Since the pandemic, many conferences have shifted from face to face to online events. Here in the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit we’ve run two annual learning and teaching conferences online as well as some mini conferences and Academy Forums. In this blogpost, we’ll be offering you some of our top tips to help you organise your event.
1. Choose the right platform
There’s a lot of video conferencing software to choose from, but here at AU we use Teams as our default video conferencing tool. We do have a limited number of licences for Zoom but these are reserved for functionality that can’t be achieved in Teams. For example, for simultaneous translation, or for sessions with more than 250 participants.
You can set up Teams meetings for the sessions from a calendar. Alternatively, you can set up a Teams site but this will be limited to .ac.uk domains so be aware of that, especially with External Speakers.
We like to put our links on a webpage so that we can quickly pass the sessions onto anyone who signs up late. Alternatively, you can use a word document or an email that has the links embedded.
2. Call for Proposals
In your Call for Proposals, make it clear to potential speakers what technology you intend to use and any limitations that they might have for session format. For example, are you going to attempt to run workshops online, or are you going to limit the call for proposals to presentations.
Before you put the call out, make sure that your chosen technology can accommodate the types of sessions that you want to run as part of the programme design, and that you’ve got the technical expertise or guidance materials required for presenters.
3. Organising the programme
With our Annual Learning and Teaching Conference we like to have separate appointments set up for each session. This is so the presenters can get there before their session is due to take place and check that they have everything they need and that their technology is working as it should.
We’ve also found that we need longer breaks whilst running online conferences. In face-to-face conferences, drinks and food are provided, but whilst people are joining remotely, they need to arrange their own refreshments. Also, staring at a screen for a large part of the day can be very tiring. You might want to think about arranging some wellbeing sessions as part of the conference. With online conference programmes, we’ve found that less is more. Try, as well, not to have any sessions running simultaneously.
Chairing online is trickier than when we’re in person. You want to communicate to your speakers when their time is up, but you could also be dealing with tech issues from your presenters and attendees. At our conferences, we combat this by having a chair and a back-up chair with clearly defined roles. The chair will introduce the speaker and field questions, whereas the back up chair can deal with technical difficulties and mute attendees.
Make sure that you pre-agree with your presenter how you will notify them if they are running close to the end of their presentation time. You could use the raise the hand feature in Teams to notify them that the end of the session is approaching. Also, Teams meeting has got an inbuilt warning 5 minutes before the end of the meeting.
5. Preparing for the conference
A lot of us now are used to attending online conferences as either a presenter or an attendee… but we shouldn’t take that for granted. Consider offering an online meeting or training session for your presenters. This will give them the opportunity to ask you any questions and check that they are happy with the technology that they will be using. In addition to that, provide them with written technical guidance and guidance on how the conference is running so that they can refer to it whilst preparing their session.
Make sure that you ask your conference delegates to sign up beforehand so that you can email them guidance. This guidance should include how to join the session, anything that they need to do before the conference, and how they should get in contact with the conference team whilst the conference is taking place. We’ve got this guidance written for our conferences, so if you would like us to share it with you, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Running Hybrid Conferences
We have yet to run a hybrid conference for online and face to face participants but there are some things that you might wish to consider in this type of scenario. Where possible, curate the programme so that your face-to-face speakers are together on the same day, and do the same with your online speakers. That way, you’re not having to manage too many different scenarios at the same time.
Think about how you want your online participants to interact with the conference and ask questions. And communicate that with them beforehand. Consider the conference experience from both perspectives.
If you are considering having a face-to-face element, make sure that you are up to date with the latest health and safety information.
If you have any questions about running conferences online, then we will be more than happy to meet with you to chat through the options – just drop us a line – email@example.com.