Yesterday I attended (or attempted to attend) the Stay In Place Virtual Writing Conference. Here are my impressions:
First the good. The speakers were excellent! I especially enjoyed Jodi Lynn Nye’s talk on humor. In fact, she is one of those teachers that once I get a taste of, I want to follow her everywhere picking up her crumbs of knowledge. (Other teachers in that category are Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jonathan Maberry, Rebecca Moesta, and Cat Rambo.)
I was able to fill in two lectures I’d wanted to see at Superstars but missed: The Popcorn Theory of Success by Kevin J. Anderson (wonderful!) and Business Class Tarot by Anthony Dobranski (lots of fun). The Art & Craft of Writing with L. Jagi Lamplighter was surprisingly good and I came away with some actionable steps I could take to make my scenes better. She is an editor, so I am going to keep her in mind for future projects when Mia Kleve and JLo are too busy.
That said, some aspects were challenging
The panels were difficult compared to in-person panels where the panelists could see the audience. Part of this was the fault of the audience (me included) who didn’t have their video feed working. But part of it is just that Zoom itself is not great for panel discussions.
One big problem was lack of audience. In many of the Zoom panels the panelists outnumbered the audience. In some cases I was the only attendee. Even the excellent keynote by Kevin J. Anderson was attended by only eight people and that was the largest audience I saw. Part of this was that people who wanted to be in these sessions couldn’t get in due to organizational or technical problems.
There were a multitude of technical and organizational problems that caused the lack of audience. My internal project manager ached to set things right, but of course project management works best when it is employed from the start. I suspect that there were lots of lessons learned. Subsequent conferences by this group should go smoother.
Here are my project management recommendations if you are producing a similar online conference:
- You need a week between the point that you stop accepting new registrations and the day of an online conference, especially if you use an outside group to manage this like EventBrite. EventBrite says that they take 3-4 days to get messages from attendees to organizers. This kind of lag makes things quite difficult if you want to register people closer to the con.
- Have one point of contact for questions and problems and post it prominently.
- This conference had both a free portion and a pay portion. I recommend not doing that in the future because it created confusion. Or have a free keynote and afternote that everyone can attend but keep the rest for pay. Or vice versa.
- Facebook is not a good platform for conferences because you cannot deal with things chronologically. Every time someone types a comment to a post, it moves the post up ahead of the more salient posts.
Some things done right from a project management perspective:
- They had someone from the team set up every Zoom session and provide help to the speakers. This is critical and I’m glad they did it.
- They had assigned moderators for most of the panel discussion to ask questions and keep things on task. This is critical for an online panel discussion.
Would I do it again? Maybe. The speakers were excellent but Zoom is a fairly exhausting way to get content.
Those are my impressions of the conference itself.
I had some personal problems as well, which is that my internet has trouble and several times it went out completely and stayed out for a few hours. This was frustrating, but I’m getting used to this happening every Monday through Thursday and on Sundays.
So that’s the wrap. Feel free to ask any questions. Also note that the free content is still available for viewing.
I hope your life is filled with opportunities to keep learning.
Be well, friends! And stay well.