How does a hybrid or online academic conference work?
In an online conference, everyone appears via the internet. Hybrid academic conferences involve two types of participants and attendees: those in-person and those online. Now, and in the future, some conferences and workshops may be online only and others hybrid. We can learn new techniques.
Here are 12 tips and one take-home message adapted from the Faculty of Social Sciences at The Open university on how to plan and run an online conference or workshop.
At a glance…
- How does a hybrid or online academic conference work?
- Know your objectives and link them together.
- Widen the participation
- Time, and attention spans, are short
- Get creative
- Academic conference presenters’ videos should be short
- Mix in online tools for your academic conference
- Plan the pre-conference.
- Provide an environment where civility and common decency is the norm.
- Build technical support into the plan.
- Assign a “chat room manager.”
- Prepare guidelines for participants.
- Plan the Post-conference.
- Take-home message for hybrid and online academic conferences
1. Know your objectives and link them together.
Specify the objectives and create a narrative that link academic sessions, panels, etc.
2. Widen the participation
Know what audience you want, and how many will attend. Create and assign an “Accessibility Chair” to oversee creation and implementation of audio, video, economic & technological accessibility to your target audiences.
3. Time, and attention spans, are short
For hybrid and online academic conferences, think short and spread out, e.g. “An international conference: 1-3 days, 5 hours each day, with 4 parallel sessions, breakout rooms” plus video of keynotes streamed and made available afterward.
4. Get creative
Pre-recorded videos + “5 to 10 minutes ‘lightning talks’ to hold the audience’s attention and give more space for a longer Q&A session or discussion.” Also, “Alternate different types of sessions (such as keynotes, parallel sessions, short lightning talks, poster sessions, panel discussions and Q&A sessions) to create a more dynamic environment.”
To reduce screen fatigue, academic participants and audience need lots of breaks: “Breaks of at least 10 mins length every 60 to 90 mins” and long lunch breaks. Run a slideshow between sessions of highlights from the conference, upcoming events in the conference, etc.
“Hold an online quiz contest or virtual pub quiz. Compose quiz questions based on a topic ideally related to the conference theme” but make it fun.
Consider adding live, streamed entertainment (music, etc.)
5. Academic conference presenters’ videos should be short
“Pre-recorded videos should…be quite short (i.e. 10 mins max), otherwise few people will watch them.”
Provide clear guidelines for video files & tips for best video-making.
Sound is more important than video quality.
6. Mix in online tools for your academic conference
Use polls, word clouds, whiteboards — but do not “overwhelm conference delegates by using too many different tools simultaneously.”
7. Plan the pre-conference.
Ask presenters for:
— short bios and profile picture for after conference networking
— (confidentially) for special accessibility needs
Meet presenters online to make sure everything works on their end (and yours). Make it a tea or coffee meet-up.
9. Provide an environment where civility and common decency is the norm.
Get a Code of Conduct. “In order to commit to delivering inclusive and harassment-free conferences for everyone, it is advisable to develop and share a clear code of conduct ahead of the event.”
10. Build technical support into the plan.
Things always go wrong. Have someone there that can fix them. Make a list of foreseeable problems (problems screen sharing, echoes, etc.)
11. Assign a “chat room manager.”
The chat room manager welcomes presenters, liaisons w/ technical support, and makes sure chats are included but not distracting to the session.
12. Prepare guidelines for participants.
“Provide panel chairs (and co-hosts, if applicable) with guidelines that can help them in their role.” From welcoming and accessibility to basic technical guidelines.
13. Plan the Post-conference.
Know products you want to produce. If you want to have audio & video, “make sure that you have the speakers’ permission to publish and share the recordings”
— Video is time-consuming to edit
— YouTube is the best repository
Take-home message for hybrid and online academic conferences
You can plan a great hybrid event. Remember that time is short and precious, and a lot of planning goes a long way.