Fostering Delight in Your Conference Experience
The information community’s reaction to NISO Plus 2020, nearly a year ago, was more than anyone could have hoped for. We set out to re-think how a conference could be structured, with the focus on conversation instead of presentation — and we succeeded! For each topic, our expert speakers first set the stage, and then we ensured that there was plenty of time for both experts and attendees to discuss it further, identify areas of opportunity or friction, and consider how stakeholders could work together in progressing towards solutions.
Then, of course, the rest of 2020 happened, and everything changed. Suddenly, we found ourselves having to design a new sort of conference experience — again, from scratch — this time, moving fully digital. Rather than fall back on the sage-on-the-stage approach of traditional presentations (easy to do virtually) we wanted to maintain our focus on conversation and discussion among attendees and speakers (not so easy to do virtually). And, by going digital first with our planning, we could also work to be much more inclusive globally, building a Planning Committee that was extraordinarily diverse (27 people from 12 countries, at all career stages, and working across all our stakeholder groups), to ensure that the conference would also be truly global.
To achieve our goals, we will be using a variety of different platforms at NISO Plus 2021. Each was chosen very deliberately, and each has a particular role to play in the conference experience. And they may not all work out! We are very aware of the experimental aspect of trying to pull this off — this is the largest event that NISO has ever produced (we expect around 700 attendees!), the most globally diverse (more than 20 countries are already represented, from every continent except Antarctica), and has more sessions (50+) and speakers (160+) than we normally deal with in a year of “normal” programming. Not to mention the fact that we are splitting the program across two broad time zones to enable everyone to attend who wants to!
So here is a rundown of the various tools that attendees, speakers, and moderators will come into contact with, together with resources to help you understand them, and a little information about why we chose each one and how we hope it will help make the NISO Plus 2021 experience unique.
Sched (Explore https://nisoplus21.sched.com/)
The “home” of NISO Plus 2021, Sched is the tool we’re using to manage the session schedule and speaker information, and to provide access to every part of the program. If you’re registered for the conference, your Sched login will let you build a personalized schedule, and opening any session will display the links to view the video recording for the session, to join the discussion in Zoom, or to access any of the other tools we’re using. Start all your NISO Plus 2021 journeys here!
Gather.town (Explore http://gather.town)
Perhaps the most unusual — and least familiar — tool we’re using, gather.town is a rather different sort of virtual networking space. You are represented by a small video-game-esque avatar that you move around by using the arrow keys on your keyboard; as you approach other attendees’ avatars, you will start to hear and see them in “real life” via their camera and mic. We are going to be using gather.town for our social events, as well as keeping the space open for attendees during the entire conference, so that you can hang out, find friends, hold an impromptu meeting, or just relax. Please plan to join us in gather.town for a virtual cocktail/mocktail party (sponsored by Crossref) and an art event/show (sponsored by EBSCO), as well as to play games, relax in front of a video, and more.
We’ve created some preliminary instructions for how gather.town works here and, if you’re attending the conference, look out for a sneak-preview invitation to hang out with us there the week before the conference.
Cadmore Media (Explore https://niso.cadmoremedia.com/)
NISO Plus member and sponsor, Cadmore Media, is our video partner for the conference. We are pre-recording most sessions to enable a more seamless experience for attendees and speakers. With NISO Plus happening across multiple time zones and up to four tracks happening at once, we’re also providing asynchronous access to the recordings so that everyone has access to all the content — in real time, before, and after the conference..
When each session starts, you simply need to click the Video link in Sched to launch the “watch party” for the recorded session. Everyone will watch “together”, interacting with each other and the speakers via the Chat functionality. Once the “watch party” viewing of the video ends, attendees will see a link to the Zoom room where we’ll be hosting a discussion about each topic.
Zoom (Explore https://zoom.us)
I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain Zoom to anyone at this point in time! It’s the platform we will be using for live, real-time conversations during the conference, as well as for a handful of live sessions (some of the keynotes, the awards ceremony, and the lightning talks). Zoom’s helpful range of tools (breakout rooms, polling, live chat, video, etc) will enable and enhance the interactive elements of NISO Plus 2021 everyone.
Discourse (Explore https://discourse.niso.org/)
Finally, each session will have a thread associated with it on the NISO Discourse community forum. Discourse is a forum platform that allows ongoing discussions threaded around specific topics (for an example that’s already up and running, please see the PIDForum). We have chosen to use Discourse because we hope that attendees and speakers will want to continue the conversations we start at NISO Plus after the event. . And, because the conference itself is spread across so many time zones, we also want to have a tool in place to enable asynchronous discussions so that everyone can participate, wherever they are located, even if they can’t be available for the Zoom conversation.
A Choice to Deliver Attendee Delight
The word that I used again and again with the Planning Committee to describe what I was hoping for as we put together the conference was “delight”. Whatever choices we made, platforms we used, or sessions we planned for NISO Plus 2021, we continually asked ourselves if our choices would make the conference more delightful for attendees. While we’re using a variety of platforms, each was chosen for a reason, and we’ve constructed the flow of the conference to help everyone enjoy their experience of NISO Plus 2021.
There’s a lot of experimentation, and a lot of unknowns, to be sure. But we can’t wait to see how it all goes and to hear what you think about NISO Plus 2021.