What should you expect from an online platform for hybrid academic conference?

It often doesn’t take that long for the first weaknesses of a virtual conference software to reveal themselves. For example, when it is not able to fully cover the entire participants’ experience. Why can’t detailed registration options, such as booked workshops, be transferred to the virtual platform? Last year, this already posed quite a conundrum for some organizational teams of scientific online congresses – regardless of whether they were fully digital or a hybrid events.

The problem was solved with cumbersome workarounds that sometimes simply meant copying the data or individually re-entering it to make the right settings for each person. Sometimes it may be necessary to use different pieces of software, but ideally data should be able to be exchanged between interfaces to ease the process for organizers.

Because the reason for the sudden shift to virtual events was an unusual one, and, until then, digital congresses had only existed as a vague concept or as a niche in the event industry, participants were largely patient and understanding even at the tenth technical failure. After all, the situation was new for everyone, certainly not easy for anyone, and in the end anything was better than postponing the event until the distant future or canceling it outright.

What are the unique needs of virtual or hybrid academic online congresses?

A while has passed since the first virtual academic conferences and a lot has improved. As the industry continues to grow, organizers are facing a larger list of virtual and hybrid platforms in their lengthy search. And yet: Solutions that are specifically aimed at academic online congresses are few and far between, while software for virtual or hybrid business events is all the more widespread.

But the latter is just that: software for business events. Such a solution is not designed for functions that are somewhat more specialized, because they are rarely found outside of scientific conferences, such as poster exhibitions or the ability to submit and review abstracts. So what should event organizers look for to avoid the multi-software solution described above, including laborious manual data entry?

1. One solution for the entire online event

Last year, pieced together online scientific congresses from a multitude of applications (one software for registration, another for paper submission, another for online meetings and yet another for poster exhibition) were more the rule than the exception.

The Virtual Venue we developed, in combination with our well-established conference management software Converia, can handle all of these: For registration, organizers can set different price groups, offers and discounts to sell tickets. Because the personal data is automatically transferred to the Virtual Venue and is always available in the most up-to-date version, late registrations for the are still possible without any problems. There is no need to manage the data yourself, as everything runs automatically in the background.

Whether someone is allowed to participate in the conference is checked when they log in. After logging in, the person is given access to exactly the sessions they have booked. The login data is the same as for registration, so different accounts and passwords are not necessary.

Important for hybrid congresses: All participants need access to the online platform. Hybrid doesn’t have to mean the same program online and onsite, but onsite participants should have access to the digital content as well. Think, for example, of a hybrid congress where the on-site focus is strongly on networking, but the basis for this is the presentations, which everyone views online in advance. We have also hosted events where the first days were purely virtual and only the last day consisted of on-site program points for a limited number of people.

Furthermore, organizers can manage contributions directly in Converia and without any extra software: Scientists submit their abstracts via the platform and from there the evaluation is done by reviewers and the decision is announced by the program committee.

If you don’t need abstract management for your event, you don’t pay for the feature, because Converia is modular and you only pay for the features that you need for your specific event.

2. Easy creation of the program schedule

Depending on the conference, the program can be very long – in hybrid events it can be even longer if the program items differ greatly depending on the type of participation. Converia is great keeping the overview. The software is able to automatically transfer all accepted abstracts to the program schedule without you having to recreate them.

If you need to invite speakers, this is also possible with Converia. Or perhaps you already know the speakers and their presentations, in which case they can be imported into the system and thus directly into the program.

Once the program plan is finalized, it is automatically transferred to the Virtual Venue.

3. Exchange, interaction & better poster sessions

With the Virtual Venue, you can implement a whole range of different online or hybrid congress formats at once:

  • Pre-recorded videos – ideal for lecture formats
  • Livestreams – ideal when participants are allowed to ask questions or contribute in other ways
  • Breakout sessions for small groups
  • Discussions and other collaborative formats

The exchange with others starts right away on the homepage of the online congress with a central chat, which is open to all participants. Face-to-face discussions can be conducted as text, audio and video chats, and other participants can be contacted directly in one of these ways.

Poster sessions also focus on discussion with the authors and eliminate the disadvantages of a purely on-site event like when everyone has to stand next to their posters for a whole hour at a fixed time and wait for questions. In the virtual space, questions are asked flexibly and discussions take place via chat. When to view the poster gallery is decided by the participants. The posters are available around the clock and can be commented on and rated.

Exchanges are possible even after the official end of the conference – another reason why everyone has access to the online platform at hybrid conferences. On request, we archive the content so that it is still available online after the last day of the congress. This has the advantage that people who join later still have enough time to explore and consume the content and no one is bound to fixed times to watch a presentation. The function of asking questions does not disappear either, so that discussions can be continued without participants having to switch to another platform.

What about sponsors at online academic conferences?

Another question that is on the minds of organizers and that we often receive when we are contacted by interested parties: Is there a way to better include sponsors on the online platform of a digital or hybrid conference? The question is important and has its justification, because without sponsors and exhibitors many scientific events are not even conceivable. If sponsors are also part of your congress, we would be happy to show you our features for exhibitors in more detail. For starters, this article provides a few approaches on how to make sponsors more visible at online events.