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A Detailed Checklist for Virtual Conferences

Near the end of the London chapter meetup this morning—early this morning—events came up briefly. One participant said that, for an upcoming event that was moved to virtual, he was registering more participants, including people from much further away than normal. “Only snag is I don’t have the confidence to charge enough money.”
(I just heard in a panel discussion that a B2B conference organizer is seeing more people sign up from the same organization that she normally sees.)
“The way we’re using digital tools now has changed so much to our advantage,” another participant said. “People need to be connected. They are craving meaningful connections and communities around our content. Everyone [asks] what’s next? Probably a combination of online training and connections. There’s an opportunity there.”
An extensive new report has been released by the Association for Computing Machinery titled “Virtual Conferences: A Guide to Best Practices,” advising how to replace face-to-face conferences with virtual ones during the pandemic. It is quite detailed.
Here are a few highlights.
Take advantage of the medium. “[Virtual events] are not just about the technology that supports them, but they are, first and foremost, about rethinking and retargeting the things that organizers and participants normally do into new media and new forms of interaction. Virtual conferences need just as much people-power and organization as physical conferences.”
Set up training sessions with speakers. This is new stuff to almost all of us. “Organizers cannot rely on speakers’ prior experiences on giving conference talks. It is strongly advised that organizers set up training sessions ahead of time for speakers and session chairs, so that they can learn how to function in the platform(s) where the conference is taking place, and how to interact with people in other roles and with the audience. These can be as short as 15 minutes.”
Ensure that attendees/audience members can text chat and engage. When we’re physically at a conference session, we are absorbed in what we’re watching. When we’re at home, there are so many possible distractions. We need something that keeps us engaged. (Ironically, the discussion I’m watching has been conducting polls. They work!) “…The glue that binds participants together is text chat. There will need to be several group-chat channels, including all simultaneous participants in the conference, session-related channels, and smaller, specialized chat channels for smaller groups. This makes all the difference between a person watching a video of a talk by themselves, and watching a talk together, at the same time, with a group of like-minded people.”
Monitor those chats. “It is important that the text chat feeds are monitored by an identified person, and that questions are fed into the live session as appropriate, and that feedback is given to the speakers during live sessions, as they may not be able to monitor such feeds themselves while giving their talks.” I’ve also seen where the session parts are taped, and the speakers are present to answer questions as they come up.
Provide a virtual “map.” How many of us have gotten lost among the rooms and floors of a physical conference? Me. For virtual conferences, navigation is equally important—maybe more important given our online frustrations. “The live sessions of virtual conferences need to be easy to find and get into. The online program needs to have information about when and ‘where’ the sessions will take place, e.g., the Zoom meeting links, the Webinar links, the Slack channels, etc. All of this information should be presented through user interfaces that are easy to understand and with links that ‘teleport’ participants to the ‘places’ they want to go.”
Plan for 3-4 hours of content a day. “Without the need to limit travel time, we might settle on 3-4 hours per day for virtual conferences rather than the 9-12 for in-person meetings. This also makes dealing with time zones easier. An in-person event that was normally 2-3 days might translate to a week-long virtual event. Conferences should consider providing some form of certificate of attendance.” Given how busy everyone is, that “week-long event” may not be viable. Another group here at SIIA is doing Tuesday and Thursday individual sessions for a month and calling it [Conference Name] Deconstructed.
Create some fun time. There should still be a group whose task is to set up an entertainment program that may include live music, outings, etc. “This task is even more important in virtual conferences. Someone in the organization should be in charge of adding things for participants to do online together.”
There’s a lot more great advice in this report. Check it out here.