Looking back on a year of organising virtual events

Exactly one year ago, the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe. All on-site events had to be cancelled and we had to rethink our entire program. Our Course and Conference Officers worked really hard to create a virtual equivalent of EMBL’s on-site training offering.  We successfully launched our first virtual conference and many more followed. 

The learning curve was steep and so was the stress level. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Two of our Conference Officers, Nathalie and Diah, share with us their experience from being in the eye of the storm, the lessons they have learned and some tips for organising a virtual meeting.

Conference Officers Nathalie and Diah
Conference Officers Nathalie (left) and Diah

How does organising a virtual event compare to organising an on-site event?

Diah: “It is a different world, but equally fun! Organising a virtual event is harder than people think and often more challenging. Not getting to see anyone in person and mastering all sorts of virtual platforms can be quite tough.”

Nathalie: “Some of the milestones we have are the same, for example: preparing the website, programme, opening registration, emails with participants and invited speakers, abstract review and selection… But a huge bulk of the work is totally different: instead of booking buses and ordering catering, we are setting up Zoom webinars and populating the virtual platform.

The massive change has been adapting to the new tasks we have to do and how we should do them consistently for all our events. In our team we have numerous working groups looking at areas of event organisation and creating guidelines, procedures and templates that will help us all. It really is a whole team effort!”

Read: Why do we charge fees for virtual events?

What kind of feedback do you get from participants, speakers and organisers?

Nathalie: “The feedback I have received from speakers and participants has been great: they are so happy we converted our event to virtual instead of cancelling/postponing it. Initially a few speakers were disappointed for the event to turn virtual but the same people commented afterwards that they were impressed with how well it went. What is wonderful is that it is still so beneficial for them in their continued research.”

Diah: “Very humbling! Many agree that onsite face-to-face events are somehow irreplaceable but at the same time they are amazed at the number of benefits virtual events offer too! They give you more flexibility: you don’t have to travel across the world. Also, some people feel more comfortable asking questions in the virtual format. ”

What is the most important lesson you have learned about organising virtual events?

Nathalie: “It’s been necessary for us to turn to virtual events but the lessons we have learned are that virtual events are effective, valuable and have many advantages! We’ve noticed that participants feel more comfortable asking questions during Q&A, that virtual talks have had a wonderful response, that virtual networking works well and you can meet different people from all over the world just at your desk!

On a bigger scale, virtual events mean less travel and a lower carbon footprint and they are more inclusive as they allow some people to participate who couldn’t have done so before. This is hugely important and is a very positive outcome of this difficult situation and it will have an impact on how events are organised in the future.”

What do you miss most about on-site events?

Diah: “The buzz when everyone arrives and the ATC is full of people is very exciting – after all the planning, everyone is there! And my favourite moment is the end of the conference: everyone is smiling and happy and you wave goodbye to the buses that leave EMBL. That sense of relief and accomplishment at the same time. I miss that!”

Nathalie: “Parties! One of the best things about the onsite events is meeting the speakers and participants you’ve been in touch with for months and when it comes to the conference party, it is really fun to see everyone let their hair down and enjoy themselves! And taking silly pictures at the Photobooth with people is something I loved and a really cute memento of the conference. That is a small thing I miss too!”

What in your opinion makes virtual events better than on-site events?

Nathalie: “The inclusiveness: more participants can take part as there is not the same financial barrier (travel, accommodation) and people can join from anywhere in the world.”

Diah: “Virtual events are resilient. There is no need to cancel an event because of the weather or a disaster. Participants can attend the event from anywhere!”

Conference Officer Diah wearing a face mask in an empty auditorium during a virtual event
Conference Officer Diah working a shift in an empty Auditorium

A common criticism is that networking doesn’t work well in the virtual world. What is your experience with virtual social events?

Nathalie: “I think it is great to see how Zoom breakout rooms allow people to mix in small groups or 1-to-1. Particularly the speed networking translates very well.”

Diah: “It’s my favorite part of the programme and I am amazed at how well it has been accepted and running so far. We have had live-streamed concerts and participants love it. At one conference some of the scientific organisers even stayed for the whole duration of the social session and wanted to continue mingling even after it had finished.”

Read our blog on virtual speednetworking.

