A Message from the Chair, IEEE Conferences Committee
Dear IEEE Conference Organizers,
In order to serve our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, many IEEE conference organizers are contemplating virtual formats, so I would like to provide some guidance on translating your event from face-to-face to a successful virtual event. Perhaps the most important message is that you can do it!
The set of skills, resources, and experiences that you have in traditional conference formats has prepared you well for hosting a virtual event. However, there are several important differences and potential pitfalls that you should be aware of. Below are a few key points that can help you design a successful virtual event.
Please know that the IEEE Conferences Committee, the entire MCE team, and I are here to support you and wish you all the best during this challenging time.
Chair, IEEE Conferences Committee
Key Considerations for Creating a Virtual Event
Comparing to other possible options, such as postponement or cancellation, going virtual offers many advantages. These include disseminating and publishing research results without delay, maintaining annual event organization cycles, and usually lower cost, although there are limitations in live interaction, exhibition, and patrons, and the immersion experience.
Successful virtual events are organized differently than in-person meetings — you cannot merely take your in-person meeting and do the same thing virtually. Start by thinking carefully about what your attendees want to get out of your event, as that will inform your choices on what to offer and how to execute.
While in-person events often work best in immersion mode (lots of activities packed into a few days), virtual events work best with a smaller number of hours per day spread over more days. As people have many more distractions when they are home or at the office, this allows them to add the conference to their existing activities rather than overwhelm them. Furthermore, it can help attendees living in different time zones, and can also reduce conflicts created by multiple overlapping sessions. You may choose to have presentations given in live virtual sessions, pre-recorded and accessible on-demand at the conference website, or a combination of the two.
Having authors pre-record (MP4 files are preferred) and upload their presentations can circumvent a lot of problems. It avoids real-time connection quality issues with the speakers, and adding on-demand downloading of these presentations mitigates attendee connection problems and facilitates time shifting (i.e., attendees can view presentations at times that are convenient for them). It should also be noted that it is impossible to prevent audience members from ‘recording’ presentations in any virtual event. When choosing your event format, please consider that live streaming increases complexity and should be minimized during an emergency.
Exhibitors and Sponsors are a critical part of many conferences, but a virtual exhibit hall is not your only option for exhibitor and sponsor engagement. Companies can connect with attendees via presentations on topics such as desired workforce skills, new product or service offerings, or technology demos, and might also insert brief television / magazine style advertisements into the technical content stream.
They crave the opportunity to interact with each other, so you must give it to them. There are many different vehicles: audio Q&A, a chat feature, discussion boards, and virtual breakout rooms. Live-streaming keynotes can also add excitement. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but your community will want something. Keeping the program moving with opportunities for offline feedback and engagement helps a lot with audience fatigue / attention span, and also helps with time-zone shifting. Starting between 1 PM and 3 PM GMT is reasonable for most populated areas of the globe.
Decide what you want your event to look like before selecting the tool that you will use to realize it. There are a lot of tools available (and a lot of people pushing them), but they have very different capabilities and price points, and the wrong one will keep you from holding the event that you want to have.
Allocate a generous amount of time (and resources) for training and instruction. Virtual formats will be new for most of your community (attendees, presenters, session chairs, exhibitors, organizers,…), and while they are quite similar to the kind of conferences that they are familiar with, they are enough different that everybody will need some instruction.
There are a lot of non-traditional things going on behind the scenes, so the support team will need to expand to perform some new tasks. For example, there are often behind the scenes interactions to prepare the authors and cue up their presentations, moderate questions coming in via chat, manage the speaker list for live Q&A, and solve problems for attendees having difficulties connecting. As these activities will usually be happening concurrently, you are likely to need to recruit, train, and coordinate people to perform these tasks.
The decision to hire professionals to run the tools is akin to deciding whether or not to use a professional conference organizer or AV company. For smaller events, many event organizers can effectively plan and run their virtual event through self-service. Let MCE know you’re interested by sending a note to email@example.com. For larger meetings, the amount and complexity of the work required can make the expense worthwhile. There is no easy answer, but re-imagining your event in detail is a prerequisite.
As with conventional IEEE conferences, virtually all the important decisions regarding virtual events are made by the conference organizers and the sponsoring OUs. This includes the decision to go virtual, the event dates and schedule, the format of the event, the tools and services utilized, and the fee change (it depends on conference cost structure). In addition, papers accepted by virtual events can be sent to IEEE Xplore for distribution.
