Aisha Blake

Running Online Tech Conferences

May 07, 2020

Today should have been an absolutely joyous day for me. Today should have been full of music and laughter and spectacle. Today should have been the day the curtain rose on <title of conf>.

For some of us, tech conferences serve the purpose of not only providing a venue for learning and sharing new information but for making new human connections as well. They’re a place to renew old friendships and forge new ones, scout out potential employers, and explore corners of the industry we don’t get a chance to play in during the work week.

This year, amidst rolling waves of tragedy, there’s no safe way to hold the in-person industry events we love.

That means we need to rely on online (or remote) events, which come with their own benefits and challenges! They’re all we have right now but there’s an argument for continuing to support online events into the future. Typically, the cost of putting on a remote event will be considerably lower than its (rough) in-person equivalent. In addition to being accessible to anyone with an internet connection (a barrier in itself), online events pass those savings on to attendees.

Of course travel would be restricted this year whether we forged ahead with our online conferences or not, but no more in-person conferences means no more conference travel. The time and money that went into shuffling through airports and booking fancy hotel rooms to nap in can be redirected elsewhere. Things were getting so out of hand that I’d noticed some folks stop attending events outside their local area entirely and some conferences begin attempting to offset their carbon footprint.

But it’s a bit of a balancing act. There are still marketing and production costs to be paid and yet attendees seem to expect online-only content to be free. Some speakers may need equipment or training in order to deliver a solid performance. Not everyone who can deliver a stirring keynote to a live audience knows how to elicit the same feelings in their viewers through the lens of a camera.

This post is a detailed look at my thoughts on running an online tech conference.

I’ll keep it updated as I learn new things and my opinions change. I’ll also use this as a kind of hub for any related blog posts that I write!

Not sure where to start as an online conference organizer? Kevin Lewis gave a wonderful presentation called “So you want to run an online event” for DevRelCon Earth 2020.

Accessibility

Any conference site you create should be designed, built, and tested for accessibility, just like any other. You’ll also need to audit whatever platform you choose to broadcast the event. There are a few additional considerations to take into account.

Captions

Providing captions for your video content is absolutely essential. The best option is to contract with a professional live captioning service. You’ll get the best quality captions from humans listening to each speaker as opposed to automated captions which rely on everyone enunciating very clearly. Even with everyone doing their best, automated captioning tools simply might not recognize every word your speakers say.

Reach out to White Coat Captioning to arrange captioning services.

Share your favorite service providers with me on Twitter. I’d love to add more options to this post!

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Aisha Blake

Blog by Aisha Blake, a speaker, teacher, and Staff Software Engineer at Gatsby. Say hi on Twitter!