February 5, 2021
PFC Blog

Tips and Tricks for Engaging in Virtual Conferences and Events: A Recap

Merve Guvendiren, Communications and Mobilization Coordinator, PFC

Online meetings and conferences have become a necessity for most organizations in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines and keep communities safe. From fostering engagement virtually to managing new platform technology, virtual conferences and events bring a wide range of opportunities and challenges for nonprofits. 

Last week, I had the opportunity to serve as a panellist for Ontario Nonprofit Network’s webinar, where we discovered how designing inclusive virtual conferences can deepen engagement and shared strategies. With the objective of overcoming logistics and technology challenges when planning and implementing complex virtual events, I highlighted what worked for PFC’s first virtual conference,  Fast-Forward: Harnessing the Power of Philanthropy to Build a Better Tomorrow in 2020, and what my team and I would do differently.

In essence, PFC’s virtual gathering had 12 sessions built with workshops and panels over the course of 3 days. Panellists and participants addressed some of the key issues amplified by COVID-19 in the philanthropic sector on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), sustainability and climate change, and trust-based philanthropy. Overall, the goal was to focus on philanthropy’s role in sustaining and strengthening the positive trends that we’ve been observing, especially when planning for COVID-19 recovery. 

Here are some observations of virtual events:

Pros

Accessibility: PFC offered discounts for young professionals to facilitate networking opportunities within our sector and to be inclusive of program staff. This facilitates a forum for members and sector leaders to interact and network amongst each other, through the creation of a safe and non-hierarchical virtual space that was designed to avoid systematically privileging executives.

Personalization: Online participation in a virtual setting means having the ability to tailor your online identity on a platform. My team and I prioritized allowing users to personalize their accounts. For example, participants could choose their language options, set their pronouns, and build a bio. Accessibility was part of PFC’s main engagement strategy.

Cons

Accessibility: Certain groups are empowered while others are impacted depending on their social, political, and economic COVID-19 new normals in Canada. It’s important to think about intersectionality as an analytical tool to make visible varied privileges that construct civic life, like internet access. It’s key to pay attention to biases and regard user’s COVID-19 accessibility requirements when organizing virtual events.

Digital divide: The digital divide in the non-profit sector in Canada became even more pronounced as the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines became a new reality for most. Consequently, digital literacy impacts learning curves. Both communications infrastructure and digital literacy impose limits for online conference engagement. Access is always related to privilege, and much like the offline world, people are also subject to being oppressed online either due to technical limitations, communications infrastructures, or the digital literacy of our audience. 

To keep the conversation going, archiving resources online and organizing a recap page allowed our audience to go back to recordings, access daily summaries, and view reading materials like blog posts and PFC guides. Archiving is one of the most important tools to invest your time in.

Finally, as lockdowns are gradually being lifted, we are faced with questions on the future of meetings, and how to switch to secure hybrid formats that combine online and onsite meetings.

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