Getting the Timing of Virtual Events Right

Author: Convene Editors       

virtual events

Managing an international virtual conference can be tricky because of time differences.

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion where one event professional asked her peers about solutions for time-zone differences for virtual events.

“Until now, we have transitioned all our in-person meetings to virtual and kept the time zones the same as the original meeting,” Kimberly Coerr, senior meeting manager, The Optical Society, shared with the PCMA Catalyst community. “For instance, for meetings held originally in the Bay Area, we kept the time schedule to PDT, even though our headquarters are in D.C.

“We have an upcoming meeting that was to be held in Prague but is now virtual. We are unsure how to run the time zone for the meeting. Approximately 60 percent of the attendees will be from Europe, with 30 percent from North America (both East and West coast) and 10 percent from Asia. As noted before, all staff will be on EDT.

“Has anyone managed an international virtual conference while staff remains stateside? Any suggestions on what will give the most opportunity for participation?”

We are headquartered in Philadelphia and have held several virtual meetings, all EDT. Attendees at our meetings are from around the world. Some of the meetings have run from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and conference staff covered the 12-hour period (fewer hours per day than a typical in-person meeting). Speakers were given the option to present live or upload pre-recorded lectures. In addition, because of the time-zone issue, recordings of each session were offered the day after presentation.

— Connie Young, Conference Director, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

While our meeting wasn’t international, my suggestion would be to run the meeting in the time zone that the majority of the attendees are coming from. That’s what we did with our virtual event in June — we ran it all East Coast time but had attendance from all over the country.

— Katie Hathaway, CMP, Meetings Manager, Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO)

We have two upcoming international programs, which are both virtual. We are listing the times in EDT as we are also based in D.C., however, we are having sessions to work with the participants in their time zones.

For example:

Focus on Mexico, Latin America, South America, Canada, Africa, Middle East, and Europe

  • 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Trade Show ([Participants] can have private one on one meetings all day.)
  • 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. – General Session

Focus on Asia

  • 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. – Trade Show
  • 9 p.m. – 11 p.m. – General Session

This means that all the D.C. staff involved in these programs will be working essentially all day to accommodate everything. The general session presentations are pre-recorded, but the Q&A will be live.

— Rebecca Kane, CMP, Meeting Manager, U.S. Grains Council

I agree that it probably makes the most sense to work around the time zone where 60 percent of attendees will be from. But depending how long the program is, another option is to have the meeting take place in phases, with start times staggered around the world. So instead of everyone dialing in for a 12-hour meeting (which for some people will be the crack of dawn and others the middle of the night), could you have three four-hour portions at normal start times staggered around the world? [For example], phase one could be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in a U.S. time zone; phase two would be same time in Central European Summer Time; phase three the same time in China Standard Time. It’s a little more work to coordinate three different runs of shows, but if a chunk of content is pre-recorded, it may not be too bad. And you can position it as a baton being passed from region to region — “The sun never sets on The Optical Society meeting.” The point is, it’s much more attendee-friendly to participate, regardless of where people are located. Sort of “virtu-local,” for lack of a better term.

— Howard Givner, Founder and Executive Director, Event Leadership Institute

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