Top tips for organising a virtual academic conference

One of our partners, Kirsty Melvin, who has many years experience of academic conferences, shares her top tips for managing virtual conferences, to ensure a problem-free experience.

As we become more and more accustomed to the world of virtual academic conferences and events, it can often feel overwhelming when deciding which platform to use to meet your event requirements, your budget, and give your audience as near to an in-person event experience as possible.

On top of the virtual elements, organising an academic conference involves a great deal of time and planning. In this blog, I am going to share with you my experience of organizing these types of events as well as tips on how you can manage your time more effectively.

Collecting abstracts

One of the first things you will need to do, once you have decided on the date and theme of your conference, is to issue a call for abstracts. Abstract management is a key component of any successful academic conference and one of the main reasons your audience will want to attend the conference, to present their paper and possibly have their paper published. But as such, managing the abstracts process can often instill fear into any conference organiser! However, with the right planning, it really is a straightforward process.

The first thing to do is ensure you have allowed enough time for each stage of the process. I would always suggest working backwards from the event date and consider:

  • Abstract submissions should ideally be open for a couple of months.
  • Allow 4 – 6 weeks for the peer review and final decision process.
  • Allow 2 – 3 weeks for notification to abstract authors and author acceptance.
  • Allow several weeks for the accepted abstract authors to prepare their presentation.

If your abstracts are being published online, what timescales do the publishers require? Remember to allow extra time for amendments and corrections.

Design your program and organise your speakers

Once you have set up your abstracts process, you can design your conference program around this. You will need to decide if:

  • All conference presentations will originate from accepted abstract submissions.
  • A combination of accepted abstract submissions and other invited guest speakers.

Next, map out your conference program with presentation sessions, Q&A sessions, and break timings. You will also need to decide if the presentations will be:

  • Pre-recorded
  • Live sessions
  • A combination of both

From a conference organiser’s perspective, having the speakers pre-record their presentations will allow you to ensure presentations run to time, and limit the number of technical issues on the day. The downside to doing this, is that it requires a greater time commitment to check through the recordings and upload them to the platform. If you decide to go with live presentations, I would always recommend scheduling time for a practice run-through session with the presenters, prior to the live conference to deal with any issues which may arise.

Whichever format you decide to use for your conference, having the speakers available for a live Q&A immediately following their presentation is a great way to increase audience engagement and discussions. If your conference includes poster presentations, having these available to download as a pdf on the program works well.

Using a single platform that can manage all the elements of your academic conference makes organisation much easier and saves valuable time by allowing you to streamline processes. When making decisions on abstract submissions, being able to seamlessly integrate these into the conference program and link the submission and author details is a great way to reduce your workload and instantly update conference information for delegates to view.

Register your delegates

There are an unlimited number of options for managing delegate registrations and finding the right system to use to capture the information you require can be tricky. Think about:

What delegate information do you want to capture?

  • Think about how you are going to use this information.
  • Do not ask for information you do not need or will not use.
  • A registration form asking for unnecessary information can be off-putting to the delegate.
What is your delegate registration fee structure?
  • Are you offering an early-bird discount?
  • Different fees for members / non-members?
What payment methods will you accept?
  • Debit and credit card payments?
  • BACS?
  • Invoice?

If you can integrate your delegate registration with your abstract submissions and program management, this will help you to simplify the process regardless of the size of your conference. It will also save you money and benefit both the delegates and organizers alike. Offering delegates the option to submit an abstract, view the conference program and register for the conference on the same platform will encourage greater engagement and reduce delegates leaving the platform before acting.

In summary, when organizing an academic conference, the main things to remember is to ensure you have allowed enough time to coordinate each stage effectively. Wherever possible, try to streamline and simplify systems and processes by using a single platform, which will offer a more effective experience for you the organizer, and the delegates.

I have been using Oxford Abstracts for the past few years, initially to organize in-person academic conferences, and latterly online events. From the first demo, I thought the system was extremely user-friendly and simple to navigate. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience and offer various packages and features depending on your requirements and budget. The support available from their extremely knowledgeable and friendly team is second to none.

Oxford Abstracts are always looking to improve and update their offerings to provide the best user experience to meet the demands of the ever-changing virtual world of academic conferences and events. So, if you are considering which platform to use for your upcoming academic conference, I would highly recommend getting in touch with Oxford Abstracts.

If you already use Oxford Abstracts and would benefit from additional ongoing support with the set-up and management of your academic conference, please feel free to get in touch to discuss how I can support your event. I currently support several academics and organisations with the administration of their conference, allowing them more time to focus on other areas of their work. You can find out more by visiting my website at www.kirstymelvin.co.uk.