July 16, 2021

You Always Need More People Than You Think: Staffing a Virtual Conference

About this series: The 2021 Virtual Library Publishing Forum was a huge success, combining excellent content with smooth facilitation and a liberal dose of whimsy and care. We decided to pull back the curtain on how it was run to support other organizations that are interested in hosting thought-provoking, humane events on a shoestring. Because we have a lot to say, we are publishing a series of daily posts, each with a different theme. The series was created by the group of Educopia staff and LPC Program Committee members listed above, but the guide is written in first person and each section is written from a different perspective. Authors listed above who aren’t credited on a particular section helped with planning and editing this series.

Over the last two virtual LPFs, I’ve certainly learned that online meetings need many heads and hands to help manage logistics and ensure that each day runs smoothly. Our team included our 10-member LPC Program Committee and as many as 7 Educopia staff members pitching in throughout the event, and I think we were still drained by the end of the week! With many people working together, a clear division of labour was crucial to ensure that everyone knew what they had to do. During the Forum we had daily check-in meetings to make sure we knew what was up for the day and that all of the critical tasks were accounted for.

Educopia staff roles

The Educopia staff took on the technical, administrative, and logistical heavy lifting for this event. Before the Forum, they managed all of the registration, communication with presenters and collecting and organizing presentation materials, setup and scheduling every presentation in Zoom and Sched, handling queries from participants, and communication and outreach through various channels, not to mention tracking the budget and managing the sponsorship program. This team is an organizational powerhouse. 

A key document we could not have lived without was the daily schedule listing the sessions and presenters for that day, links to prerecorded presentations and any notes from the presenters, links to the correct Zoom rooms, and names of the Program Committee and Educopia staff who would be helping with each session (check the Technology post to see what the schedule looked like).

During the Forum, Educopia staff sent daily reminder emails and managed all of the ongoing communications with attendees and presenters, including Twitter and technical troubleshooting like helping people access Zoom and merging Sched accounts. For every session there were two staff members to play the sponsor and welcome slides, scan the participants list to promote presenters and ensure they had the right permissions, play prerecorded videos, enable closed captions, run polls, and save the day when there were hiccups.

Program Committee roles

The members of the Program Committee took an active role in hosting and moderating sessions, and we did our best to create an informal and welcoming environment for both speakers and attendees. 

For each session, we logged on early to welcome the speakers to the meeting, and invited them to check their mics and ensure they could share screens and cameras as needed. I hope our casual chatter at the start of each session while audience members were filtering into the call set the tone for the personal and friendly nature of the Forum; it certainly helped put me at ease! Two Program Committee members volunteered for each session: one to introduce the session and speakers and keep time as needed and one to moderate the Q&A (or ask questions if none popped up). We reminded audience members of the Code of Conduct and plugged the various social events each day. To help us maintain a consistent message, we used a script for our intros and modified it as needed. Program Committee members also hosted the various social events and meet-ups and took on responsibility for monitoring the Discord server channels and providing troubleshooting help.

Lessons learned:

  • You always need more people than you think you do during the event!
  • Everyone is more comfortable if they know exactly what they need to do and when, so schedules and scripts are very helpful.
  • Check in on how to pronounce speakers’ names in advance if you can—you may get this info from viewing their prerecorded video.