The Royal Statistical Society and Worldspan
COVID19 CONFERENCING: HOW VIRTUAL MIMICS REAL LIFE
In early September, for one helter-skelter-paced week of programming and delivery, the Royal Statistical Society International Conference, with more than 150 speakers and 540 attendees from over 33 countries, went online.
As the week-long conference drew to a close, RSS Conferences & Events Manager, Paul Gentry and Worldspan Digital Project Manager, Danielle Davy realised that their end-of-day wrap-up featured this oft quoted phrase “it is just like in real life”.
At the formal de-brief they revisited the theory that for every online occurrence or eventuality, an opposite and equal parallel existed in real life. They concluded that virtual conferencing mimicked real life conferencing in all ways bar none.
Day-to-day, the virtual conference threw up real life parallels ranging from typical attendee types (bizarrely as easy to spot online as from behind a registration desk) through to audio-visual and technical red flags (and who is allowed behind the technical desk and who is definitely not) !
For our ABPCO friends and colleagues and in the interest of sharing our learnings, we’ve shared some of our virtual versus real life observations here.
Finally, remember this. All the vagaries of virtual conferencing – the unique view of people in their home or remote office setting – are what could and should bring conference to life. Building community through conference will only happen if we let people and their personalities shine through on screen. Don’t over streamline or sanitise your conference.
Keep conference a little bit more real than virtual to help membership communities to make a meaningful connection.
The RSS International Conference regularly attracts more than 600 attendees from over 40 countries, providing one of the best opportunities for anyone interested in statistics and data science to come together to share knowledge and network.
Due to the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the decision to move the conference online was taken at the end of May and Paul Gentry, Conferences & Events Manager, quickly looked for the necessary help and support to be ready to host the full programme, virtually, by September. Gentry managed the procurement of the virtual conference platform, onboarded and coached new suppliers and had oversight of all project deliverables across the Summer months. Despite the challenging combination of a short lead time, pandemic uncertainty and reliance on new technologies, the conference went ahead as planned and was a complete success. One session organiser said “The virtual platform worked particularly well for RSS compared with several other virtual conferences I have attended lately, and the technical people made it easy”.
The RSS chose Virt-US Live http://virt-us.live/ a virtual platform product developed specifically to replicate the unique features and functionality of a content and participant-led conference with networking and interaction for attendees as key design features.
Over 150 speakers contributed to four days of knowledge sharing and many who would not ordinarily have had the opportunity to join conference physically were new, first-time attendees. Both client and agency were breaking new ground amid the uncertainty of the pandemic and necessary restrictions but the temporary move to online meant that the RSS was able to bring their membership community together to share specific learning including additional COVID19 specific content.