The pros and cons of being a virtual presenter at conference

Artist: Gillian Crossley

Today I had the honour of being a virtual presenter at the American Occupational Therapy Association’s annual national conference.  I have presented live at AOTA twice before and have enjoyed it very much but I have never presented “virtually”.

I have mixed feelings about presenting online (yes – even VirtualOT would prefer to be face to face) but now that I live back in Australia and the academic calendar is not in line with the Canadian/US academic calendar both distance and work commitments meant that I needed to find an option to presenting live or I would have to withdraw from presenting altogether.

Never one to back down from a challenge I proposed to my co-presenters that I could “beam in” from Australia, both teams responded enthusiastically and we started to plan to overcome the tyranny of distance. I was part of a panel presentation titled “What’s new in digital and social media for occupational therapy” with Karen Dobyns (aka @funkist), Chris Alterio (aka @ChrisAlterio), Erik Johnson (aka @ArmyOTGuy) and Cheryl Morris (aka @otnotes), and I was  also part of Tech Day in a workshop titled “Digital Curation in Occupational Therapy” with Susan Burwash (aka @SuBu_OT).  Being part of groups meant that I had people on the ground at the conference, so with their assistance I was able to be beamed in.

So how did we pull this off?  Well, a lot more planning goes into preparation for a presentation that is delivered from a remote location.  For starters, we have to assume that technology will fail and we will need a backup plan, ie: the presentation needs to be pre-recorded and uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo to be played in lieu of a live presentation.  In order to be ready with a recording this meant that we needed to have broken down the panel topics and worked on our own sections well ahead of the date of the conference.  Both Cheryl and I were in this position, Cheryl’s reason was that she was about to become a mum and her due date was during the time of the conference!

Digital technology played an important role in the planning and delivery of both presentations.  We met online using Blackboard Collaborate or Skype, we kept our meeting notes in Google Docs, we created our presentation collaboratively using PowerPoint, then Cheryl and I translated these via movie making programs to narrated videos that were then uploaded to YouTube.

Bill Wong records the session and tweets simultaneously

On the day the technology didn’t all work and our plan B had to become the Plan A for the panel presentation.  I could see into the room via the webcam on Erik Johnson’s laptop, but the sound quality was poor and there was a nasty feedback loop occurring on the laptop.  That was when we simply decided to play the YouTube clip rather than have me speak live.  The absolute winning tech hack of the day was Susan Burwash’s suggestion to use Skype from her iPhone to me sitting on my computer.  It was perfect!  I could watch who was presenting via the webcam, hear what was being presented via Susan’s phone and I was able to watch twitter and contribute throughout the whole 1.5 hours!  It was amazing!

Chris Alterio delivering his part of the presentation
Erik demonstrates how to use SoMe during a presentation

My view of Karen Dobyns as she presents

Michael Iwama talks about using digital technologies

Karen wrapped up the presentation and then asked the audience for questions, discussion points and so on.  There were some excellent points raised, another “shout out” about OT24Vx and then Michael Iwama (aka @Michael_Iwama) was asked to speak about his use of a broad range of digital media in relation to his development of the Kawa Model.  Michael talked about his use of dicussion forums, Facebook and now Twitter to connect with people about the Kawa Model and occupational therapy in general.

Susan Burwash and Gillian Crossley at Tech Day

In the Tech Day presentation additional social media tools such as Learnist, Storify, Scoopit, Pinterest and PaperLi were going to be featured, therefore Susan focused attention on building the presentation within these resources and created a beautiful and informative Learnist called Digital Curation in Occupational Therapy which captured the concept of digital curation beautifully. 

In the lead up to the conference Susan and I discussed having more support on the ground and as our virtual friend Gillian Crossley was going to be at #aota13 Susan asked her to come and support her during the Tech Day presentation.  She provided excellent support and enthused those present to give SoMe a try!  In the background two more virtual friends supported the presentation; Brock Cook (aka @keeper85) made himself available online to curate his MH4OT Learnist board during the presentation and Helen Rushton (aka HelenOTUK) prepared a blog post about using various tools for digital curation.  While Susan presented in San Diego with Gillian’s support I created a new PaperLi called Highlights from #AOTA13 and Brock approved new content for his MH4OT Learnist.

So, after today’s amazingly positive experience would I say there are any drawbacks to presenting virtually?  Absolutely!  For those of you with conference experience you will appreciate the contrast.  At conference I enjoy having the opportunity to see the audience, I can respond to the body language of those in the room and I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy basking in the afterglow of a job (hopefully) well done.  Sometimes there are “high fives” and people give words of congratulations.  I always leave the room feeling more accomplished than when I went in.

In contrast, today, as a virtual presenter when I finished the presentation the computer program used to connect me to the presentation room was turned off.  I sat alone, with my computer, in silence.  Completely disconnected from the conference, the attendees, the atmosphere, the engagement.  It is like literally pulling the plug or turning off a switch; you’re on then you’re off! 

So is it worth it?  I would say yes.  It’s better to have presented virtually than not at all, it’s great to showcase the possibilities of digital technologies and I believe that this is an important component of conferences of the future.  Not only does it make it easier for me as a presenter, this is truly a more sustainable option for the world – I did not catch a plane to the USA for this conference!

In summary; what are the pros and cons of virtual presentations?


  1. Saves time and money (travel, accommodation, time off work etc)
  2. Ecologically more sustainable (no planes, hotels and eating out)
  3. People who might otherwise not be able to present can be given a virtual microphone (think – lower income)
  4. It exemplifies how digital media can be used in knowledge transfer activities in occupational therapy (if we demonstrate it they will see the potential)


  1. The feeling of isolation when the presentation is finished
  2. It is more work leading up to the conference as multiple levels of organisation are required
  3. You don’t get to go to the pub with your friends afterwards

I can live with these cons! I’ve just debriefed here, so it’s not all bad!

And don’t let me forget to mention that Cheryl had a baby boy!  Congratulations Cheryl.

One thought on “The pros and cons of being a virtual presenter at conference

  1. Anita, I was so disappointed when I read you blog posting about your virtual presentation at AOTA! I wish I had known about this presentation – I would have been there! I presented with Melanie Criss on Telehealth Innovations in Pediatric OT on Saturday. But your session with all of the tech ins/outs would have been awesome to have witnessed! I hope to meet and connect with you one day, as I am also interested in telehealth and providing services/education via technology. Thanks for the great review of the presentation. I will keep it as a reference.

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