Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Thoughts on Virtual Conferences - CSTA 2020

The first online CSTA Conference is now about 24 hours behind me. I was fortunate to experience it both as an attendee and a presenter. After mulling it over a bit I have to say it was a much better experience than I expected it would be.

Attending was very low friction. No travel half a day each way (with attendant airfare) no hotel to book and pay for and that is just to start. Attending sessions was easy. No hunting for rooms for example. I have put in a lot of steps in previous conferences going to the wrong room or finding a room at out of the way locations. None of that here. No trouble entering and finding a seat. Or leaving if I wanted to switch sessions. Really very smooth.

Attending sessions was great this way. I particularly liked the chat window as it allowed others to share resources and for more people to ask questions. I hope there is a way to capture the chat session information. I would like to have the comments from my presentation at least.

Presentations were of the usual high caliber for a CSTA conference. Sure some were better than others but over all much higher than some other conferences I will not name. Presenters seemed comfortable presenting online. Some of this may because a lot of us have been doing so for school but the preparation for presenters was really very well done. As a presenter I felt very prepared for the platform.

As a presenter things went pretty well. I had wanted to have a second monitor running but due to some technical issues that were all my fault I didn’t get that working. Let that be a lesson to me. Not being able to see the chat window while I was presenting was a disadvantage but the wonderful CSTA proctor was able to see it and fed me questions as appropriate. Having a person who can do it is very important in an online presentation.

While presenting I obviously could not see the reactions so setting an audience based pace was difficult at best. Attendee questions did help there. I also missed hearing people laugh at my jokes (be they intentional or otherwise). There were some comments in the chat that said people did laugh so that’s good. Presenting online is not as much fun for me as presenting in person. One the other hand, I don’t think any of us presenters would have had the size audience we had online if we’d had the conference in person.

The hopin platform worked very well – flawlessly for me. I recommend it. We had a reception area for finding out what was happening and when. A “main stage” for keynotes, breakout rooms for the concurrent sessions, a networking area, and a virtual exhibit hall.

The networking area was very interesting. It placed you in a session with a random attendee for 5 minutes. Just enough time to meet someone and be very low stress. You didn’t have to find an excuse to “walk away.” I took part a few times but as an introvert I have my limits.

The exhibit hall didn’t quite work for me. I like to look at booths and the physical objects in them. It was great if you like to listen to exhibitor presentations and I know that many people do. So that was a mixed story for me. I would love to know what exhibitors thought of the experience.

I was going to write about missing the “hallway track” in this post but I think that deserves a post of its own. So that will probably show up tomorrow.

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