Trying to Keep Audiences Engaged for Virtual Conferences? Rethink How You Use Content

As a fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, academic societies and institutions have been forced to shift their conferences from traditional in-person events to virtual ones in 2020 and probably even throughout 2021. Further, even after “normal” times resume, hybrid conferences that combine onsite and online events are likely to become the norm. Online conferencing has the advantage of lower carbon footprints, since delegates aren’t required to travel, as well as accessibility; they are easier to access for international researchers, those with insufficient funding, those with disabilities, and those with childcare responsibilities. However, taking a conference online involves more than just livestreaming the speakers and setting up a virtual gallery of posters. Speeches and posters are not so effective in disseminating research virtually, nor are they particularly enjoyable for a virtual audience. When the basic format of the academic conference has changed so radically, the formats for presenting research at a conference also need to change. Let’s look at some ways conference organizers can optimize content for virtual conferences.

Pre-recorded sessions

Recording speakers beforehand reduces the technical complexities associated with livestreaming. Pre-recorded videos can be edited to be “crisper,” saving the audience’s time and preventing loss of engagement due to distractions from other programs or apps. A transcript can also be created beforehand and provided alongside, to make content more accessible to non-native English speakers, disabled audiences, etc. The online conference of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour in July 2020 included 13 such pre-recorded sessions. 

Infographics and graphical abstracts

Traditional, in-person conferences almost always include posters. Unfortunately, posters are often weighed down with text and are difficult to read quickly and easily. These disadvantages continue when the posters are displayed virtually, without any change in format. Both infographics and graphical abstracts can be used to present the key findings of studies visually, with minimal use of text. They are more mobile-friendly and less text-heavy than posters. This makes them easier to share on social media and generate a buzz around the conference. Conference organizers can even use the most exciting or interesting infographics as part of their pre-conference marketing strategy to promote conference registration.

Plain language summaries

As mentioned above, virtual conferences are more accessible, and this accessibility could result in a greater number of attendees who are from other fields or even laypersons (journalists, members of patient advocacy groups, etc.). A summary of the aims, findings, and implications of each study, in non-technical English, could make the conference content accessible to such audiences. Plain language summaries can also be repurposed into press releases for the most impactful or innovative papers presented.

Short videos

A video summary in 2 minutes or less is easier to follow than a livestreamed presentation of the same paper. For speakers, delivering content effectively online may be more difficult than delivering it live to a participatory audience. Researchers who feel “camera shy” can have just voiceover narration in the video, without the pressure of appearing before the camera. These video summaries can also be used for session previews as a part of conference marketing.

The Covid 19 pandemic has forced much of academia worldwide to rethink how it works. For some societies, the pandemic offered an opportunity to innovate and incorporate new technologies into their conferences. Many conference organizers scrambled to take their events online, but even rapidly planned events like the April 2020 virtual conference of the American Physical Society had record registrations: four times that of previous meetings! Academic meetings of the future will likely be marked by a larger online component, which calls for innovations in how content is shared at a conference. Livestreaming of speakers has its place and can be reserved for the most important sessions like the keynote address, while the newer content formats can enhance accessibility and interactivity of the shorter sessions, improving the overall conference experience. These formats enable conference organizers to provide on-demand, evergreen content, which can draw larger and more participatory audiences.

Need help transitioning to new content formats? Impact Science offers a wide range of content and marketing solutions for your virtual conference. Contact us:

Marisha Rodrigues

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