If you can take notes in class, you can cover a United Nations conference. This experience could lead in to journalism or office work, diplomatic or committee secretary posts. You can do this for free, for your own blog or elsewhere, and put it on your CV.
I recently attended a virtual conference on marine plastic waste held in Viet Nam by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and here’s what I did.
Get experience first. This might be taking minutes at a college society meeting, or scribbling down everything the lecturer says in your next class. Too fast? So were the UN speakers, and you can’t ask them to repeat. Learn to get the salient points and a couple of “quotable quotes”. Another way to practice is sitting in front of a news programme. Other tips include attend and better still, help with running a convention. Nothing reduces your nerves like knowing what happens behind the scenes.
Get comfortable with using Zoom. Ideally you want to be using it on a desktop or laptop. A phone screen is too small, but if that’s all you’ve got, give it a try. Practice breaking out of the shared screen to take and save a screenshot (only with permission), and coming straight back to the meeting.
If you can take notes in class, you can cover a United Nations conference. Learn to get the salient points and a couple of “quotable quotes.”
Take screenshots. On my Windows computer, there is a button PrtSc which means Print Screen. On some notebooks you have to hold the Function or Fn key as well. On a Mac, you can use Command+Shift+3 to take the whole screen, which is the most useful. Edit later. Get used to opening this image in Paint, or another basic tool, and cropping if needed, but at the time of taking you’re just captioning quickly. This will be saved as a Png file in your Pictures folder, or wherever else you send it like the desktop. To use the maximum of your computer screen, learn to hide the taskbar / toolbar (right click on taskbar, Settings) and hide the browser bar (three small grey dots, top right). Online articles need visuals, or they don’t catch attention. Start seeing which visuals will work well for your article.
Join Linked In and follow an organisation that looks like it might hold a conference. This might be your favourite sport, a marketing group, a co-op of garden centres or a government or international body. Top tip: pick something that suits your interests. Remember that some of the delegates will be just like you.
Keep an eye on the Linked In home feed a couple of times a week. When you spot a conference, remember, it may not be held in your time zone. You can set an alarm, right? My conference started at 4am Irish time, in Viet Nam.
Register. You don’t need to give many details; just e-mail, name, country and title (Student is fine) and organisation (your college is fine) was all I was asked. You’ll be given a link and asked to create a password, so save these in a Word doc or Google doc immediately. You might need to do Ctrl+click to follow the link this way. Your browser may suggest making a password for you; save that as well because you might return with a different browser. Come back at the right time. Don’t worry if the event is already in progress. Nobody will notice. Just join in the proceedings.
You may have to ask to participate in a specific talk. Some may have limited numbers. The ideal ones are the keynote address, and the summing up and close, if these are provided. Otherwise, go with what interests you most, has an interesting speaker, or suits your times. Once you get booked, you can come back for a Zoom link, so look around the rest of the site, if possible. I booked later talks on two days. Be realistic and don’t book yourself for three days of starts at 4am. A smaller conference may just run with all events or speakers on one day, but a major one will have side panels. It’s okay to spend twenty minutes in each panel running concurrently.
Show up, sit muted and scribble. Get names and organisations right away. Focus on the most important points, big numbers and projections for the future. Human interest is always good to note, and will probably stay in your mind better. These points are your headline items. Take screenshots of the speakers — the event is recorded anyway — and label immediately — name, country, firm — come right back and scribble. There may be a Q&A session. Everyone in the room probably knows more about the topic than you do. If you really are an expert, by all means ask a question, but don’t air your own opinion. That’s not why you’ve attended. All of this content will fill your article.
Some of the speakers may be translated. In this case Zoom will provide a button at the bottom and you can choose the language that suits you. While it’s possible to set your phone to record the speakers, don’t depend on this, and it will just take you longer to listen all over again and transcribe.
Get the metadata, which means data about the facts of the event itself. Look at tabs on the site. How many people attended, from how many countries? (I was the only person from Ireland.) Can you find out how many were male or female? If you can see names and photos of attendees, you can count them. Also note these facts about guest speakers and data about companies or organisations presenting. Can you get screenshots? What kind of titles did people have on their virtual badges? Did they make materials available like Pdfs or YouTube videos? Did their presence make you think well of them? Any notable absences?
Write up your article, most important facts first, keeping in mind who your readership is — are they likely to be interested in science or emotional pictures? Will they want to read long words and complex plans, or do you need to simplify anything? If you have something in common with some of the speakers — a student group for instance — concentrate on them.
Take a deep breath, and realise that you never spoke to a single person at this virtual conference. In my case, people from 100 countries attended, and there was no immediate interaction, though it was possible to message someone. (People who were colleagues probably did meet up this way.) Real-space events, when they open again, still have that massive advantage. On the other hand, a virtual event is much more likely to be free, and doesn’t involve any travel costs, so it’s democratic.
If I can do this, so can you.
Screenshots for Windows.
Screenshots for Macs.
United Nations Environment Programme on Linked In.