July Community Call Recap: Organizing inclusive, accessible, and successful virtual events

This month, our content and programming focused on organizing and implementing virtual events. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings, conferences, and other events have become part of everyday life for many people, and the task of planning, executing, and evaluating them in STEM often falls to community managers. So, for our July community call we invited three members of our community of practice to share their knowledge and start a conversation about best practices. 

Watch the three presentations from July’s call in their entirety. 

Presentations

  • “It’s Dangerous To Go Alone, Take This – Non-Player Characters & Prepping For Your Virtual Event” – Tom Quigley, ConservationXLabs (slides
  • “It’s All About Access: Planning Meetings for Wider Audiences” – Rebecca Carpenter, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Virtual Academic Community (slides
  • “Evaluating Virtual Events” – Emily Lescak, Code for Science and Society (slides

Some key take-home messages: 

Make the most of your online event

When running online events, it’s tempting to take a format that works in person and simply replicate it on Zoom. Rarely does this work, however, and may result in subjecting your participants to endless hours in front of a screen as you bombard them with information. Instead, consider your objectives and then plan backwards from there. This process will help you plan your schedule, select your platform(s), and evaluate your outcomes. 

Don’t try to go it alone

Even for small virtual events, you will need help. For example, hosting an hour-long community call on Zoom with two presenters will go much smoother with a moderator and at least one technical facilitator to monitor the chat and troubleshoot any behind-the scenes issues. For larger events, you may want to consider mobilizing additional volunteers to act as mentors or facilitators. 

Consider the needs of your participants

For some, virtual events are easier than in-person events, but the reverse is also true. When planning your event, it’s a good idea to ask participants ahead of time if they have any specific needs and how they would appreciate you meeting them (see the resources section at the end of this post for more). Time zones are a particular challenge for events that otherwise would have asked participants to travel internationally to attend in person, so consider ways of offering asynchronous or staggered opportunities to participate. And, keep in mind that your participants will need some down time during a long event, either thorough scheduled breaks or virtual “quiet rooms.”

Technology can make or break your event

Virtual events, naturally, rely heavily on available hardware, software, a stable internet connection, and your participants’ familiarity with the platform you chose to use. Whatever technology choices you make, ensure you have plenty of time for at least one (if not several) dry-run(s) of your event with volunteer participants. This will help you find the flaws in your event design and figure out ways to adapt content, scheduling, and technology choices. If you are using a platform that is new to many in your community, consider offering “office hours” ahead of time to help people acclimate, and host some sort of “virtual help desk” to respond to on-the-day issues. 

Keep it real: evaluate the metrics you care about

How do you know if your event was a success? If you implemented a backwards design principle, with your event activities planned based on a set of predetermined goals, it will be easy to see what you need to assess. Make sure you have mechanisms in place to collect your evaluation data, including anecdotal feedback or testimonials from participants. And, consider what success looks like from the perspective of your attendees. 

Resources

These resources were shared during the call, both by our presenters and participants:

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to our presenters, Tom, Rebecca, and Emily, to our Q&A moderator, Stefanie Butland, and to the many participants in the call who contributed their own expertise, opinions, and resources. 

You can request to join our Slack group if you’d like to join in the ongoing conversations taking place among the members of our community of practice. If you have any questions, please email info@cscce.org

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