I was general chair of IMX (ACM International Conference on Interactive Media experiences) with Vino this year and it was really hard putting together a virtual conference in the middle of a pandemic, especially after so much logistical work had been done to originally host it in NY. We had people from 27 countries and I received so many comments from attendees (particularly students) about how this was the best virtual conference ever and how it was so much easier for them to interact with people than an in-person conference. I wonder if that was because of how we designed it to be student friendly or if offline conferences are just not doing a good enough job of being welcoming to newcomers. I know my first few conferences were really hard… I learned a lot from my livestreaming research about how to engage strangers into a conversation and because our conference was a small one tried to make it a point to be facilitate a more friendly environment, but I think there is something also about being online that makes conferences less intimidating for new folks, and that is something offline conference organizers don’t really plan for, I think.
A large part of the success was due to the virtual conference chairs who helped pick the best platform possible (ohyay) that was as immersive as we could get while also taking into consideration accessibility, because not everyone wants to be wearing a vr headset all day or has good internet connection, and designing a program that accommodates a virtual format best. I also learned a lot about accessibility- having live closed captions and sign language for the keynotes was probably a good start but there is probably much more we can do. Diversity and inclusion was such a big part of the planning but funnily enough I found myself telling Vino (when we were putting together the organizing committee)- we need white men – so I don’t know why so many other events have trouble finding diverse leadership.
Lessons learned: everything takes more time than anticipated, have contingency plans, have key people who you can rely on. Was also interesting learning which of your friendly colleagues actually pulls their weight and how it is necessary to have different management styles with different people. Unsurprisingly people who have good work ethic doing research together turned out to be great collaborators on event planning as well. Having produced theater, planned parties, and built online communities pre-academia I feel like this probably utilized more of my skills and energy in a positive way than any other activity could. Have a small conference on content moderation that needs to happen next year but may think of taking a stab at a slightly larger conference sometime further out in the future.