When making decisions about virtualizing your event, it is important to engage the IEEE Event Emergency Response Team (EERT) at firstname.lastname@example.org for guidance on the full range of issues (e.g., hotel contracts). The IEEE Virtual Events web page can offer guidance, resources, and support on planning and executing a virtual program for your event. The MCE Digital Events Team (email@example.com) can answer specific questions and provide even more support on any of the topics listed above, and most of the above services are available at no cost to the conference.
Visit MCE at https://ieeemce.org/ to learn more.
IEEE Virtual Events Guide
In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many IEEE events are unable to convene in-person as previously anticipated. As an IEEE Event Organizer, you may be seeking information about your available options, including moving your event to a virtual format.
Although unexpected changes to your plans can bring disappointment and uncertainty, please know that IEEE is here to support you during this challenging time. The health and safety of our communities is of paramount importance to IEEE. The MCE Digital Events Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) can offer guidance, resources and support on a variety of virtual solutions for your event.
If you are new to the virtual events space, you may have questions and feel unsure about where to begin. You may wonder how it will be possible to turn your in-person event involving keynotes, presentations, workshops, sessions, and networking experiences into a meaningful virtual experience. How will your event facilitate learning, build collaboration, and drive attendee engagement?
The following virtual events primer offers guidance on how to begin envisioning your IEEE Event in the virtual space, ways to prepare, and resources to help you along the way. With a solid plan and some creativity, it is possible to design a virtual event that meets your event objectives, supports your authors, and provides memorable attendee experiences.
Getting consensus and buy-in from your event stakeholders is critical to moving forward with your virtual event. Ensuring that sponsors and leadership agree on the decision to go virtual is an important first step. A critical element is to put the experts from your digital team in direct contact with event decision-makers as a best practice.
It is helpful to build a shared understanding of the value of virtual events, and the many benefits over event cancellation. It is also important to support the virtual event value proposition to your participants.
- A virtual event can help you support your authors, presenters, attendees, and sponsors and keep your event community engaged during this challenging time
- A virtual event is a good option over cancellation if your conference has already finalized its program
- Authors can prepare and submit video files of their presentations
- Conference registrants can view presentations over a certain period and interact with authors through posted questions
- Proceedings will still be submitted for publication to IEEE, which is beneficial for authors
Several IEEE Events have successfully transitioned to a virtual format and the MCE Digital Events Team is happy to share case studies, success stories, and lessons learned. One overarching observation is that producing a successful virtual event does involve re-planning rather than virtualizing the original plan. Doing this with an abbreviated timeline means that informed decision-making is called for.
When making decisions about virtualizing your event, it is important to engage the IEEE Event Emergency Response Team (EERT) at email@example.com for advice and guidance. Although the decision to transition to a virtual format can be complex, it is important to note that it is also time-sensitive. Identifying and empowering decision makers from the organizing committee and sponsor(s) will support successful outcomes.
From the initial point of contact, the typical time to convert a planned in-person gathering into a virtual event is approximately 2-3 months. Please reach out to the MCE Digital Events Team at firstname.lastname@example.org as early as possible. Even if you are self-serving or using another provider, please reach out.
Virtual events come in many shapes and sizes, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. The strategy for your virtual event will depend on a number of factors including:
- Event program
- Proposed virtual event dates
- Event sponsors
- Number of registered attendees
- Number of presenters
- Number of papers
- Time zones of attendees
- Event budget
When reaching out to the MCE Digital Events Team, It is helpful to have the aforementioned up-to-date information available so the MCE Digital Events Team can best assist you.
Part of the planning phase will also involve determining roles and responsibilities of your organizing committee, PCO (if applicable), session and track chairs, authors and attendees, and any professionals you bring in to support your virtual event. Key decision-makers will want to work directly with experts providing services rather than through intermediaries to accommodate a steep learning curve and informed decision-making.
The cornerstone of a great event is a thoughtful and engaging program. However, a program designed for an in-person event, will not necessarily work well in the virtual format. While you may lose the physical handshake when virtualizing, there are opportunities to gain access to an even broader set of people and build relationships. With an in-person event your program is compressed to fit space, dates and times – not so with virtual! Also, engaging your attendees online requires different approaches and experience types. Here are a few considerations for creating a great virtual event program:
- Live streaming requires additional planning time, may have budget implications, and adds additional levels of complexity to your event. Minimize live streaming in a time of crisis.
- Holding concurrent sessions poses technical challenges, and may not provide an ideal experience for presenters and attendees. Organizing your program sequentially is the preferred format for virtual events.
