I just finished presenting a paper and gender, designed identity, and Nintendo Switch advertising, which is pretty cool. But instead of talking about that, I wanted to chat about a couple of things I learned from speaking in my first completely online conference. The conference was excellent and those who ran it had lots of great ideas.
- Timing is everything! One of the ways I know I’ve grown older is the fact that I love being on time now. And doing anything virtually, at least in a successful way, requires a good timekeeper, or at least a very solid agenda. The conference I took part in was held from Glasgow, so that meant I had to adjust time accordingly to make sure I was up when the conference started at 6AM.
Suggestion: Something that might help conference-goers would be to include time conversions in the conference schedule.
- Technology is your best ally and your worst enemy. At this point in life, we probably all know this but it bears repeating. If your conference includes the use of software that may be unfamiliar to your guests, make sure to include guidelines or step-by-step processes for accessing and utilizing the tech. The conference I attended did a great job at this!
Suggestion: Don’t assume all of your conference attendees will know how to use the program! I didn’t know how to use Discord all that well before the conference but the team putting on the conference made great directions (with pictures!) to step me through it.
- Make space for attendees to test run presentations. One of the best things Discord allowed for us to do was set up a room where we could test run sharing our screens with the attendees. Even in six months when it seems like everyone has used Discord, or Teams, or Zoom a million times, tech can go haywire when you least expect. This might also be the first, second, or third times an attendee or presenter has used it.
Suggestion: Offer times before the conference, or during breaks, to let people practice sharing their work and/or using their tech set-up to present.
- Make breaks frequent. Spending six straights hours at my computer usually only happens when I’m really engrossed in a game. Spending six hours doing critical thinking and listening to others’ presentations takes a toll on attendees. Make sure you sprinkle in constant and somewhat robust breaks throughout the conference so we can all recharge.
Suggestion: Pepper in 5 to 10 minute breaks throughout the conference with larger breaks after every three or so panels.
- Do your best to prep everything you can and be flexible when it doesn’t work. Our conference included Runescape as another way for people to have some kind of embodied idea of who the presenters were. Personally, I’ve never played it and found it cumbersome, but others were really liking it! So, being flexible and offering different options for people to engage with one another is probably another good idea!
Suggestion: Let people engage in a variety of ways but make sure the ground rules are clear for every form of interaction!
I’m no expert but these were just a couple of things I thought were important as I was presenting and seeing others present. Another big thing is to find ways to make these conferences even more accessible. How can we keep invite links live until the end of a conference? How might someone watch the proceedings asynchronously? These are all thoughts going through my head rn.
Does anybody else have good suggestions for best practices? Sound off below!