Two weeks before the launch of the International Medieval Congress 2021, a five-day fully virtual conference for over 2000 medievalists, I was asked to join the team to support their final preparations. Amongst feelings of excitement to be working on an event first-hand again, my overarching thought was ‘How on earth is such a large online event going to work?’.
Diving into my first team meeting, I soon learned the answer! Making this event work required a LOT of careful planning, coordination and attention to detail. Every member of the team had a thorough knowledge of the platform used to host the event, Pathable, and they had considered each element of the event that could provide obstacles for the delegates.
I was immediately impressed with the sheer amount of dedication and planning that had clearly gone into pivoting this event fully online. I did my best to support the team with the final few tasks that needed preparing before launch day – updating the website, preparing social media content and holding live practice Zoom sessions for delegates who would be presenting or moderating during the week.
The two weeks of preparation passed in a blur, and suddenly it was the launch of the congress! To ensure that delegates had a smooth experience, a team of around twenty staff worked in a computer cluster on campus from 8am until 8pm (and sometimes later!) every day of the congress. There were up to 26 parallel sessions running at any one time, so the team divided sessions between them and ensured that every single session had staff present who could help delegates address any immediate technical issues.
We also covered a special technical support inbox, a general inbox and social media feeds to assist anyone with questions or concerns about attending the congress. The days were long but talking to delegates who are experts in their field was really interesting, and morale amongst the team remained high throughout the week. In the sessions I assisted, the delegates were really enthusiastic and friendly, and while missing the excitement of being in Leeds, I got some great feedback from delegates about the platform and the general organisation of the congress.
One of my extra responsibilities was to run the IMC Leeds Twitter page, which was perhaps my favourite part of the week! Seeing hundreds of people live tweeting their experiences (alongside many hilarious medieval gifs) and being so excited about the congress really made the long days seem worthwhile.
I even created the hashtag #IMCPets2021 and encouraged delegates to share pictures of their pets who were partaking in the congress with them! From birds to cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits, it was a really lovely way to bring delegates’ individual worlds together in a welcoming online space.
When the week came to an end, we reflected on the IMC 2021 as a team. I really enjoyed my time with the team, and getting the chance to see the inner workings of the congress taught me just how much hard work and time goes into creating a successful online delegate experience. In 2022 the team are looking to provide a hybrid event, and I can’t wait to assist again either online or in person!