July 30, 2020 / Erin Breece and Colleen Manning

Committing to a Virtual Conference

In early 2020, the AIHA University education team anticipated traveling to Atlanta for this year’s AIHce EXP. After almost a year of working closely with both the Conference Program Committee and the Continuing Education Committee, the team counted on seeing the program come to life, and on meeting with the OHS professionals it served, including AIHA volunteers.

Then, a global pandemic struck. As March ended, there was no doubt that, for the health and safety of AIHce EXP attendees, AIHA could not host the conference in person.

Within two months, AIHA staff transformed the entire conference, updating registrations, renegotiating contracts, confirming speaker availability and tech capabilities from home, pre-recording sessions, and more. Though it seemed like a whirlwind, we were confident that the effort our staff, speakers, and volunteers put into converting AIHce EXP into an all-virtual event would meet the expectations and needs of our attendees.

But, would they come?

As it turned out, over 2,000 OHS professionals joined us online for Virtual AIHce EXP, taking part in education sessions, professional development courses, exhibitor learning pavilions, and lunch and learn sessions with our sponsor partners.

Changing so suddenly to the new format brought difficulties. Monday started smoothly with AIHA’s brand refresh reveal and an inspiring opening keynote presentation from René Rodriguez. But by mid-afternoon, technical difficulties made it apparent that we needed to cancel sessions for the rest of the day.

At the time, there was nothing we could do but make it right with our attendees by offering rebroadcasts of the entire day’s sessions over two additional dates and the early delivery of OnDemand recordings after the conference. Moving forward, we are carefully assessing ways to ensure our technical setup is prepared for anything.

Never before had we offered so much online content during AIHce EXP. The conference’s new virtual environment offered attendees networking opportunities like professional and student posters, the Virtual Expo, Zoom networking chats, and the AIHF Virtual Fun Run. Our online classroom is designed only to deliver education sessions, while information regarding other activities was housed via our website, our exhibitor directory, and Zoom. At future virtual conferences, providing attendees with better guidance on how to navigate the various options is a must.

Despite our expanded virtual program, however, we had to cancel about two-thirds of our education sessions and almost 70 percent of our professional development courses (PDCs), due to limitations of our technology and staffing. We are exploring options that would allow us to offer a more robust and interactive experience for attendees in the coming years, and are planning for several virtual events this autumn that will include programming we were not able to include as part of AIHce EXP in June.

Although we don’t know what the rest of 2020 will bring, we are already starting to plan for next year. One thing is certain: AIHce EXP 2021 in Dallas, Texas, will have a robust virtual program.

We are taking our lessons learned in June into account and looking at exciting ways to improve our attendee experience, both in-person and online. What would you like to see at next year’s conference? We’d love to hear from you!

Erin Breece and Colleen Manning

Erin Breece is AIHA’s program director of Education.

Colleen Manning is AIHA’s program director of eLearning.


Grateful to Staff

My presentation on COVID-19 happened to be one of the first on opening day. Stumbling through the technology, I lost contact, but the moderator moved quickly to get the other speaker rapidly up to the podium. With the assistance of staff and through a key stroke of luck, I got back into the session just as John Howard of NIOSH was ending his discussion; I was able to make my complete contribution on time. Not only that, but the session was re-broadcast twice. I am enthralled by the resilience of the staff in pulling the conference off against all odds. They never let the exasperation of events beyond their control get in the way of making the Association work on behalf of the membership. Sign me 'forever grateful' to such outstanding people such as Erin Breece, Alla Orlova, Colleen Manning, and the many others who form staff of our AIHA

By Laurence on August 3, 2020 1:41pm
RE: AIHce poster sessions

Hello Susan – I would like to thank you (and all poster presenters) for participating in the online poster display for the Virtual AIHce EXP this year. We recognize and appreciate the hard work that went into your research and poster design. I apologize for any confusion on how the poster sessions would work. AIHA hosted a webinar in late April for all poster presenters to help explain the process, as well to cover how to include an oral presentation (pre-recorded) as part of your poster upload. Unfortunately for this event, our software did not allow for live streaming poster sessions and instead they were displayed as a static webpage, as part of the conference agenda. We are currently exploring new virtual conference streaming software options, all include enhanced options for poster presenters, and some allow for interaction/discussion in real-time with the virtual audience. For attendees that missed the poster sessions, they are still online for viewing as part of the AIHce EXP OnDemand page at the following link: https://www.aihceexp.org/2020/virtual-poster-sessions-2020. I would be happy to follow-up with you offline to further address your concerns and get further feedback to help us enhance the poster sessions for virtual attendees at next year’s hybrid event. - Erin

By Erin Breece on July 31, 2020 10:00am
AIHce poster sessions

I was very disappointed in the AIHce2020 'poster sessions'. I was never informed about when or how such sessions would work. I got no feedback on the poster; granted, it could be that no one was interested or had questions, but I was provided no way to 'present' or discuss the poster with anyone. I have no idea whether anyone even viewed the poster. Posters require a lot of work, and in my case quite a bit of company resources, to prepare and get approved by clients, etc. I would not bother to present a poster at a virtual conference again unless this issue is fully addressed in an acceptable manner.

By Susan Viet on July 30, 2020 3:13pm

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