- Attendee attention spans can be shorter in the virtual format, so adjust session length accordingly
- Build in ways for attendees to interact through virtual ice breakers, chat, polling, discussion boards, and presenter Q&A with the audience
- Establish time in your event program for attendee networking. Consider virtual meet-ups for attendees with similar research or professional interests. Use tools like chat, teleconference, or social media to create networking opportunities for attendees. Your event app can also be a great way for your attendees to connect and schedule networking sessions.
- Build in scheduled breaks to your live virtual event to enable attendees to recharge and refresh
- Creative sessions such as interactive lunches, a virtual reception, or yoga breaks can add a personal touch to your program
- A virtual exhibit hall is not your only option for exhibitor and sponsor engagement. Companies can offer valuable sessions on topics such as desired workforce skills, new product or service offerings, or technology demos.
When planning your virtual event, it is helpful to have a participant-centric mindset. Thinking about the needs and objectives of your attendees, presenters, exhibitors, sponsors and other stakeholders will help you design positive and engaging virtual event experiences. It is also helpful to create priorities based on which audiences you really need to serve. The following questions can help crystalize your understanding of your participants:
- What are the objectives of your presenters and authors? (e.g. feedback on research, publishing, graduation, networking, etc.)
- Do your participants have access to the necessary software and technology for your virtual event?
- In what time zones do your participants reside?
The characteristics of your audience can help you make decisions about event timing, breadth of your program, and the types of experiences you build into your event.
IEEE wants to support our author community during this challenging time. We encourage you to evaluate the needs of your authors and presenters to find ways to support them on their path to disseminate research results at your virtual event. Some helpful questions to ask are:
- Are there research result dissemination and related publications that need to occur before the end of the academic or calendar year?
- Are there ways to help these groups achieve their disseminating and publishing goals?
What support can IEEE provide conference volunteers during this time?
Depending on your needs, virtual events can either be completely virtual or run as a hybrid experience. Here is an explanation of how they differ:
- Virtual event – In a virtual event, all event participants, attendees, presenters, and exhibitors participate in the event virtually. Virtual events can present content live, on-demand, or both.
- Hybrid event – A hybrid event combines an in-person event at a physical destination with virtual elements for remote attendees. As some locations come back online, this format will become more popular.
How you choose to present your content can have a big impact on your event. You may choose to live stream content, use pre-recorded content, or employ a combination of the two. There are several benefits to using pre-recorded content at your event. Pre-recorded content:
- Makes material available on-demand, enabling attendees to access content at any-time from anywhere for a designated period of time
- Makes it easy for authors to present content from different time zones
- Reduces the probability of technical difficulties during presentations
- Provides opportunities to engage with the audience via chat
Be sure to secure proper permissions and copyright.
Find helpful tips on recording your presentations on various platforms:
- IEEE.tv’s video on Recording Your Presentation with Zoom
- How To Record a Cisco Webex Virtual Meeting
When determining when your virtual event will take place, there are a number of factors to consider. You will need to ensure enough lead-time for you and your participants to prepare for the new format. Your event leadership will need to make critical decisions about the following:
- whether you will keep your original dates or postpone your virtual event to a later time frame, or expand the timeframe to accommodate the new format
- the preferred time zone for your event, which will depend on presentation format and attendee location
- the length of your virtual event (Most on-demand virtual events take place within a 2 week to a month span. Live-streamed events may occur over a shorter time period.)
- how to incorporate live networking functions if desired
How you inform participants about your decision to move to a virtual format can really set the tone for your event. If you are transitioning from a previously planned in-person event, you will need to ensure that the messaging is approved by IEEE and your sponsors. Once approved, you may reach out to participants through channels such as email, your event website, and social media. Messaging may include:
- Reassurance about the quality and integrity of the event and its content
- Information about conference proceedings publication pathways for authors
- Guidance on registration fees and cancellation
Please be sure to only reference official fact-based sources for information about the COVID-19 pandemic (WHO, CDC etc.)
IEEE has created approved language for your event website as well as an email template to send to your participants. Please contact EERT at email@example.com before posting any COVID-19 related communications on your website or sending out messaging to your attendees to ensure it is properly aligned.
Many organizers have questions about registration fees when transitioning to a virtual event format. Some of the issues that you may encounter include:
- Transferring attendee registration if postponing your event to a later date
- Handling cancellation requests after announcing the virtual format
- Registration fee changes for your virtual event
- In general, a discount on the original registration fee may be appropriate. Changes in registration fees warrant a re-approval of the budget from your sponsor(s) and IEEE.
