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Bring your own (BYOB) - putting the fun into virtual networking and conferences

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

These last few weeks and the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) have seen scores of events cancelled including London Book Fair, Redux, and UKSG. In fact, the last conference I attended was Researcher to Reader and I haven't been to one since. Not only are we missing out on chatting and networking together at venues, but we're also missing out on the valuable content and discussions that we were seeking to learn more about. Now that many are having to work remotely, this presents opportunities to create exciting environments to engage and learn.

I'm pleased to see some like ALPSP taking the initiative to hold a virtual event so we can still get access to the content - even if this means being at home whilst we attend. A big plus for me is that virtual conferences reduce the carbon footprint, you can attend at your desk or stream into a room for people to drop in and out of, and make them more accessible to people who were often unable to attend events due to travel and budget constraints. Some are making these events open to all, some are pay to access - I think whichever model works well - as long as the content is great quality and worth my time investment and I can get some interaction out of it.

Last week I spoke with Dr. Tamika Heiden who organizes the annual Research Impact Summit - a virtual conference that I've attended it myself - it's fab and well worth registering for and joining as a member to get access to content all year long. Later this year we are going to be organizing a virtual marketing conference so this conversation was really important for us. We host a number of webinars and panel discussions for clients and deliver them ourselves but who better to receive some additional hints, tips, guidance and lessons learnt from but Tamika.

Years ago - maybe 2011, I attended and manned a 'virtual exhibition stand' during a virtual conference. It was great because delegates came and asked me questions about the publisher I was working for and I could address them, then and there, but I could also attend the conference sessions. Those questions I couldn't answer just meant a quick message to another team member and I could come back very quickly with an answer. Probably a bit before it's time but we may see more of these now.

If you're looking to position yourself as a thought leader, virtual events are a great tool to use - especially when interviewing people for the event as you learn so much. It can really help to build credibility

In the spirit of our ethos - supporting community learning and advancement...together, we wanted to share with you some helpful hints and tips if you are thinking about organizing a virtual event.

Improving the attendee experience

  • Pre-recorded sessions - run an on-demand version to reduce technical issues. This also means you have the content available to fall back on should you need it, you can easily edit recordings, and you can accommodate multiple timezones. Send the presenters questions prior to interviewing them so they know what is being discussed

  • Mix it up - host the sessions live and run on-demand content. This reduces the reliance on having people there or issues with the quality of the sound if produced live. You can have the speaker there as part of the Q&A but run the recorded version first. You'd just need someone to host and then someone managing the Q&A and any support/technical queries

  • Use a service like Skype, Teams, WebEx or Zoom to record you both on the screen - people prefer to see people on screen, or video with you both in the same space. They find conversational content more engaging and it is more natural for the presenters and host to let the conversation flow. Do an initial introduction and then have the discussion in more of a conversational format to keep it engaging - e.g. videoing someone presenting in a lecture theatre doesn't have the same appeal and level of engagement as two people talking close up

  • People absorb and learn information in different ways - VAK is a great method we use when we do training. This basically means that everyone has a different learning style - whether visual, auditory or kinesthetic - most are a mixture of all with dominance in one. So the best way to engage people's eyes, ears and minds is by presenting something they can watch, hear and interact with like polls, discussions, Q&A etc - don't just have a slide deck with someone speaking. This is also a great tip to think about when doing team conference calls

  • Ensure you do lots of testing to access the content and develop the user experience, as well as listen and apply relevant feedback

  • Laptops tend to have a directional microphone so to prevent echoing and better sound quality, use an external microphone and camera or use headphones

  • Have a well-lit room with a neutral background - some services like Zoom allow you to change your background though you may need a green background for this - this is also an advantage of pre-recording

Using a format that works

  • Show the presenter and their slide deck on the screen in a split screen (e.g. half and half) - this works well for people who prefer to watch and listen to the person speaking if showing it live

  • Use the chatbox on the site to engage with users and update them on the conference agenda - you may find some use Twitter or other social platforms so of course ensure you have a consistent well-marketed hashtag to measure social success