Top tips to keep in mind while organising a virtual event?

Nathalie: “First of all – be open-minded. There are so many new technologies out there and different things you can try!

Have clear guidelines and templates: you use so many different apps and systems that saving time when setting things up can be a lifesaver!”

Diah: “I would also say: Test, test and test. Glitches are always likely to happen, so be prepared and stay calm.”

Read our blog for more tips on how to organise a virtual event

How do you see the future of EMBL Events?

Nathalie: “I hope we will embrace this new world of virtual events and have effective hybrid events in the future: allowing for face-to-face interaction for those who want to come on-site, but also giving the opportunity for those who prefer to join virtually and get the benefit of being part of the event without having to leave their home!”

Diah: “I think hybrid events will take a central place in the format of EMBL Events in the future. But whatever the format will be, we will keep improving and finding the best way to support the scientific community.”

Looking back in general, what are your thoughts?

Diah and Nathalie: “It has been very rewarding during the last year to see how we at EMBL have been able to adapt to the situation we have found ourselves in and been able to ensure that we can still provide a platform for scientific exchange. The aim of EICAT is to provide excellent training to scientists, and, despite the challenges, this is being achieved virtually for the first time! We are really proud of being able to provide opportunities for this exchange of knowledge and research.

Personally, this time has also been one of continuous learning for all of us on the team. We have developed our skills and experience in a number of ways and massively increased our knowledge of online platforms and tools! It has truly been a time of teamwork as we have adapted into the virtual event world and we are grateful to everyone involved: our marketing team, our Photolab technicians, designers and scientific organisers. It has been a challenging but very valuable learning experience!”

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New year’s resolutions…and how to actually stick to them!

A new year, a fresh start!

After a well-deserved break and with enough time to think about last year’s achievements, you start off the new year with a clean slate.

That paper really needs to be published as soon as possible, you finally have to start networking, you want to learn how to use R, be less distracted by other things in your home-office, and you definitely want to impress everyone with a great talk at an important conference.

Sounds great! However, the thing about New Year’s resolutions is: most people can’t stick to them. By the time February comes around, chances are that you have already given up. Here are some tips to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions:

List of New Year's resolutions

One goal at a time

Don’t make a list of goals that you try to achieve all at the same time. You may be an intelligent soul, however, we humans are just simple creatures. People are most productive when they focus on 1 or 2 priorities, instead of a whole list. So, focus on one thing, finish it, and then go on to the next. That way, you are more likely to succeed.

A (wo)man with a plan

It’s called a goal, not a dream. Your goal should be reachable and realistic. Define the goal and steps needed to reach the goal. Make it SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Example

Goal: you want to learn more about data visualisation so you can use it in your articles.

SMART goal: I will attend at least 1 course in 2021, to learn more about data visualisation.  I will make a list of possible courses by February 1st, in order to meet my goal in time.

See how your goal comes to life by making it SMART? I bet you are more dedicated to achieving your goal now that you have these specifics parameters.

Make it a habit

It’s all about creating good habits – and that takes time. If you want to finish the paper you have been working on for ages but keep getting distracted, make it a habit not to check your email in the morning. That way, you can stay focused on your long-term goal. Try this for at least 2 months and it will feel like you have never done it any differently before.

Reward yourself

Yes, you are an adult and it might seem silly dangling a carrot in front of your own nose, but it works. So reward yourself with something nice. Just a note: if your goal is to stay more focused, don’t reward yourself with indulging in an hour-long Reddit rabbit hole, but rather with something completely unrelated to the resolution. Perhaps pick up a nice meal at your favorite restaurant instead.

Support network

Tell your colleagues, friends, and family about your intentions so they can support you. They might be able to give you a pep talk when you are down, some tough love when you are slacking, or maybe they will even join your efforts.

Tips & Tricks

Don’t invent the wheel yourself. Not knowing how to do something might leave you postponing it endlessly. Luckily for you, there are always tips & tricks that can help you out. Looking for tips on how to create a virtual poster? Or to record a short talk no one will forget? Or how to avoid awkward silences during networking? We’ve got you covered!

Possible New Year’s Resolutions

If the pandemic has worn you out and you are feeling pretty apathetic about your research, your job or your life, these possible New Year’s Resolutions might help get you off the couch.