Please contact the Event Emergency Response Team at firstname.lastname@example.org for guidance on handling registration fees when moving to a virtual event arrangement.
Your organizing committee will decide whether you can manage your virtual event on your own or if you need to bring in some professional assistance. For smaller events, many event organizers find that they can effectively plan and run their virtual event through self-service. The MCE Digital Events Team (email@example.com) would be happy to provide guidance. Other considerations that factor into your decision include:
- The number of anticipated attendees
- The number of anticipated presenters
- The number of expected papers
- Whether you plan to live-stream or pre-record content
- Your event budget
The MCE Digital Events team can advise you on available options if you require additional support for your virtual event.
Once you officially decide to proceed with your virtual event, you may contemplate which technology platforms and systems are right for you. Fortunately, there are a number of virtual event platforms and service providers in the marketplace, so you have many options to choose from. There are also virtual events resources available through MGA and vTools as well.
The following checklist can help you evaluate various technology solutions for your event.
- Does it fit within my budget?
- Can it accommodate authentication of registrants?
- Is it GDPR-compliant?
- Will it accommodate my number of participants?
- Will it accommodate my intended content format (live stream vs pre-recorded?)
- Are there adjustments to the program that would allow us to use a different tool?
- Is it easy for presenters to upload content?
- Is it easy to use by attendees?
- Is there a place to store content? Can this content be viewed after my event?
- Does it include interactive components like attendee polling?
- Can I customize it with my event branding?
- Does it meet my security requirements?
The MCE Digital Events Team is happy to consult with you on options that fit your needs and budget.
Preparation is key to ensuring that everything is in order for a smooth and successful virtual event. Use following pre-launch virtual event checklist to focus your efforts:
- Provide presenters with instructions on how to format and upload their presentations to your virtual event platform
- Your sessions and track chairs will play an important role here in assisting presenters and ensuring materials are “presentation-ready”
- Session and track chairs can also ensure that presenters know if and when they need to be available online to present or participate in Q&A
- For live-streamed content, it may be necessary to conduct a dry run with presenters to ensure they are prepared and their technology is working properly
- You should have plans in place for how to handle technical issues and possible presenter no-shows. For example, if a presenter has a technical difficulty, you can make their presentation available at a later time and schedule alternate means for Q&A (chat, email, phone, etc.). For no-shows you may consider having a prepared message or replacement content available.
On the day of your event, there are a number of things you can do to ensure that your event runs seamlessly and your attendees and presenters are supported:
- Session and track chairs should conduct last-minute presentation and sound checks with presenters
- Your team should be available to ensure that your virtual event opens to participants at the designated time
- If you have moderators for your event, they should be available to provide transitions between sessions or facilitate Q&A sessions
- Designated team members should also be available to assist presenters and attendees with technical difficulties, no-shows, and any questions that may arise
As with an in-person event once your virtual event ends, there is still work to be done. Some post-event tasks may include:
- Gathering feedback from your attendees via a post-event survey
- Sending thank yous and posting content on social media or your event website – for content, you may want to discuss and agree upon the access control with your sponsors
- Completing activities necessary to provide content to MCE and publish in the IEEE Xplore® Digital Library
- Paying all outstanding invoices
- Closing your conference
- Documenting lessons learned from your event team (please share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!)
Although virtual events may seem like unfamiliar territory, IEEE is here to support you, your attendees, and your authors. We are committed to fostering the integrity and quality of IEEE content and experiences in the virtual environment. For questions or guidance about virtualizing your event, please reach out to us at email@example.com.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The decision to transition from an in-person event to a virtual event is made by the organizers, the sponsor(s), and IEEE. It requires a plan approved by the sponsors and IEEE and a newly approved budget
Presenters may have a recorded video played or do an online live presentation with the structure that allows for questions and feedback such as chat window, dialogue thread, off-event email exchanges, etc. Alternatively, in areas where this is not possible, papers can be posted for comment.
There are a number of creative ways to build networking into your event. These can include dedicated networking sessions, breakouts based on interests, and scheduled appointments. Consider exhibitor engagement opportunities that go beyond a virtual booth experience.
The MCE Digital Events Team can provide support for a limited number of events and may need flexibility in the scheduling of your event. We can also advise on alternative options such as self-service and external providers.
Yes. Papers presented in the virtual event format can be submitted to IEEE for publication.