April 28, 2020

Large gatherings, conferences and events started to be postponed or canceled in January due to the COVID-19 outbreak and its potential to rapidly spread through congregated groups. Many organizations around the globe have taken to virtual conferences and other forms of internet communication to continue their mission of publishing cutting-edge research, educating, networking and connecting during this time of social distancing.

As leaders in innovation and technology, IEEE has shifted to holding a large number of its conferences virtually. Virtual conferences provide alternative methods of live participation for authors or keynote speakers, help build community and offer opportunities to create new or reuse existing content.

“IEEE immediately began to track affected conferences, develop communications and protocols and reach out to support conference organizers and sponsors with guidance, tools and services. Since that time, this team has provided guidance to over 1,800 conferences and sponsors, working around the clock to accommodate every timezone,” says Marie Hunter, Senior Director of IEEE Meetings, Conferences and Events. “Our conference publishing activity remains strong.”

As the virus began to spread internationally, IEEE worked with organizers to make the tough decision if they should cancel or postpone. While a small number did decide to cancel, “many of our organizers have embraced virtual technologies to move forward with their events and break new ground with ‘all-virtual’ or hybrid events,” says Hunter.

The IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference (CICC), held March 22- March 25, showcased that a quick transition to an entirely virtual conference is possible with a lot of teamwork and communication.

“Our digital team produced a multi-day event with multiple tracks, keynotes and interactive sessions providing authors feedback and insight,” says Hunter. “With very short lead time the team coached the volunteers on re-designing the program for digital presentation, worked to train track chairs on utilizing the tool selected for the program and rehearsed keynotes and presenters where possible. It was an outstanding partnership between volunteers and professional staff with great outcomes for the authors, organizers and sponsors..”

Hunter says that with the success of CICC, “in addition to general support that we provide, over 100 organizers have requested to work directly with our digital team for production and tools for a virtual program. We have had to pivot quickly to accommodate the unprecedented volumes and our event producers are scheduled back-to-back through the summer.”

The IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces was another conference that utilized technology in a unique way through the use of a virtual environment platform. “The virtual experience merges video conferencing, video streaming and online chat platforms,” reports an article in Georgia Tech’s Horizons. “The platform operates in most web browsers, and conference attendees can join whether or not they have a VR device. As with an in-person conference, participants will watch and discuss talks, take part in parallel sessions and network one-on-one while interacting through avatars.”

While the entire conference and hospitality industry is eager to resume in-person conferences and events as soon as it is safe to do so, online conferences are a way to continue important work and research, while still networking with fellow industry professionals. Hunter’s team collaborated with the IEEE Conferences Committee to publish a guide to virtual events to provide insight and support to decision makers.

“It is important to have your priorities straight and the health and safety of the community is of paramount importance,” says Hunter.


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