  • Being virtual, you can run concurrent sessions at the same time with different panel discussions - it doesn't have to be a static agenda

  • The maximum conference session would ideally be 1 hour 30 minutes with Q&A and then have a break - break that up so 20 minutes presenting, 10 minutes Q&A, 20 minutes presenting, 10 minutes Q&A and so on

  • We know from webinars that 22 minutes is the optimum time for attention - people tend to drop off to go to a meeting so 25 minutes plus 5 minutes for Q&A works well - if you do go to one hour, split up by having a poll at the beginning to better understand your audience, a poll in the middle to check their level of understanding and a poll at the end to see whether their opinion has changed from an earlier poll, or if they have achieved the objective you set for the session - e.g. to understand what open access limitations are

  • Include breaks during the sessions so people can leave their desk, get lunch etc.

Access to content

  • Use a service that will enable content to go live at specific times detailed in the agenda - people can click on the agenda link as and when the content goes live. You can even use a countdown clock which helps with managing different timezones

  • You can publish the content in YouTube, Vimeo or in your video player at the time you need it to go live (note that not all video players are accessible all over the world - e.g. YouTube is banned in China). WordPress can allow you to do this for example with a plugin

  • The more automated you can make the access, the better and less admin for you - take the content off a week later if you want to monetize it as a revenue stream

  • Some services like Zoom allow you to live stream to YouTube and Facebook for example so you can increase the reach of your audience and channels your content is available on

Making the most of virtual networking

Physical and virtual interaction is hard to compare - it's a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Sure you don't get to meet people face to face physically when virtual but you do get to create some cool environments that everyone can access and feel like they are taking part in - even if they are shy and not an 'active' participant

  • Create networking environments using a space like Zoom Rooms. Have a topic/theme with a host to facilitate conversations whether industry-specific like your thoughts on open research progression or more random like tell us your favourite pet and why? Ask their name and organization, and social handle for others to connect with them - go round each person and find out whether they want any direct introductions or what they want to get out of joining the room. Just ensure you have housekeeping rules e.g. mute when not talking. You can drop in and out of Zoom Rooms

  • Culturally some people won't be as 'chatty' as others, so try and mix up the room and have some interactive people in but give others the opportunity to talk e.g. Europeans and Canadians can be quite chatty, whereas Australians, New Zealanders and those in Asia Pacific tend to be quieter

  • You may want to host these networking sessions as live talking, as a live chat, or a mixture of both - it depends ultimately what you want to achieve but both would probably be best

  • Some fun ideas for virtual networking include and remember to use the social hashtag - run surveys to gain industry feedback and use tools like Mentimeter and Slido and publish the results online and through social media; pick names out of a hat and those people go to a specific themed room - a bit like a blind date; have obscure and fun processes or tasks for them to do; partner them up with someone else to complete a challenge or puzzle and get them to Tweet or post on social media with their result; ask them to post a picture of their working environment on social media; have a welcome reception with 'Bring Your Own' and ask them to take a picture with their tipple and add to social media e.g. mine's a vodka tonic with no ice, what's yours?; and guess the sound - Zoom, for example, has done an update so you can hear the music your computer is playing - often disabled by many platforms so you can play a quiz to guess the tune...who said quiz night couldn't be virtual...!

Post-event ideas

When thinking about the longevity of content and remarketing, there are ways to continue to increase the impact of your content:

  • Create digestible chunks of your content by breaking up into smaller pieces for short videos and cluster into themed content, and use across the business

  • If you've created content for free, gate it after a period of time and provide an annual subscription to the content produced throughout the year and even all historical content from previous years

  • Look at creating short-term access pricing so someone doesn't need to commit to a year or licensing the content out for perpetual access so the customer can host the content themselves in their own platform/repository for internal use

We hope you found the above insightful, there are lots of platforms you can use and ways to deliver these events - do let us know if you have any recommendations or those to avoid. Also do get in touch with us if you have any questions or just want to chat and we will happily help -

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