5 tips for transitioning conference from in-person to virtual

i By May 5, 2020 No Comments

In March, staff at the University of Kansas Professional & Continuing Education (KUPCE) responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by transitioning their 800+ attendee Society of Pediatric Psychology Annual Conference to a virtual format.

“Hotel meeting and sleeping rooms were booked, speakers were lined up, 400 research poster presenters were finalized, 850 program books were printed, and food and beverage was ordered,” said Stacy Cordell, KUPCE’s director of professional programs. “But considering the event is attended by pediatric psychologists from across the country, many of whom work in hospital settings with immune-compromised children, we thought we had a social obligation to consider whether people should be interacting in that type of environment.”

(Top of post) KUPCE set up a “Command Central” in a KU Edwards Campus conference room to transition and manage the conference from its planned physical location in Dallas to an online event in the span of only two weeks. “We were actually socially distanced more than this photo appears,” confirmed Cordell. Around the table are Kevin Curry, Pam Hicks, Stacy Cordell, Erika Eden, Amanda Morgan and Justine Hamilton. Photo courtesy of KUPCE.

When Jennifer Pendley, president of the Society of Pediatric Psychology, and the planning team suggested moving the conference online, Cordell was open, but hesitant. But, after confirming with the IT department that KUPCE had the necessary bandwidth and software, she agreed to the change.

The KUPCE team had only two weeks to transition the format of the conference, which was slated to run March 18-20. Along the way, they learned some important lessons.


Make sure you have the technology.

Evaluate your conference or event and map out its needs in terms of conference space. "We had to make sure we had enough individual accounts with enough capacity to house the full plenary sessions which would normally hold 800 people, as well as the four or five concurrent breakout sessions," said Cordell. "Then we had to determine if the university had the bandwidth to handle all of those rooms running at the same time."

Create a team with clear roles and communication methods.

The next step was to pull every available human resource to form a team that could accomplish the transition. Cordell coordinated and assigned roles and tasks with these teams and IT to push a new plan into place.

Simplify and structure while creating community.

"Keep it simple. Work the schedule. Maintain community." These were three simple bits of advice from Cordell that made their transition to online meetings work so well. "One of the things the planning committee did that was so helpful is adjust all sessions to a common length," said Cordell. They scheduled ample time for breaks, giving attendees time to connect with peers through Twitter and more. "Giving our attendees the ability to make lunch for their children who were suddenly at home while learning about their profession was an unplanned benefit," Cordell said.

Think through your registration process.

With only 48 hours to allow SPPAC attendees to register for the online conference, it was imperative to think through every step. "If you're organizing a complex conference with concurrent sessions or workshops, you really need to map that out clearly in advance," Cordell said.

Make time for training.

With speakers presenting virtually from around the country, the team made sure all were comfortable with Zoom technology. All but one team took advantage and were trained in a two-day span of time.

Click HERE to learn more details of the conference’s transition from in-person to virtual.