Saarland University: the future of international conferences is hybrid
Hosting an International Hybrid Conference with Zoom Events
The future of international conferences is categorically the hybrid solution. It quite clearly gives us greater reach and allows for much more participation.
Prof. Astrid FellnerChair of North American Literature and Culture at Saarland University and Director of the UniGR-Center for Border Studies at Saarland University
Finding ways, building bridges, and thinking and working across borders: the team around Prof. Astrid Fellner, Chair of North American Literature and Culture at Saarland University and Director of the UniGR-Center for Border Studies at Saarland University, was able to do it all when charged with organizing the international conference "Border Renaissance: Recent Developments in Territorial, Cultural, and Linguistic Border Studies 2022". For a long time, it wasn't clear how the conference could happen, which is why Prof. Fellner's team ultimately opted for a hybrid solution.
It turned out to be a good decision, as the organizers, predominantly academics rather than dedicated event pros, were able to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Zoom Team and ultimately put on a highly professional conference with a very international set of participants: 151 attendees from more than 30 countries took part in the event online, bringing the total number of conference participants, including all speakers and physical participants at Saarland University, to a rather impressive 250. 30 Speaker Slots were presented in a clear and visually appealing format, while the academics had plenty of opportunity to talk shop thanks to the Zoom Events Expo features.
The biggest challenge from the point of view of the organizers, who themselves regularly attend conferences, was hosting and presenting rooms in parallel without losing participants along the way – either for technical reasons or because they didn't feel well looked after and integrated. When the decision was taken to host the conference in hybrid format, with all the challenges that entails, Zoom had just spruced up its comprehensive portfolio of communication solutions to include new Zoom Events features and quickly became the organizers' preferred software solution.
Participants appreciated the outstanding flexibility and user-friendliness and in providing feedback stated that by using Zoom Events, the organizers had managed to create a really wonderful and attractive setting for the conference not just in terms of content but also in terms of organization. In order to ensure participants have a solid overview and to ensure exclusivity, the principle of Zoom Events is that participants receive a ticket and set up an account prior to any event hosted via Zoom Events so that they are clearly recognizable.
Pulling the strings to ensure a successful conference was Eva Nossem, Translator and Academic Coordinator at the UniGR-Center for Border Studies. As Lead Coordinator, and with a highly professional ambition, Eva took on overall responsibility and, from a technical perspective as well, was daring and motivated in her efforts to get the project up and running properly, working side by side with the Zoom Support Team: "It certainly felt like running a marathon," says Eva Nossem, "but I have to say that the three-week lead time and the dedicated support from the Zoom Team were enough for me to properly explore the tool and the features and to set up the tech for the conference and the expo and populate them with content."
With this setup, Eva Nossem was not only able to run 28 individual meetings and up to five sessions in parallel. She was also able to send out a decent follow-up email after the conference, with pictures and videos, via Zoom Events with minimal effort, tying up the event with a neat little bow. Now she wants to put on other conferences with Zoom Events too – after decades of attending conferences, the Coordinator says that this solution offers a new way of meeting. Astrid Fellner adds, "The future of international conferences is categorically the hybrid solution. It quite clearly gives us greater reach and allows for much more participation." There is one thing that both organizers agree on above all else: that the professionalism they were after was achieved through good planning and different features like Live Streaming. With the right level of effort during preparations, hybrid conferences feel like "real" conferences and are undoubtedly a more sustainable model for the future. Because we have all learned that being conscious of travel times and resources of all kinds is not only possible, but sensible.