Getting Creative at Conferences

Posted on: 3 August 2022 by Dr Amanda Potter in 2022 posts

Covid brought with it the era of the online academic conference. Having co-organised two online only conferences in 2021 and 2022, as well as a face-to-face conference in 2022, I value the benefits that come with the online format.

The online conference is inclusive, and allows participants from around the world to join, when costs to attend a face-to-face conference would be prohibitive. Guen, my collaborator on this blog, and I became friends as we met at an online conference, then met up virtually after the conference to discover a number of shared interests. I also met Giulia, who was the brains behind this blog, at an online event, after which Giulia reached out to me and shared her ideas. At my Xena: Warrior Princess online conference in 2021 we had speakers from 13 countries, which would never have been achievable if I had organised an event in the UK. There are also, of course, environmental benefits – no travel means no carbon emissions. And if an online conference only has a couple of papers that are of interest then delegates can pop in and out at will. And no-one is put at extra risk of catching Covid – although the face-to-face conference I organised this year was great fun, people travelled in from different countries to the UK, a country with a high number of cases, and some delegates, myself included, tested positive after the event.

On the downside it is very difficult to network online, without the coffee breaks, lunches and wine receptions (if we are lucky) that come with face-to-face conferences. So for every fruitful academic relationship forged at an online conference I fear that there are ten potential opportunities missed. And for me the most difficult aspect of attending an online conference is maintaining concentration. Hours staring at a computer screen trying to take in the content on PowerPoint slides and listen intently to even the most engaging of speakers is difficult. Who hasn’t found themselves drifting off, or drawn to emails that continue to drop into inboxes? My antidote is to encourage delegates to get creative. By including a creative workshop or two in an online conference programme you can keep delegates engaged while encouraging interactivity and mindfulness.

At the Wonder Woman conference I co-organised with Natalie Swain from the University of Winnipeg, Canada and Connie Skibinski from the University of Newcastle, Australia in June 2022 we collaborated with artists and academics on creative projects and workshops.

Before the conference we worked with classicist and artist Bronwen MacDonald, who created a Wonder Woman paper doll with Amazon costumes based on Greek vase paintings to cut out and colour in. This is still available online if you’d like to use this yourself.

Then, during the conference we offered a comic drawing workshop with artist and Educator Hannah Sackett, where participants were guided through a number of drawing exercises culminating in the creation of a Wonder Woman cover. Finally, we worked with colleagues Teresa Forde and Christine Thomas from the University of Derby who facilitated a collage making workshop centred on Wonder Woman, inspired by a Wonder Woman collage created by Teresa in her university office.

All the artwork created and submitted by delegates can be found here.

These workshops were great fun, and engaged our delegates to think about Wonder Woman and the Amazons in new ways. And so if you are organising an online conference in 2023 or beyond I would strongly encourage you to include opportunities for delegates to get creative. And we’d love to see the results in this blog!