The International Communication Association’s Asynchronous, On-Demand Virtual Meeting a Rousing Success with Attendees
January 12, 2022
“Cadmore was crucial in regaining the trust of our attendees by helping us come back strong from a wobbly first fully virtual year (with another provider). Our second fully virtual meeting during the pandemic, using Cadmore, was a huge success, with engaged scholars, vibrant discussions, and such a positive outpouring of support and love from our members. Cadmore was there every step of the way, from conceptualization through implementation to reporting at the end—never overpromising what they couldn’t deliver, never talking down to us about tech stuff—and they even monitored our conference hashtag on Twitter to swoop in to provide tech support to individual attendees before I could even alert them there was a need. Cadmore is hands-down the best vendor we’ve ever worked with…for anything.”
– Laura Sawyer, MA, CAE – ICA Executive Director/CEO
The International Communication Association’s 71st Annual Meeting was originally scheduled to be held in Denver in May 2021. Due to the pandemic, the organizers realized months in advance they would need to plan for a virtual-only event. Being a community of professional communicators, the organizers knew that the ability for attendees to engage with one another and with the content would be a high priority, and being able to do so in multiple ways would have a significant impact on the overall event’s success. After selecting Cadmore’s virtual event platform in September 2020, the two teams outlined an event architecture that would maximize personal interactions and showcase presentation content.
After months of collaboration, when the meeting ran over Memorial Day weekend 2021, engagement levels seen on the virtual platform were well above expectations. Over the course of four and a half days, over 10,000 comments were made on the platform. Participation rates were high; of 2,400 users with profiles, 70% of them made at least one comment. Of the nearly 2,600 videos posted to the site, 80% were commented upon. User reactions to the ability to comment on individual video presentations were favorable, with one attendee noting that “I am a fan of being able to ask/reply to questions asynchronously rather than on-the-spot in live sessions when time is always tight for Q&A. Also, there’s space for comments (sometimes purely ‘this is fascinating!’) and not just a question.” Another added, “already notice how much easier it feels to give positive feedback to people’s presentations (since I don’t have to wait and ambush speakers after everyone has left). Here’s to more positivity and mutual affirmation in the conference cosmos.”
Providing all sessions in an on-demand format allowed attendees to watch the presentations whenever and wherever they wished (several attendees shared pictures of themselves streaming presentations while on a walk or sitting at the beach). The lack of conflicting sessions further reduced barriers to attending sessions of interest. Attendees early on compared this to an “academic Netflix” and appreciated the flexibility to view far more presentations, including outside of their specialty, than would have occurred in person. Said one attendee, “I have seen more presentations than at any other ICA I have attended since 2010. I love the 7-8 minutes, it’s a great length, especially if there is a longer paper to read.” Along those same lines, another added “In two hours, I have browsed and listened to more panels and presentations that I would have in an in-person conference.”
Others commented that the platform highlighted what’s good about virtual meetings: “better understanding, especially for non-native-speakers (options to rewind, use captions).” The transcripts that were AI-generated and then checked prior to posting by the authors themselves were greatly appreciated, with one user commenting that “being able to look at transcripts during presentations is an actual game changer. Thank you.”
Some attendees were able to gather in small groups to watch sessions together and discuss. One attendee who did this noted “I’ve had a ton of fun watching talks with friends on Zoom and discussing them, sometimes even pausing the talk. This could not be done in person. I love this!” In total, all the “binge watching” totaled well over 109 days of session viewing, with 98% of all videos being played and more than 27,000 video streams.
The asynchronous, on-demand format was a bit of a deviation from other events Cadmore has hosted, and one we were initially concerned would not deliver the desired engagement. Typically, we see a combination of live sessions and prerecorded sessions followed by live discussions, all scheduled in advance and on the program, to simulate the kind of momentum and energy found at in-person events. In this case, the ICA organizers took a different approach that worked spectacularly well because they understood how their audience wanted to interact with the content and they took strategic steps to foster community building along the way. Attendees were frequently exhorted to leave comments on the sessions of junior scholars to encourage scholarship and welcome those early in their career.
An interesting piece of feedback we hadn’t heard before came from an attendee who noted, “I am WAY MORE LIKELY to read and cite these conference papers. Right now I’m watching one, taking notes, added it to my citation manager.” It will be interesting to see what, if any, impact this has going forward on conference proceeding citations in particular fields.
Several attendees commented that the virtual format seemed to have a positive impact on the quality of the presentations overall, as prerecorded sessions were organized more cohesively and adhered to time restraints, allowing all presenters on a panel to speak for an equal amount of time. Commenters themselves felt able to offer better quality feedback as they had time to reflect and formulate a response before commenting or asking a question.
This event format would not necessarily be successful with every community, which just stresses the point that each event is unique and needs to be finely calibrated to the preferences, likes, and needs of the individuals for whom it was created. Meeting organizers bring a wealth of understanding about what their attendees are likely to appreciate and need to be able to collaborate with the platform vendor during the site build process to make that vision come to life.
Attendees made suggestions about how to incorporate virtual components into future events, such as doing online presentations with shorter in-person events focused on networking and discussion, resembling the flipped classroom model. Another commenter suggested “this platform would be such a great hybrid addition to a shorter in-person conference focusing on fostering actual science collaboration.”
The 72nd annual conference is scheduled to take place in Paris in 2022 with a hybrid component on the Cadmore platform. As a result of the success of the fully virtual conference the year before, ICA was able to allow attendees to submit and designate their preference to be in person or virtual, secure in the knowledge that the platform can handle it (and that, if COVID prevents the in-person portion from taking place, the entire conference can switch to fully virtual on a dime). Attendees will be asked to record a video in advance regardless of their attendance preference: for virtual attendees, that will be the extent of their presentation unless their chair decides to do a live discussion, and for in-person attendees, the video can serve as a “trailer” of sorts to attract an audience. With this format in place and fully communicated, ICA has just closed its submissions for the 2022 conference and the numbers have broken all prior records, higher than even pre-pandemic numbers. There are over 7,000 submissions, and 80% say they plan to come in person; the rest prefer virtual (this indication in the system is non-binding, as so much is variable in the coming months). ICA staff attribute this overwhelming response partially, of course, to both the attractiveness of Paris as a locale and the yearning to meet in person for the first time in years—but ICA staff also believe that the attendees’ vote of confidence in the conference generally is a direct result of their trust that ICA will be able to successfully deliver a truly hybrid event, and that, according to ICA Executive Director Laura Sawyer, “is completely thanks to our partnership with Cadmore.”