As a teacher, taking on the task to host a virtual conference for teachers can feel intimidating. A lot of people in our profession as Orientation and Mobility Specialists (we teach people with visual impairments how to travel) have been asking how I started our profession's first ever virtual conference.
In order to help you successfully host a virtual conference for teachers, I thought I would share some of the steps I took to host the International Orientation and Mobility Online Symposium. It was a wonderful two day fully virtual conference.
The vision started out as a way for Orientation and Mobility Specialists from all around the world to gather together to learn from the best in our industry. We geeked out on intersections from Austrailia, India, and other places around the world. We got to hear from a tech company representative in Great Britain. We got to connect with other O&M Specialists from all around the world without having to leave home.
All in all, it was the perfect learning opportunity. As teachers, resources are always limited. We have trouble taking time off from our schedule to attend in person events. We have a hard time getting the funds to attend conferences, let alone the travel fees associated with them.
Being able to watch webinars live, and watch the replays when needed, really helped us gain the information that would typically only be accessible to people who could go to the International and National conferences.
As a mom to young kids, it was the absolute BEST thing that could happen for me professionally.
So, how do you host a virtual conference for teachers?
Here are some things we did. I hope these ideas help you along your journey!
1. Gather amazing presenters.
Conferences are typically about community. Without the excitement of travel, networking, and late night parties with your work colleagues to get people excited, the content of the conference has to be the main focal point. Figure out what your profession needs, and make sure you deliver.
Most professions have their own way of figuring out the best presenters. You may want to stick to the normal tried-and-true formula. Or, you may want to give yourself the opportunity to think outside of the box. With the use of the internet, there is no presenter that is geographically out of reach.
2. Keep things simple for the customer.
Congratulations! You are now in the customer service industry. In educational professionals, we tend to think of ourselves and our jobs/time/resources before thinking about the conference participant’s needs. That person from here on out, will be referred to as your customer. You are now in the position to serve them, with or without whatever resources or time you have.
I say this because technology is scary. You obviously understand how technology can be used to serve a greater purpose. For a lot of your customers, it may feel overwhelming to learn a completely new system.
Take this rule in to consideration when choosing your platform, how you are going to ask people to pay, and even your website interface. It has to be simple and easy to understand.
Make sure you and your entire team walk through your customer’s full experience from paying for the conference to accessing the webinar links prior to opening registration.
3. Seek accreditation from your continuing education agency.
Without this pivotal step, you may not have any customers! Getting accreditation for your virtual conference will give your customers continuing education credits they need. If you are part of an association that already provides continuing education credits, make sure you are allowed to offer virtual credits. Check your by-laws and policies if you are unsure.
If you are a teacher, like me, then seek counsel from your profession’s accrediting body. I was able to form my own entity that allowed me to seek accreditation from our profession’s accrediting body, ACVREP.
4. Choose the right webinar platform (and the right people to help you run it).
This is the biggest decision we made. The right webinar platform will allow you to have a successful virtual conference. Know all of the details of this platform before you invest in it. Will it allow you to stay on the site for the length of time you need? How will the presenters post their slides? How well does it show videos? Can you expect any hiccups?
On that note- having at least one person to help with the technology helps the presenters so they can focus on their presentation.
5. Every aspect must be accessible.
From your website to your actual presentation, every single aspect must be accessible for customer with a disability. How is a person with a hearing impairment going to access the words that the speaker is saying? How is a person with a visual impairment going to access the material visually shown on the screen?
What have you learned about hosting a virtual conference? Share your experiences with us below!