Hospitality for Virtual Presenters

I am finding more and more conferences willing to accommodate me as a virtual presenter. This is probably happening more to me than other people because of my travel restrictions (mom of a young child living halfway across the world from most conferences I want to attend and where most of my collaborators reside), coupled with my refusal to ignore the potential social capital I can gain from presenting internationally, that is different from everyday online interactions. There are many reasons why a conference might want to welcome virtual presenters (diversity and equity being two). As Melonie Fullick recently wrote:

“Think about who gets to have a voice in academic discussions—and who gets to become an academic—when this is the price of admission.”

There are also of course the costs of conference travel on the environment, as Kate Bowles recently reminded me. But I also understand that for conference organizers, virtual is not the preferred option for an in-person conference.

For those who do value virtual presenters (at conferences or any other in-person event, such as guest speakers in classes), I wanted to offer some tips for how event organizers can be more hospitable to virtual presenters.

  1. Virtual registration option. If you require presenters to register for your conference, virtual presenters should get a discounted (or free) option and still get their name on the conference program. The worst I have faced are conferences that required that I pay the full onsite fee to get my name on the program, and that is not something I am willing to do, since I get no other benefit from those conferences (i.e. I do not attend anything else). Some events have offered free registration because they did not have a virtual option (e.g. #dlrn15). Conferences such as  Online Learning Consortium  and Educause/ELI conferences already have virtual registration which costs less, gives access to other presentations, and works well all around (but not every event is willing to include virtual presenter names on the program even with registration paid).

  2. Technical setup. Most events I have presented at put the burden of this on my onsite co-presenters. Luckily most of them are tech savvy, but I don’t see why conferences can’t offer some things like a high-speed internet connection (some conferences offer this) and good mic/speaker options (BYOD events don’t offer this). And tech support, because of course it is no fun for my co-presenters to troubleshoot just before they present. #AACU16 last week helped us with this and we are grateful.

  3. Allow the virtual presenter to HEAR the audience. This has been my biggest frustration so far. I usually join via Google hangouts or Zoom. I can speak and people in the room can hear me, but occasionally I cannot hear my co-presenters and almost always I can barely hear the audience. Sometimes a friend from the audience helps me by tweeting out what I haven’t heard, but that isn’t ideal. There are some ways I can think of to make this easier, both of which I have tried. Where possible, connect the presenter computer to a wireless mic – and whoever is speaking in the room can use that mic. I once invited George Siemens to speak virtually at an event in Egypt and the sound system with wireless mics allowed him to hear both the other panelists and the audience questions (and the mic was also connected to the sound system in the room so that audience could hear onsite speakers well, too). As panel moderator, I tested different options the week before and kept checking in with him that he could hear well. I have also been on Virtually Connecting hangouts at #OpenEd15 where Alan Levine used a good quality mic that picked up sound well in a small room (pictured above). An alternative option if you do not have facilities is one we tried during a Virtually Connecting session at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in August. We had the room connect to the Google hangout using two devices: the room computer projected the streaming of the virtual people and a mobile device (iPad or smartphone) was used as a mic (i.e. it joined the hangout as a participant and muted audio/mic and unmuted the audio when someone wanted to speak – the mobility allows the device to be passed around so that virtual participants can hear and see the person speaking to them). In both instances, presenter computers had cameras pointing towards the room so virtuals could see the room (see video below). If an event has the equipment, a full video conference setup with a good room mic would of course go a long way (assuming the virtual presenters have access to equipment on their side)

  4. (the difficult one) Allow virtual presenters as first presenters. I cannot count how many things I have co-presented where I should have been first or second author but had to be one of the last authors because I was virtual. I know some events like #ALTC have had virtual keynotes within the mostly face-to-face event (Martin Hawksey told me they now use Google Hangouts so it’s livestreamed and available on YouTube immediately afterwards). Some conferences have fully-virtual presentations (but these are only shared with virtual attendees). I am suggesting that sometimes a virtual presenter deserves to be named first author.

  5. Have some Virtually Connecting sessions so onsite people and virtual participants/presenters can have those hallway conversations.

And there are little things that make a big difference – like this photo of the “room” waving to me when I started talking at #AACU16 – thanks Elizabeth!

I fully understand that no one wants to go to an event and find most presentations given by virtual presenters. They could have watched from home. But I also know that it has value.

Side note: there is a reason why most of the people I am citing here are women. 

Do you think conferences should be more hospitable to virtual presenters? Why/how? Or why not?

flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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