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How to plan a virtual academic conference using a video conferencing platform

Academic conferences serve as an important vehicle for researchers, business leaders, educators, students and other academics to share their work, learn from one another and further the goals of their fields. In the COVID era, those who organize these essential conferences are having to adapt, often transforming what used to be an in-person conference into a virtual academic conference.

If you are facing this challenge at your institution, this guide will help you create a cohesive method for planning a virtual academic conference using a video conferencing platform. With these detailed recommendations, you will be able to host a successful virtual conference that may even rival the traditional in-person version.

How to plan a virtual academic conference

What is a virtual academic conference?

In basic terms, a virtual conference is a live event held through an online platform, which allows attendees to log in and participate from their computers, anywhere in the world. When invitations are sent out, typically via email, they include a link to the online teaching platform where you are hosting the conference, rather than a physical address.

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic arose, virtual conferences were popular in both academic and business settings for several reasons:

Benefits of a virtual conference

  • Safety: Whether your organization has banned in-person conferences, or you are simply making the decision to minimize the risk of COVID exposure for participants, hosting a virtual academic conference is the perfect solution. With such powerful EdTech (educational technology) available today, creating an effective virtual classroom environment for your online conference is easier than ever.

  • Easy access: By using video conferencing for education/teaching conferences instead of in-person events, you can invite an endless number of attendees, all of whom have easy access right from their own computers.

  • Low costs: Overhead costs and travel costs are drastically reduced when you switch from an in-person conference to a virtual learning/remote learning experience.

  • Quick feedback: Depending on the specific online teaching platform you choose to host your virtual academic conference, you may have the option to easily collect online feedback from attendees and speakers. Some online teaching platforms, for example, have a polling feature that allows the presenter to run a quick poll of attendees.

Tips for planning a virtual academic conference

As the organizer for a virtual academic conference, you will be able to create an engaging, meaningful experience for attendees and speakers alike by following a few standard best practices. Consider these tips when planning your conference:

1. Strategize how your conference will be organized online

There are a few key differences to keep in mind when planning a virtual academic conference compared to an in-person event.

Screen fatigue is one concern to plan for. Online conferencing can get tiring surprisingly quickly. Sessions should be kept short, or alleviated by breaks for longer speaking events.

Another important aspect to consider is technical difficulty. Speakers may want to plan for a short buffer time at the beginning of a session so that any attendees who experience trouble logging in will have time to troubleshoot without missing session content.

Finally, not all in-person instruction translates well into a virtual environment. You will want to make adjustments to your own content and make sure your speakers are prepared for online presentation, so that sessions are clear and effective on-screen.

2. Choose the right online teaching platform

While many different virtual event platforms are available, it’s important to choose an online teaching platform that will serve the unique requirements of a virtual academic conference. The HiLink Platform, for example, is purposely designed for academic purposes, including features that support online video conferencing for education.

The online platform features to look for include:

  • Virtual whiteboard for drawing and typing out equations and more.

  • Co-presenting to invite attendees to take the virtual stage on video when asking questions.

  • Polling to collect fast feedback from conference participants.

  • Cloud storage that allows speakers to easily share files directly through the platform.

  • In-class chat so that attendees can exchange real-time feedback.

  • Breakout rooms for attendees to network and enjoy group chats during conference sessions.

3. Incorporate live video events with real-time speakers

Attendees will expect live conference sessions in return for attending your event at the scheduled time. While you will likely have the option of organizing a conference of pre-recorded videos, a successful virtual academic conference should go well beyond that basic level to engage the audience and represent real value.

This is where live video sessions come in. Using an online platform that offers video conferencing for education/teaching, you can allow speakers to present their sessions via webcam, streaming live video to the audience. The presenter can also share their screens and even use a virtual whiteboard to quickly illustrate ideas or write out equations.

4. Encourage interaction among participants

A common mistake when planning a virtual conference is creating just a series of webinars. More should be offered, namely in the form of interaction. One traditional reason that participants enjoy conferences is the social interaction and networking opportunities that the event enables. However, this aspect can be a challenge to replicate in a virtual setting.

Successful conference hosts will take active steps to encourage networking activities through specific virtual strategies, such as in-class chat or video group discussions. The breakout room feature allows group discussions outside of official conference sessions. All of these tools offer effective methods for enabling virtual interaction that mirrors the networking aspect of an in-person event.

5. Offer a clear way for participants to get live technical support

Inevitably, virtual conferences come with technical challenges. Attendees and speakers should be provided with sufficient technical support so that any virtual difficulties don’t outshine the overall success of the event. You can accomplish this by appointing a technical support lead who is responsible for ensuring the reliability of your technology and helping participants troubleshoot during the virtual academic conference.

Host a successful virtual academic conference with HiLink

Planning a virtual academic conference is easier when you have the right online teaching platform to host your event. HiLink was built to provide academic professionals and businesses with a reliable, intuitive online learning environment, and it’s perfect for organizing a successful academic conference for online participants. To learn more about this leading EdTech solution, start a free trial today.

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