As we continue to shift everything online, life is slowly turning into a video game. And with a virtual AOM right around the corner, what better thing to do than to pass along a few cheat codes. You know, remember when hitting Up-Down-Up-Down-Right-Right-Down got you unlimited lives on Super Mario Bros and you could impress your friends (okay, what friends…) by beating the game in under two hours? Ah, those were the days, weren’t they? Well today, as we approach our first video game (ahem, virtual) AOM conference in just a few weeks, we wanted to share a few cheat codes that we picked up by attending and organizing other virtual conferences this summer.
- Be clear—but not in the way you think. Articulating your ideas clearly is useful in most academic settings (unless you’re trying to really impress someone—then just talk over their head). However, when we are in person, it might surprise you how much we rely on social cues, body language, and the actual physical space to smooth over misunderstandings. But when everything is virtual, your audience won’t be able to pick up on these cues, and so you’ll want to be thoughtful about how you convey your message. We’ve found that repeating your key points can help (at least 25 times per minute maybe?). Speaking more slowly can be useful as well. And when in doubt, start and finish your presentation with the phrase “If you take one thing away from this talk, it is ________,” and fill in the blank with something simple and memorable (you know, like your cat’s favorite toy).
- Explore new formats for meeting new people. With in-person conferences, it’s easy to bump into new people at a social or in between sessions, but that’s not going to happen during the AOM video game of 2020. Instead, we’ve noticed that organizers of other virtual conferences have built in new ways of getting to know people. One option is to ask the participants to prepare a slide with “2 truths and a lie,” where they list two true things and one false thing about themselves. (Pro tip: make the third thing a truth too, and then tell folks it’s a lie. Technically, telling them this will be the lie, but the joke’s on them.) Another option is to build in 10 or 15 minutes for random breakout rooms where folks have the opportunity to meet others they would never have encountered before. In fact, we’ve found that while in-person conferences excel at “seeing old friends,” virtual conferences excel at meeting new people. Imagine what an AOM community would look like if we embraced meeting new people this conference instead of seeing old friends—perhaps that’s just what we need these days.
- Prepare structure more than content. Whether you’re organizing a PDW or presenting a paper, normal conference preparations lead us to focus the majority of our time on the content itself. This typically makes sense because, when in person, it’s easy to transition between topics or speakers using something called “social skill” (you know, that thing we all used to have before March 2020). But as we transition to a virtual conference, these transitions will become a lot more challenging and awkward without some forethought. We recommend spending more time thinking about the macro-structure and overall narrative of your session or presentation than you normally would. Spending time preparing guideposts, transitions, and comic relief will pay dividends (unless it’s in a blog post).
- Befriend the chat function. At in-person conferences, if you want to provide feedback, share a citation, or comment about how something was really nicely presented, you have to raise your hand and take up air time in front of everyone else. Of course, since there isn’t enough time for everyone to do this, we end up hearing just a few questions. (Remember that one session where one audience member talked for 10 straight minutes and never actually asked a question? Well, that was one of us.) And then everyone meanders out of the room and heads to their next session. However, in a virtual conference, the chat function is an amazing resource. It can serve as a running list of not just questions but helpful suggestions that don’t need a conversation but only need to be communicated in a sentence and don’t require a response. In fact, leveraging the chat function often results in authors getting not only more but better feedback than they normally would.
- Take advantage of the extra time. Let’s be honest—how many paper sessions did you actually go to during last year’s AOM conference? Okay, don’t answer that (is it possible to have gone to a negative number of sessions?). There’s good reason though that it’s usually not as many as we’d like—we’re socializing, meeting with coauthors, or sleeping in because the 17 parties the night before were too much. Well friends, virtual conferences offer us an opportunity. Not only are sessions available at the touch of a button, but they are also available for weeks afterwards. AOM has said that the content will be available until August 31. So why not take the time to peruse the paper sessions and amazing uploaded content and see what’s being talked about this year (with a glass of Lagavulin or Pinot in hand, of course).
- Be kind. This is a strange time, and it’s affecting everyone differently. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that not everyone has had as much time to prepare their presentation as they would have liked. Perhaps this was because we were just told that we had a week to upload our content (and we scrambled to throw together a narrated PowerPoint in under 30 minutes). Or perhaps it’s because AOM simply isn’t a high priority in life right now. Keep these things in mind as you sit through PDWs, paper sessions, and business meetings. When you see or hear something that you might feel the urge to criticize, try being kind instead. It pays off in the long run, and it’s just the right thing to do.
Think back to the good old days of video games, use our cheat codes, and enjoy our virtual AOM!
(About the authors: Derek Harmon is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, and Yun Ha Cho is a PhD Student at the University of Michigan)