Back in May-June, we surveyed the MCG community to gauge interest in us running this year’s conference online and learn from your experiences of attending virtual events. Thank you very much to the 77 people who participated!
Interest in a virtual MuseTech2020
Although about a third of participants (34%) had not previously attended an in-person MCG conference, all participants said they would consider attending an online version. Comments indicated that a virtual MuseTech2020 would be more inclusive – increasing the number of people able to attend, while providing flexibility to fit into everyone’s busy schedules.
As a result, we have decided that we will be running a virtual conference this year.
The vast majority (93%) of participants would pay to attend a virtual MuseTech2020, with nearly half (43%) saying the maximum they would be willing to pay was £20.
Cost was a concern for several participants (particularly given the current situation) with some suggesting a ‘pay what you can’ model. We thought this was an excellent idea – while we will need to charge a small fee to those who can afford it (to cover our costs), we would not want cost to prevent anyone from attending.
As online conferences provide more scheduling flexibility, we wanted to know if people would prefer the event to be spread over multiple days instead of one full day. This was definitely the case, with only 18% selecting the full-day option, and a fairly even split between two separate half-day sessions and a series of short sessions over several days.
For reasons of practicality, we have decided to hold the conference over two days on 9-10 December. It will include short sessions, with a variety of presentation formats (see below), and long breaks.
Virtual conference experiences
Slightly less than half of participants (44.7%) had previously attended online conferences – many of them shared their experiences and concerns in the later survey questions.
Participants had used a combined total of 14 platforms, with some mentioning more than one. Zoom (mentioned by 21 participants) was clearly the most familiar, although two or more participants also mentioned GoTo Webinar, Teams, YouTube and Second Life. Most participants had positive or neutral experiences with these platforms and particularly liked features such as breakout rooms, moderation capabilities, and text-based chat for questions and discussion. We are still discussing which platform to use for MuseTech2020 but will definitely take your comments into account when making our decision.
We did not specifically ask about presentation formats in the survey but had a lot of comments in the free text fields. Several participants were keen that we do not attempt to replicate an in-person conference, and suggested rethinking presentation formats, or sharing presentations in advance, followed by a live discussion session. One participant recommended that speakers should be briefed in advance on how to operate the platform and adjust their presentation style for an online audience.
As a result, we will be offering shorter presentation lengths (5 or 10 minutes), as well as the option to present a poster rather than a talk. We will make sure to provide guidance and support to presenters in the run-up to the event and will probably ask for talks to be recorded in advance (even as a backup in case of technical issues on the day).
Ten participants mentioned that they would like us to share presentations afterwards. This is something we usually do for in-person conferences anyway and will definitely make sure to do so after this year’s virtual event.
Another topic that came up frequently in comments was the importance of moderating sessions effectively. Recommendations included having a designated person responsible for managing the technology, as well as disabling microphones and screen sharing capabilities for non-speakers. To ensure everything runs smoothly at MuseTech2020, each of our sessions will have a technical support person as well as a chair.
Time-keeping was also mentioned as being particularly important for online events, as some people may choose to only attend particular sessions or talks. This would be a definite advantage of asking for presentations in advance, although we will also make sure to brief our session chairs appropriately.
Several participants mentioned the importance of ensuring accessibility, such as providing live subtitling. We are therefore planning to consult with experts to ensure our event is as accessible as possible.
Other comments related to communication, to ensure that we provide clear instructions and support to both speakers and attendees, while keeping the event link private (to avoid ‘Zoom-bombing’).
By far the most common concern was the potential lack of social interaction, (mentioned by 21 participants), as this is a major reason why many people attend in-person MCG events. Suggestions included a virtual ‘MuseProsGetCoffee’, which we are definitely planning on doing, as well as themed discussions in small groups. We have added themed breakout groups as a new presentation format for this year – you can propose to chair a discussion on a topic of your choice, and other attendees can sign up to take part.
Following the survey, we are planning to run a virtual MuseTech2020 conference, held over two half days on 9-10 December, with registration based on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ model. We will take your comments into account when choosing a platform and ensure that presenters and attendees are supported throughout.
Our Call for Proposals is out now (deadline 4 September 2020) with the theme of ‘Museums in a Crisis’, including new presentation formats such as posters and themed breakout groups. We are really looking forward to receiving your submissions and hope to ‘see’ you in December!