Become more focused at work

Home-office life is hard on everyone, but there are things you can do to become more focused. First, you need to examine why you are distracted easily. That way you can define your SMART goal.

If you check your email all the time, set a goal not to check your mail until 1 pm every day. Or if your workspace is a mess, try to create a more peaceful environment. Or maybe you aren’t focuse, because you don’t have an overview of what needs to be done. Try making a structured plan with a timeline. If stress is the underlying problem, try meditating or sign up for mindfulness. 

Make yourself more visible

Showing off your skills and potential doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For most people, it is hard work making themselves and their research visible.

Networking: A goal for this year can be to have at least 5 network conversations with people in your research field. Update your LinkedIn profile, join networking activities and schedule meetings with relevant people. Don’t know how to start? Take a look at these tips from EMBLs career advisor. 

Presenting at a conference: Making yourself visible by giving a short talk or a poster presentation would also be a great goal.  If you are going to present a virtual poster, these tips might help you out. Have you been selected for a flash talk? Don’t take this lightly and prepare yourself using these tips. 

Gaining skills or knowledge

A good researcher always tries to keep up with the newest insights. Read the latest articles, get relevant newsletters, and follow relevant accounts on Twitter. But sometimes you need to step up your game a little – apply for a course, join a conference, or take training in personal effectiveness or leadership.

Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about new conferences and courses.

Do you have New Year’s Resolutions? We are curious to know about them. Drop us a message or a Tweet. 

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Win a free registration to a 2021 conference of your choice

This year didn’t quite go as planned, but we are ready to kick-start 2021 the right way. That is why we are giving away four free registrations to a 2021 conference of your choice.

How can you win? 

Quite simply: 

  1. Caption this! Leave your answer on the picture of our yeast cell mascots Buddy and Holly on Instagram or Facebook. Be creative!Buddy & Holly, mascots of EMBL Events
  2. Or perhaps if Twitter is more your thing, reply to our tweet using #EMBLEventsCompetition and finish the sentence.

Terms and Conditions of Participation

  1. General Conditions 

By entering the competition, participants agree to the terms and conditions of participation as follows:

  • This competition is run by the EMBL Course and Conference Office, and is open to everyone except EMBL Staff and their family members.
  • The competition will run from 10 – 24 December 2020.
  • Participants are permitted to enter this competition more than once.
  • Entries submitted after 24 December 2020 will not be accepted.
  • Only replies to the original EMBL Events posts and tweets using the hashtag will run in the competition. 
  • All participants must be at least 18 years old.
  • Any application that does not meet these criteria will not be eligible.
  • This competition is not endorsed, sponsored, or administered by Facebook or Instagram. Facebook and Instagram are not in any way responsible for entrants or participants.
  • Your entry to this competition constitutes your agreement to allow your name and country of residence to be published and shared for an unlimited number of times on the EMBL social media channels, and may be used for other purposes at the discretion of EMBL’s Course and Conference Office.
  • By entering, participants agree to grant EMBL’s Course and Conference Office the rights to use their submission/comments/caption on the EMBL Events’ social media channels, blog, email campaigns and promotional materials for an unlimited number of times. 
  • By entering, participants warrant that their entry materials are original and do not infringe on any third party’s rights.
  • By entering, participants release EMBL and the members of the jury from any liability for any incorrect information, loss, claim, or damage of any kind arising from or in connection with the competition or any prize won. EMBL shall have the right to verify, in its sole judgment, winner eligibility.
  • Decisions of EMBL shall be final and binding


    2. Prizes

  • Facebook and Instagram contest: 2 registrations for a 2021 conference of choice.
  • Twitter contest: 2 registrations for a 2021 conference.
  • Event listing of confirmed events can be found on our website.
  • The free registrations are not transferable to conferences past 2021 or to another person. 

3. Winner Selection

  • The EMBL Course and Conference Office will select the winners from all comments posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The winners are selected by the EMBL Events marketing team.
  • The winners will be contacted by the EMBL Course and Conference Office via the social media channel they used for their entry. They will have 2 weeks to respond, otherwise another winner will be selected.
  • The winners will be made public on or before January 25th.
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