#NJASLSpring21, Part 2: Lessons from a Virtual Conference

We Did It! 

All the planning paid off! The NJASL Spring Mini-Conference was an unqualified success! As with any event, there were last-minute changes and hiccoughs. But everything came together, and we received lots of positive feedback from both attendees and presenters. 

Not only did I learn from the amazing presenters who shared with us, but I also learned a lot on a meta level. Here are some lessons that I plan to use in both my personal and professional lives! 

Lesson 1: Hook ‘Em with Humor!

Amy Hermon’s funny and thoughtful keynote address was a perfect beginning to the day! She started with some reminders of what she was doing a year previously. She was at a conference and hearing she “might want to grab some hand sanitizer” because of some bug that was going around. She also had pictures of preparing to listen to the keynote speaker. One showed a coffee cup between her feet, because “During the keynote, I’m very concerned with making sure that no one kicks over my coffee.” 

Lesson 2: We’re #BetterTogether!

With smiles on our faces, we were ready for her deeper message. She shared how much she’s learned from other librarians. She related how she sometimes has to forge her own solutions to the unique problems of school librarianship. She pointed out that school librarians are the “square pegs in the round holes” at school–not quite fitting the usual roles for teachers, but still powerful educators. And she reminded us repeatedly how we’re #BetterTogether.

Lesson 3: Advocacy Isn’t Enough!

Our closing session with K.C. Boyd was also fantastic. One key point that hit home hardest for me, and for many attendees, was that advocacy isn’t enough. Saying why school librarians are important is a good first step. But it has to be followed by actions. 

K.C. related how she never considered herself an activist. But she realized that “everyone can contribute,” and she leaned in. She reminded us that “you need to get word of what you’re doing out beyond your school, because there are too many people out there who think school library programs are archaic!” Her passionate reminders to be proactive were well-received and left lots of attendees fired up! 

Lesson 4: Cater to the COVID Attention Span!

We tried to recreate the physical poster sessions of previous spring mini-conferences. During those events, a dozen people would set up around the perimeter of the space and attendees would wander from place to place to hear each ten- to fifteen-minute talk. Then the first set of presenters would swap out with a second set. Attendees heard from as many presenters as they wanted.

This translated into the virtual world as a series of fifteen-minute session blocks with five-minute breaks between each. There were six to nine concurrent presentations during each fifteen-minute block. Attendees were raving about how wonderful it was to get the key points in a short, powerful presentation. Even the presenters found it helpful–several said it helped them stay focused on only the most important ideas. 

Lesson 5: Sometimes “Memorex” Is Better Than Live!

Because we were virtual, and thanks to the EventEd platform we used, we were able to record all the “poster session” presentations. This allowed attendees to revisit sessions they missed. And our platform keeps those videos available to registrants for thirty days. With 42 presentations, that translates to 10.5 hours of on-demand PD available to our attendees! 

Lesson 6: Virtual Solves So Many Problems!

We were able to “fit” three hundred attendees into our “space.” They came from thirty U.S. states and seven international locations. There were no issues with parking, travel, meals, or accommodations. For those who couldn’t make it that day, they could check out the recordings asynchronously for thirty days from the event date. 

While we missed being able to see friends and colleagues in person, there were a whole lot of pros and very few cons to holding the event virtually!

Looking Ahead

I’m already starting to think about next year’s event. With all the lessons learned at this event, I have no doubt we’ll have a stellar mini-convention next year, too! 

If you’re thinking about putting on a conference or similar event in the future, I hope you can use some of the lessons I’ve shared to help you consider some options!

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Author: Steve Tetreault

Steve has been teaching for over 20 years, mostly middle school English Language Arts. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!



Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development, Technology

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2 replies

  1. On demand PD is the flavor of the millenium it seems. We need to be able to get answers right now. We can take a lot away from planned sessions but when most of us serve alone in our building or buildings we need to know where we can answers quickly. Thanks Steve, another great blog. This profession is better off because of people like you and Beth who serve so tirelessly.

  2. Thanks so much, Donna! And I couldn’t agree more – if this pandemic has done nothing else for us, it’s helped show how having an on-tap, easy-to-access series of PD options that can be applied as needed is a wonderful resource.

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