Discourse as a Virtual Conference Platform

I recently spent some time discussing with a Discourse client in the UK how they might run a Virtual Conference using Discourse.

As we discussed what they needed it became apparent how well Discourse can do this, but you need a confident and knowledgeable Discourse team to get all the right features in place.

Here are some of the ideas we came up with, which I thought I would share here, since there actually isn’t any other topic on Virtual Conferences yet (which surprised me actually!)

Visuals

  • Category Banner Theme Component - to add better visuals to the various sections. (NB you can use CSS to insert background images in the banner rather than a plain colour)

  • In an established Discourse community, where the conference is not the only thing the Discourse instance exists for, you can advertise the conference with a Global Pinned Topic.

  • Create an overall Category for the Conference (unless the Discourse instance only exists for the conference, in which case you might use the top level for the overall conference and subcategories for each track)

Presentations

  • You could use Topic Voting to decide on which presentations should be selected from the presentations submitted as part of a Call for Presentations

  • Navigating the conference: Make a Pinned Topic with the Conference Programme in the conference Category, and link from each programme item in your Programme list to the Topic in which that presentation will be placed.

  • Use one Topic per presentation - discussion about each session will follow in the replies after the first post.

  • YouTube and Vimeo can be embedded in posts, this is a standard feature of Discourse

  • Zoom Webinar Plugin - integrates Zoom webinars tightly with Discourse

  • Jitsi Video/Audio calling Plugin

  • Polls for use during sessions - we can use as we use Sli.do

Delegates and Participation

  • Delegates can be given access to the Conference area selectively - ie perhaps if not all members of the Discourse community are attending the conference, or if it is a paid conference with ticketing. (Worth mentioning that the Tickets Plugin is about ‘work tickets’ not the kind of tickets we’re talking about here)

  • Use Badges extensively, for gamification and rewards for attendees/delegates/sponsors/exhibitors

  • use Tags to help guide delegates to conference content that is interesting to them

  • Use Groups and Categories to manage who can see what parts (eg restricting access for exhibitors and attendees)

  • You could consider adding chat integration, particularly if your community already uses a chat platform. This enables you to link as much of the conference conversation to the Discourse instance as possible.

Sponsors and Exhibitors

  • Create a Sponsors/Supplier area (perhaps as a Subcategory of the conference category)

  • Use Avatar flair for Sponsors and Exhibitors with their branding

  • Sponsors and Exhibitors staff can have accounts - ideally use own names rather than company-name accounts, but can be grouped and titled/biographied to reflect their company affiliatiation, with avatar flair, title, etc

  • Set up all delegates as a Group on Discourse and Group Owners can Group Private Message the delegates before, during, and after the conference

Hopefully this might be of some use to someone out there, especially given that basically every conference in the world is going to be virtual for at least a few more months!

I’m happy for people to suggest other ideas in the replies, and we could even maybe Wikify this post so that people can add and improve.

Shameless Plug: While I’m here I should say that if you are considering running a virtual conference using Discourse, and need help with any aspect - consider us at thepavilion.io

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With a slight twist of title name I find these ideas could be useful for sites that support training from time to time. The site I am from is for Prolog, which is a programming language if you didn’t know, and one of our members does training classes about once a year and these ideas would dovetail nicely with that.

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Thanks so much for these suggestions, this is something I am working on for an international education conference (in November) that has made the decision early to run online this year.

I’ve been helping been starting a discourse community for the organization. We felt that having each session as a topic was a great format to provide the session materials and host discussions.

I’m curious to find an examples of conferences that have tried hosting their sessions and interactions in discourse.

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