Going Virtual

Arna Wahl Davies shares her top tips for planning a successful conference in the uncertain Covid-19 climate

New Zealand Professional Conference Organiser, Composition, has been forced to swiftly switch a number of its conferences from in-person to virtual due to Covid-19.

Director Arna Wahl Davies shares her top tips for planning a successful conference in this uncertain climate.

Make your online conference a success

While face-to-face is optimal for conferences, virtual doesn’t mean an event can’t have a positive impact on delegates and the host community. Planning and innovative thinking are essential to operating in the current climate and making the most of these amazing opportunities to connect.

Plan for virtual

Even if an in-person conference is the goal, put plans for a virtual or hybrid conference in place. Have that conversation with stakeholders early on, and talk to your suppliers – the venue, the AV team – about their capability to deliver the event virtually.

While organising the Congress of the Federation of Asian and Oceanian Biochemists and Molecular Biologists in 2021, we ended up on budget number 21, with budgets five to 13 all allowing for three separate scenarios. We moved to full virtual just four weeks before the congress. Thankfully we’d planned for all contingencies!

Imagine what your programme would look online

What would you have to change to make your conference work seamlessly virtually? For example, when organising concurrent sessions now, we may ask each presenter to send a pre-recorded presentation. That way, they’ve practised using the technology in advance and are familiar with it if they have to present live online; or we have a version ready to go as back-up.

Instead of starting first thing in the morning, could you start later in the day to make it easier for virtual delegates in different time zones? And be aware that people digest information differently virtually than in-person. They might dip in and out of sessions, or want to watch the keynote later, on demand.

Embrace innovation

Harness technology to your advantage. At FAOBMB the events stream was connected to Twitter for greater social interaction. For our session on ‘Virtual Reality in Life Science Education’, we organised Oculus VR headsets to go to delegates in developing nations to enable them to use the technology first-hand. And, aware that the event supply chain would miss out financially through the event going virtual, we bought all 405 New Zealand-based delegates a coffee at their local café via the voucher-gifting platform SOS (Spend on Small).

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