This is the second of two posts reflecting on Global Maritime History’s recent digital conference on “Maritime Toxic Masculinity” with some thoughts from the conference organizers, Kelsey Power and Sarah Pickman. Read our first post to see our reflections and suggestions for creating a digital conference, recruiting participants, and managing conference logistics.
Getting Things in Order
After we recruited our participants, and when the presenters had their files ready, we asked them to upload them to a dedicated conference Dropbox folder. We set up a free Dropbox account and sent the link and uploading instructions to all of the participants.
Once the presentations began to arrive in the Dropbox folder, we set up dedicated pages on the website for the conference. Each of the four conference panels had its own page, with the presenters’ names and bios, the presentation abstracts, and the presentations. Each page also had a comments section at the bottom. Each was linked to a main conference program page that listed all four of the panels, with abstracts. Essentially, we prepared a page for each of the four conference panels but did not yet set them to go live just yet.
For presenters who had sent us audio files, we uploaded them to Global Maritime History’s WordPress media library, and embedded the files directly into the page. For files that combined audio and visuals (most as .mov files), we uploaded these files to a dedicated, hidden YouTube channel, then embedded the files on the Global Maritime History site using the links from YouTube.
Launching the Conference
“Launching” the digital conference on the set conference date and at the set time was relatively straightforward. The two organizers discussed who would be responsible for ensuring each conference page went live, at the correct time, and tweeting about each presentation using the conference hashtag. We asked presenters if they had Twitter handles, and if so, encouraged them to respond directly to any questions posed by audience members using the conference hashtag. However, the designated “tweeter” was also responsible for cross-posting any questions or comments posed via Twitter on the comments section of each web page, and vice versa. This was done to ensure that both conference presenters and attendees who did not have Twitter accounts could participate in the discussion. One of the conference organizers later grouped conference-related tweets together using Twitter Moments, to make these tweets easier to locate afterwards. Ed. Note: Twitter has since removed the Moments feature.
Coordination between the conference organizers was key on these points, in order to keep the conference rolling along smoothly, and especially since the organizers themselves were separated by several time zones.
Challenges and Successes
Overall, the “Maritime Toxic Masculinity” digital conference was a great success. We received lots of interest from digital audience members and positive feedback from the participants. Our presenters told us that it was “wonderful to be part of such a unique conference,” that the format and papers were “exciting” and “so awesome,” and that “the accessibility of digital conferencing is the way of the future” (real tweet!) We were very impressed with the quality of the presentations and how well they engaged with the conference theme. We were also impressed with the creativity of the participants, who created presentations ranging from podcast-style audio recordings, to integrated audio and Powerpoint presentations, to short films, to audio recordings of roundtable-style discussions.
Since we made the decision to leave the conference presentations on the Global Maritime History website indefinitely, with the permission of the presenters, we have continued to receive many hits on the presentations. Organizers of other digital conferences have chosen to leave presentations online for a set period of time only, and restrict questions and comments to those who “registered” in advance as attendees. However, we felt it was important for the conference materials to be as widely accessible as possible. (In theory, we left the option open for anyone watching or listening to the conference presentations in the future to respond to the material by leaving comments or questions in the comments section of each web page. In practice, this has only happened a few times.)
And, thoughtful conference organizers will always send a follow-up email to their participants, thanking them for their great contributions – and for taking a chance on a new and unorthodox conference format!
Reflecting on the conference after several months, the main feature we’d like to improve going forward is growing the engagement of our online audience in the conference. One possible route to explore is to recruit individuals to “chair” the panels. The chairs could work with the conference organizers and presenters, but would also help to seed questions and engagement with others on Twitter. These chairs could be people recommended by the panel members (if they have anyone they want to recommend) and could serve to increase the reach of the conference outside of the followers of the Global Maritime History website or conference Twitter hashtag. Another possibility to increase engagement would be to do away with the panel format altogether and try to schedule presentations to go live when the speaker is best able to respond immediately to questions. One of the benefits of a digital conference is that conference organizers can be flexible and try “tweaks” like these that would not work in a traditional conference format!
The organizers of “Maritime Toxic Masculinity” would like to thank all of the participants for their fantastic presentations, and for taking a chance on this new conference format! Please do check out their presentations, and look out for Global Maritime History’s next digital conference CFP!