By now, you have heard that the 2021 conference will be online. I’m not going to lie, I was not excited about the idea of an online conference. I am sick of being at my desk all the time and I want to SEE people. I have been literally counting the days until it is over and I can get back to planning the fun kind of conference.
The more we get into planning though, the more I am excited about figuring out the neat ways we can make this a great experience. Since this is such a change from an in-person conference, it’s fun to have a chance to try new things. I can’t imagine that I will ever feel like a virtual conference is a substitute for being together in person, but there are so many things about it that are new or different or, dare I say, better? It’s going to be a great conference!
One of the things that is REALLY different about this conference, is that it’s up to you to decide how you will experience it. At MMA, we spend as much time thinking about how we come together, as about what to focus on when we do. We pay attention to spaces and flow and possible distractions, and try to make your experience focused and seamless. For the online conference, you are the one who will control your space and focus and distractions. I hope that you will take on that role and try to carve out the space you need this fall to BE together with the rest of us. We will do our best to help you, but in the end, you will make the choice about how engaged you are.
Here are some of the things I AM excited about:
More Focus. Every MMA conference has a theme, but most of the time it is either just a holding place for a graphic identity or an idea that is threaded throughout the program and not necessarily dominant. Because of the short planning time and the opportunity to cover any topic we want during our regular online programs, we decided that this year we would really HAVE a theme. So all of the speakers and sessions will focus on What’s Next and looking forward. Within that theme we will look at three specific areas – what is coming in leadership, social justice and Michigan museums. I have already started having conversations in the different member communities about what they think is next and I can see the wheels start turning. I think we are going to have some great discussions and perspectives as we contemplate where we are heading. It feels good to think about moving forward, doesn’t it?
More Access. We work hard to make the MMA conferences as accessible as possible, but time, distance, and money are always a barrier. This year, no travel time is needed and we shortened the conference so participants will only need to carve out about 24 hours. Obviously, distance won’t be a factor because the conference is literally at your desk. Finally, because we don’t have to pay for food and AV equipment and all of the other things we need at an in-person conference, the registration rate will be minimal. Because registration is minimal, our wonderful scholarship fund will cover more people, so cost should not be a barrier either. I hope this means that we break new records for participation and have people joining us from all over the state. Fingers crossed.
New Ideas. I have been SO impressed with how Michigan museum people have met the challenge of meeting mission in a different way during the pandemic. The museum community took some very big lemons and made so many different kinds of delicious lemonade. I am excited to see how MMA members do the same with the virtual opportunity. We can’t have concurrent sessions in meeting spaces together, but we can still have lots of different choices for how to learn from each other. In a conference room, we were limited by that space, but online we can go anywhere. I am excited to see how people apply their creativity to session proposals. I hope we will see our typical formal presentation, discussion, and hands-on formats for sessions, but what else can be done with a camera? Tours? Live interviews? Demonstrations? Dance Party? I don’t know! That’s up to you. (The Call for Session Proposals will be out in June, FYI).
Again, there are definitely some things about an online conference that can’t be the same and aren’t better than an in-person conference. Honestly, it’s sort of like comparing apples to oranges. It’s hard to really come together when we are all sitting at our own desks. The dynamics of speakers and conversations are, well, flat online in a way they aren’t in person. I could go on. I have a list. And I suspect that by the time the conference comes around we will be so used to our reemergence after the pandemic that me might have a moment of asking, “why are we doing this virtually, again?” Actually, I’m sure of it, and it may already be happening. It is what it is, and this too shall pass. Next year we will confer in person, but for now, this will be helpful, inspiring and fun in a different way.
I’ve found that the deeper we get into putting together this virtual experience, the easier it is to let go of trying to replace the regular conference, and the more excited I am about seeing what we can do better this way. I can’t wait to “see” you all and talk about What’s Next. It’s going to be a great conference!
Lisa Craig Brisson