Back in 2019, I wrote about why you should attend a women’s conference and a follow up post highlighting the Best Conferences for Women. I had attended these conferences in person for years and felt they really helped my career. But, there was very little information out there on how to make the most of attending a women’s conference. I wrote about my personal experiences and advice on getting the most out of attending these conferences. Then, in 2020, these conferences were cancelled for a few years. Starting in 2022, these conferences were back being offered in person and also virtual. I had the opportunity to attend the virtual Texas Conference for Women the last two years. Here’s my updated experience on attending both in person and virtual women’s conferences and why I recommend attending in person moving forward.
Benefits of Attending A Women’s Conference In General
The Main Stage and Breakout Session Speakers
Whether you decide to attend a women’s conference in person or virtually, you can expect a great selection of main stage speakers and breakouts. Every main stage speaker is so inspirational and has always motivated me to aim higher by the end.
The breakout sessions you attend give you more tangible knowledge on what to change to be more successful. Whether you attend in person or virtual doesn’t matter as much to learn from the breakout sessions.
Now that many conferences offer a virtual option, they also have replays available. If there were multiple breakout sessions you wanted to attend, you can now watch them after the conference.
Attending a Women’s Conference Improves Your Odds Of A Salary Increase
It turns out if you attend a women’s conference your odds of increasing your salary are higher and on average you’ll feel more optimistic about the future if you attend a women’s conference. Prior to the pandemic, the Harvard Business Review shared a study about 2,600 women that attended a women’s conference. They found that a year later there were positive outcomes with only 5% of women in the control group receiving a pay increase of more than 10% compared with the 15% of women who attended the conference. Hopefully another study is done that compares in person to virtual in the future.
Benefits of Attending A Women’s Conference In Person
Networking Opportunities With Other Women
Attending a women’s conference in person allows for great networking opportunities with coworkers, and other female leaders. Typically, there are a lot of women from the companies that are sponsoring the program, so it’s a great opportunity to network with other companies you may be interested in. Additionally, many companies have an employee referral program. If you make a strong enough connection, having that referral can increase your odds of landing that interview and will also help the referrer get a bonus.
Taking Advantage of the Freebies on the Exhibit Floor
One of my absolute favorite parts of the in person conference format is the exhibit floor. Prior to the pandemic the floor had a station for getting hair and makeup done for free and other stations for getting a professional photograph done for free. I am probably not the only person that is very ready for a new LinkedIn photo! Especially now that I am full time remote and haven’t worn a blazer since late 2019.
When you attend a women’s conference virtually, you don’t have your computer out. You put up an OOO and take advantage of being at the conference. Even though you may decide to connect with someone and skip a breakout session, you’re benefiting from networking. When you attend virtually though, you need your computer to attend the conference. Even if you put up the OOO message, your email is still right there. So are your IMs popping up on the right bottom corner of your screen. It’s harder to give your devoted attention to the conference. It’s much easier to say, there is a break during this time so I’ll take a meeting. Then, the meeting runs over or doesn’t line up perfectly to the break and you miss parts of the conference. It’s also easier to say you’ll take the meeting and watch a replay later.
Benefits of Attending a Women’s Conference Virtually
More Convenient to Attend A Conference Virtually
The virtual women’s conferences are much easier to attend. Don’t live near a city hosting a women’s conference? Now, you can join from your computer. You don’t have to worry about flying into another city to attend. Life is busy, and setting aside an entire day to go to a conference (or longer if you have to travel in!) is hard. Sometimes, the value of attending in person doesn’t outweigh the effort to do so. If the options are not attend at all, or attend part of the conference virtually it’s better to attend what you can virtually.
Cheaper to Attend Virtually
The tickets to the virtual conference are cheaper than the tickets to attend the conference in person. Because of this, companies can buy tickets for more employees than before and spend the same amount. If your company doesn’t offer tickets to a women’s conference, it is also more likely you can go to your boss and ask for a virtual ticket to be expensed.
Verdict: Attend the In Person Conference Women’s Conference If You Can
I attended an in person women’s conference for the majority of years the first decade of my career. In that time, I got promoted 4 times in 9 years. What I learned by attending these conferences around negotiation, leadership attributes and networking definitely helped me get those promotions. More recently, I have only attended the virtual conferences since the pandemic. During those virtual conferences, I am guilty of responding to IMs, jumping on calls when asked and not watching the replays following the conference. I didn’t make the most of the virtual option and also missed my favorite parts like running into people I haven’t seen in a while and the exhibit floor.
After spending the last two years attending women’s conferences remotely I’ve realized that I prefer the in person experience. I miss the only distractions being people you’ve met at the conference, building those relationships and discussing the sessions with other attendees immediately after. While I haven’t received a job offer from attending these conferences, seeing people in person helped strengthen relationships that resulted in career sponsorships. I also enjoy walking the exhibit floor and dedicating a full day to learning. It’s nice to not have to travel but for me I will look to attending in person again in the future.
Ultimately, whether attending a women’s conference virtually or in person depends on your personal goals and priorities. Your budget and availability will be key drivers in this decision. Have you attended a Women’s Conference in person and virtually? Did you prefer attending in person or virtually?