Online Conferences and the Case of the Missing Links

Since the COVID pandemic, I’ve attended a few online conferences. One would think that online conferences would have all sorts of benefits, especially for an introvert such as myself. However, after a number of them now, I have seen a pattern in logistical failures.

Usually when I attend a conference in real life, I rely on maps, signs, and addresses or room and floor numbers to get to where I want to go. If in doubt, just ask a person walking by or follow the noise or the crowd. If there’s a sign missing or people are confused, there is usually someone (ie. hotel staff, bystander) on site who can provide a hint or is taping up extra signs.

With virtual conferences, however, there are none of those physical indicators to guide a person to where they need to be. It’s much like arriving to an infinitely large hotel where the conference is being held, but finding it empty with no signs or noises. You wander around, looking for people, searching for noises and signage for the conference and find nothing.

There is nothing more frustrating than being told to go someplace then finding no indication of activity.

From idginsiderpro.com

The pattern I’ve been seeing with online conferences is a lack of signage.

You go to the conference website, register, get a greeting email then…..nothing. You’ve arrived in the building but see no further signage.

Where are the presentations? How do you see them?

Multiple times I have registered for a conference, arrived at the conference site, then had to wander around looking for how to enter the meeting rooms.

I can only imagine what it must be like for those with disabilities, such as blindness or deafness. How would they find their way without the usual physical indicators and additional explicit virtual guidance?

Another pattern I found is that the conference presenters put the meeting links in the program. This is, of course, without any explanation that this is location of the meeting links. You’re just supposed to know. Meanwhile, my fog of frustration usually grows and darkens as I check webpage after webpage, link after website link, to no avail.

And, yes, I usually do scan the program prior to the conference. In fact, usually weeks prior to the conference. In these cases, the program doesn’t yet include meeting link, and, because there’s no explicit direction that the meeting links are to be found within the program, I have no further motivation to retrieve a revised program.

In addition to all this, links in the conference program are often difficult to see, especially for people who are viewing on smaller devices or are visually impaired.

So this is a general plea:

If you are coordinating a conference or online meeting, please, please, clearly and explicitly state where registrants must go to find the meeting links. State it again and again and again, much like you would post repetitive signage at a physical venue. If you don’t do this, people may wander aimlessly before finally just giving up and going back to their regularly scheduled day job. Because, with online conferences, participants are quite free to return home without incurring additional airfare fees.

Further Reading

LinkedIn: Why are we getting more and more frustrated with online events?

ExhibitorOnline: Tips for Avoiding Virtual-Event Failure

Scientific American: Virtual Conferences Aren’t as Accessible as You Might Think

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