#ShrugCon – the technical backend for an online conference

In preparing for this conference, I did a fair amount of searching for a post about someone thinking their way through the technical requirements for an online conference. I didn’t find much – but that probably has as much to do with how bad ‘search’ is. In the spirit of someone learning from my mistakes, I thought I might jot down the decisions I made to try and pull #ShrugCon together. The first part of this is being written right before the conference, and I’ll add #PostNotes after.

I should note that while I’m using the Universities time and technology (primarily the Microsoft suite) I’m supporting the whole conference as one person with a budget of $0 (with the exception of some of my Office of Open Learning peeps reviewing the submissions). It started out this way because i didn’t want to jump into people’s schedules on a project that I wasn’t sure was going to succeed and it turned into a bit of an experiment about running an online conference as a team of 1.

I have a previous post describing #ShrugCon

Conference Website

The conference is being hosted on a single page of our uncertainty community WordPress hosted with Reclaim hosting. I considered creating separate pages for more detailed information, but then realized I was creating more things to keep track of and the new Twenty Twenty-Four theme has some pretty easy out of the box theming that allowed me to tile things down the page. So. Conference website is just one long page.

Annotated Bibliography

I’m a big fan of this and would encourage everyone to do one for their online conference/community. I already had one setup on Uncertainty/Community so I didn’t make it ‘for’ this, but it works great. It’s basically just using posts on WordPress with an ‘annotated bibliography’ tag and then creating a link to that tag’s page. I believe that the more we as people interested in knowledge gather together ideas in this way the more we’re contributing to coherence on the web. I’ll post something on this later, but suffice it to say that I believe ‘open annotated bibliography = good’. Every time someone in the conference sends along an interesting link, I add it. After the conference, part of our debrief will be adding cool stuff from the sessions to the bibliography.

Poster presentations

I added this late in the process, but I kind of like it. It’s setup the same way as the AB. It allows people we couldn’t fit into the times to create pieces so they can participate in the conference in ways that can let them share their ideas but also give them a “CHECK” that they can put on their CV.


I’m using the free version of Mailchimp. Straight up, nothing fancy. This is for people to sign up for to get updates and, hopefully, stay on as part of the community after the conference. The upside of this is that its easy to send and keep the emails for later. The downside is that it goes into the ‘newsletter’ stream in people’s inbox reducing the number of people who are going to open it. Open rate is… 60%?

Conference proposals

I set up three different forms using google forms.

  1. The first allowed people to express an interest in presenting/attending.
  2. The second was for contributing to the annotated bibliography
  3. The third was to volunteer to participate in the after-party where we’re going to try to pull together some themes/outcomes from the conference

This was probably too much. I ended up having to pull people out of the forms to add them to the newsletter so I wasn’t emailing a bunch of different people different things. One form that went directly into Mailchimp probably would have been smarter.


So… I’m using Microsoft webinar for that. I’ve never used it for anything before and its… not bad. It’s part of Microsoft Teams, and you can set it up as a registration system.

It's a screenshot of a conference registration page in microsoft teams webinar.

I think it looks ok. It’ll handle authors and author Bios and stuff. Allows people to register for it and sends them a meeting reminder. I’ve heard a couple of people suggest they had a few problems, but mostly people seem to like it. It’s easy enough to update and allows for speakers and organizers to have different access which means (I think) that my speakers don’t get an update every time I change the details on an event.

I setup the presentations in blocks of two, the 10am presentation and the 11am presentation are in the same ‘webinar’. I’m still not sure if that was a good idea, I’ll let you know after the conference. I’m going to do a conference survey and will include a question about how people liked this.

Direct communication with speakers

I thought about setting up a Teams meeting with all 20 speakers in it, but I decided to just go with email. It’s been fine. I kind of didn’t want people to be too planned… and email is just clumsy enough to discourage collaboration. 🙂

Who’s the audience for this post dave?

This is the question i’m left with after writing it. In some sense, this post is for future dave, so that he remembers what past dave did. If there’s someone else out there who does something similar, I’d love it if you left a comment and told us how it went.

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