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Before March 2020, if you talked about a virtual event, you were most likely talking about a standard webinar. Today’s virtual meetings can have all the hallmarks of large-scale, in-person conferences, from registration tables and exhibit halls to breakout rooms and poster galleries.

The peer review/scientific support, technology support and research services teams at ORAU have become incredibly successful at executing virtual events.  

The team takes a hands-on approach to a variety of different meeting types: large-scale conferences with thousands of attendees, peer reviews, workshops, principal investigator meetings, advisory team meetings with a few dozen to a few hundred people and everything in between.

While virtual meetings definitely have their benefits—cost-effectiveness with no travel or meeting space costs—they also allow for more diversity, inclusion and accessibility than most in-person meetings. For example, an attendee from an underserved community who may not be able to travel to an in-person event can attend virtually.

Additionally, someone who is hearing or vision impaired can get assistance from technology.

Another large event was the annual Alfred Street Baptist Church (ASBC) Foundation Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Festival, which went virtual in February 2021 for the first time in its history. The ASBC Foundation event is the nation’s largest annual event celebrating HBCUs.

“We managed seminars to provide information to high school students on topics like paying for college, STEM careers, Greek life and scholarships,” said Lee-Ann Kiser, who led the ORAU team managing the project. “We also managed a virtual festival floor with over 70 HBCUs and 25-plus sponsors and supporting organizations offering information, internships, scholarships and next steps for high school and college students.”

Over the past year or so, as more meetings transitioned from in person to virtual, the entire peer review team met the various requirements of each meeting using platforms such as Zoom, CVent Attendee Hub, Gathertown, Slack and Wonder, all of which are virtual meeting platforms, as well as XLeap, which helps with meeting facilitation and brainstorming. These tools help create the most realistic virtual meetings possible.