For those interested in exploring more options for social media at the upcoming AFS meeting, please register and attend the upcoming AFS Webinar on Promoting Fisheries Science via Social Media during #AFS148 TOMORROW (Tuesday, August 14th) at 1:30pm eastern.  This webinar will even include a section on how to follow along via social media even if you can’t attend the conference.

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How can you get even more out of the annual AFS meeting? Using social media (e.g., Twitter) during a conference can be an excellent way to connect with old friends, discover new colleagues, hear about new topics, get the key points from a talk you were unable to make, or learn about an event that had gone unnoticed. Join us for this webinar on how you can get the most out of social media during #AFS148!  This webinar is sponsored by the AFS Science Communication Section.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jim Rice says:

    For several years the NC Chapter of AFS and the Southern Division of AFS have been posting online podcasts of presentations at their meetings afterwards (thanks to the excellent work of Jessica Baumann, formerly with the NCWRC, and now with NC State). These podcasts provide a great opportunity for those who could not attend the meeting to see the talks that were presented. Have you ever wanted to tell a colleague all the details of a presentation you heard at a meeting? Well, with these podcasts, you can now send them a link and they can watch it themselves!

    Making and posting such podcasts is a lot of work and may not be feasible for a big meeting like the AFS annual meeting, but when available it is a great resource for those who cannot attend in person.

    1. Abigail J. Lynch says:

      Great suggestion, Jim! Perhaps technology advances (and willing shepherds like Jessica!) will allow for broader availability of such resources in the future!

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