Tips for being a chairing a virtual conference

“Strictly” Roadshow May 2019 — it will be a while before we are back in auditoriums like this I suspect (my photo)

Tip one — do the preparation

I was very lucky that CHC are experienced and very competent conference holders. True to form, an enormous amount of preparation had been done by them before I even lifted a finger. But it definitely was worth going some of my own prep and reading beforehand. Firstly it helps build confidence. Y ou are better placed to think of questions and interesting topics to explore should the audience go quiet. It also means you have less to grapple with when you go live. I have noticed that virtual working does require more preparation and planning. Virtual meetings tolerate less spontaneity, I have found. Conferences are no different.

Tip two — get familiar with the technology

Sounds obvious — but I still had a slight panic when I couldn’t get into the “backstage” section first time! I’m glad we had allowed a few extra minutes for issues like this. If you are chairing its worth acquainting yourselves with the extra functions backstage. You don’t want to be teaching yourself that in public. And you may be using a new platform entirely. Remember the first time you had to navigate Microsoft teams? … Exactly. The “walkthrough session” beforehand was definitely worth it.

Tip three — manage your attention

I found it helpful to take quite detailed notes as the speakers were sharing their stories. It helped me focus 100% on them — which is somehow harder in the virtual format. It also made asking questions easier and homing in on common and interesting themes. I knew I was going to be giving a conference summary at the end and it helped prepare for that too. Themes around wellbeing and resilience kept coming up. The notes helped me weave that into the narrative.

Tip four- prepare for audiences to behave differently

I think audiences are more passive online compared to IRL. There are of course a number of reasons for this. The stresses of working whilst homeschooling, or with care responsibilities, are well known. Both certainly make it harder to give the presenters your undivided attention! The experience can feel more like watching TV than participating in a meeting, so it lends a different mood. Attendees may bemultitasking with email. Or keeping half an eye on their other communication channels, feeling the pressure to be available. And IRL there is the strong social pressure to be seen to be paying attention, which is, of course, absent online.

It’s a wrap — the photo I tweeted at the end.



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Sarah Prescott

Sarah Prescott


Experienced Chief Finance Officer -track record in Welsh social housing and third sector. Chartered Accountant (FCA BFP). Views my own - my space for blogging.