from the ALCTS Program Committee
What is a virtual preconference?
A virtual preconference (VP) or virtual Midwinter symposium (VMS) is a webinar series that takes place before the ALA Annual Conference (or the ALA Midwinter Meeting). The format is somewhat flexible, but the general practice is to schedule two or more webinar sessions sometime during the three-week period preceding the conference.
For example, a three-part virtual preconference may occur over three consecutive days in the same week, at least one week before conference. Presenters, hosts, technical support volunteers or staff, and attendees may participate from almost any location with an Internet connection.
How long has ALCTS been offering virtual preconferences and Midwinter Symposia?
ALCTS began offering virtual preconferences and virtual Midwinter symposia in 2012.
Is there a cost for attendees?
Yes, there is a fee for participants, but they may choose to attend the entire series or one or more selected sessions. ALCTS offers a discount on the entire series.
Do virtual preconference planners or speakers have to register for the event?
No, the ALCTS office will add the planner and the speaker(s) to the roster. The office will send an access link to the planner and speaker(s).
How do I submit a proposal for a virtual preconference?
What are the deadlines for virtual preconferences and symposia?
Planning and promotion for virtual symposia and preconferences are coordinated entirely within ALCTS and are not subject to ALA deadlines. The Program Committee recommends submitting proposals about six months prior to the event. A good rule of thumb is to submit your proposal before the Annual or Midwinter prior to your planned event (i.e., for a virtual preconference to be held around Annual 2018, submit your proposal before Midwinter 2018). We also require the VP planner to meet briefly with the committee during the Midwinter Meeting prior to the event. (VMS planners should communicate or meet with the committee during the Annual prior to the event).
The following elements should be finalized by early March for VPs:
- final title of the preconference
- description (paragraph form – no word limit)
- short description (brief – 1-2 sentences)
- target audience
- individual session titles, dates/times and presenter name, title and affiliation
- presenter contact information including email addresses
How should virtual preconference sessions be scheduled?
VPs should take place within about a three-week window before ALA Annual. ALCTS can only support one virtual event each day, so scheduling of multiple VPs will be coordinated by the ALCTS Office and the Program Committee. The Continuing Education Committee, which schedules ALCTS webinars, will avoid scheduling webinars during most of June.
For two or three sessions, we recommend scheduling them in the same week. For four or five sessions, you may wish to spread them out over a two-week period. We generally do not recommend five sessions on consecutive days during the same week. The Wednesday-Friday of the week that conference begins should be avoided. If you have particular dates in mind, please notify the Program Committee as soon as possible. Usually, ALCTS virtual events will begin in the early afternoon Eastern time, but this may be flexible.
How should each session be structured?
Each session should run from sixty to ninety minutes total, including time for Q&A or discussion. A host will briefly introduce the webinar and each presenter, and take care of any housekeeping or announcements before switching over to the first speaker. It is best not to schedule more than two or three different people to speak within one session, as there can be some awkwardness in the transitions. Plan to allow fifteen minutes for Q&A or discussion (currently handled via chat) for each forty-five minutes of content. The host will monitor questions coming in through chat and can help moderate the Q&A period. The host will wrap up briefly by thanking attendees and sharing information about upcoming ALCTS web events of interest.
What kinds of support are available?
ALCTS provides hosts, technical support, and logistical support.
Hosts perform the following functions during the webinar:
- Welcome attendees
- Introduce presenter(s)
- Make any opening or closing annoucements
- Monitor questions via chat and moderate Q&A if desired by the presenter(s)
- Close session by thanking presenter(s), attendees, and sharing information on upcoming related events
Technical support volunteers perform the following functions:
- Provide coaching and practice on the software before the event
- Monitor chat for technical problems
- Assist participants with audio, video, or other issues
The ALCTS office performs the following functions:
- Setting up the event in GoToWebinar
- Arranging a test run for the event
- Publicity through ALCTS channels (you may also publicize the event through other channels)
- Communication with participants
What are some of the committee’s general recommendations for planners?
A virtual preconference should offer something unique. Remember that even though they’re not spending money to travel to an event, participants are paying for the event.
Just as with in-person preconferences, there should be some practical “takeaway” from the event. Although hands-on exercises and group discussion are more difficult in the webinar format, it’s important to include some interactive aspect. Examples are audience polls and questions or comments via chat.
What are some of the committee’s general recommendations for speakers?
Slides are necessary for webinars. However, don’t read your slides–include the major talking points rather than a script. Use images, graphs, tables, and other illustrative matter whenever appropriate.
Avoid sales pitches.
Be lively! It can be difficult to keep the attention of attendees who can’t see you. You may wish to share a photo of yourself or your city, institution, or other information about you to help make a personal connection. (ALCTS has not used webcams for presenters, but this may be a possibility for the future.)