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Jenny Baker
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The Annual Conference: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Whitney Botsford Morgan, Anthony Boyce, MQ Liu, Amanda Drescher, & Emily Solberg

The SIOP Annual Conference is the highlight of the year for the SIOP membership. Like many aspects of our current lives, it is difficult to acknowledge and accept that the 2021 SIOP Annual Conference will be different from our past conference experiences. However, there is also great opportunity to reimagine the conference in a manner that meets the needs of our membership in new and exciting ways. The Conference Committee is carefully considering feedback from the 2020 SIOP Virtual Conference and using it to inform plans for the 2021 SIOP Annual Conference. 

Looking Back: Learnings From the 2020 Virtual Conference1

Mercer|Sirota supported the 2020 SIOP Virtual Conference Postconference Survey, which was sent to 6,131 invitees and had 654 respondents from July 1 to July 15, 2020. In prior years, only conference registrants were invited to participate in the postconference survey; however, the 2020 postconference survey invitation was sent to all SIOP members. The following are key findings from the full report prepared by Anthony Boyce, MQ Liu, and Amanda Drescher.  

Registration (which was on target to hit 5,200 until the conference transitioned to virtual) was slightly down from National Harbor (5,348) and Chicago (5,525) but continued a longer term upward trend (4,801 in Orlando, 4,338 in Anaheim). The virtual conference had approximately 2,000 attendees. This survey response rate was 11% (654 out of 6,131 invited), which is far lower than the last 3 years in National Harbor (27%, 1,437 out of 5,348), Chicago (27%, 1,487 out of 5,525), and Orlando (27%, 1,298 out of 4,801). Overall, respondents had a mixed experience at the virtual conference. Satisfaction with the virtual conference had a mean score of 3.47 (on a 5-point scale), which is lower than in recent years: National Harbor 2019 (4.24), Chicago 2018 (3.85), and Orlando 2017 (4.05). 

Forty-five percent (45%) of respondents attended the 2020 SIOP Virtual Conference. Among those, the majority of respondents (56%) spent between 3 and 9 hours attending the virtual conference. Two percent (2%) of attendees required a specific accessibility accommodation (e.g., hearing or visual aids). Based on their experience, almost half of attendees (47%) were unsure (15%) or unlikely (32%) to attend future virtual conferences, citing the lack of two-way interaction (29%) and the format not being conducive to their own personal learning style (21%) as top reasons. The main reasons for not attending the 2020 SIOP Virtual Conference were related to concerns of not having enough time (21%), a sense of uncertainty regarding the virtual format’s efficacy (20%), the cost of attending being too high (15%), and lack of networking opportunities (15%).

Of the 39% of respondents who had submissions accepted for the conference, 64% of those chose to present at the virtual conference. Among respondents choosing to present, the most common session types were poster sessions (40%), symposia (23%), and panel discussions (23%), whereas the most common session types chosen not to be presented by respondents were panel discussions (38%) and symposia (26%). Based on their experience, 44% indicated being unsure (15%) or unlikely to present (29%) at future virtual conferences due to lack of two-way interaction (38%) and beliefs the format reduced the educational impact (31%). Open-ended comments about improving the presenter experience also focused predominantly on ways to improve the two-way interaction (e.g., email alerts for questions, more live sessions, scheduled poster times), though a number of presenters also requested greater guidance and best-practice recommendations for presenting in a virtual format (e.g., how-to record video, voice-over slides). The main reasons for not presenting were the lack of two-way interaction (23%), not enough co-presenters on a session willing or able to participate (22%), and beliefs that that the virtual format would reduce educational impact (18%).

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of respondents plan to attend next year’s conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, a marked drop from the 73% of 2019 respondents planning to attend in Austin, Texas. The main reasons reported for not attending the 2021 conference are concerns related to COVID-19 (37%), cost (15%), and their organization not covering the expenses (14%). Respondents stated they would reconsider if travel/social gathering restrictions related to COVID-19 eased (23%) or if their employer covered expenses (19%). When asked to provide their “questions and concerns” regarding the 2021 annual conference, respondents focused on safety (e.g., social distancing, vaccine availability, in-person gathering restrictions, travel restrictions), conference format (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person, making an in-person vs. virtual decision early, focus exclusively on virtual), and optimizing a virtual conference (e.g., fewer sessions, better technology, more guidance to presenters).

Most respondents have attended more than five prior SIOP conferences (51%), and 29% have attended fewer than three conferences. Almost two-thirds of respondents were practitioners (56%), a majority were women (55%), and most were between ages 25 to 45 (56%). Finally, the majority of respondents reported feeling “included as part of the broader SIOP community” (68%).

Looking Forward: Expectations for the 2021 SIOP Annual Conference

The Conference Committee, chaired by Whitney Botsford Morgan, is diligently working to identify and select the best options for presenting an exciting, informative, and successful conference. Although this conference will be different from our past conferences, Program Chair Emily Solberg is pleased to share that, with more than 1,000 submissions, attendees can expect high-quality, peer-reviewed content, diversity of perspectives and topic areas, and a blend of science and practice offered in the educational program. At the center of the Conference Committee’s efforts are the Guiding Principles, which include honoring, displaying, and preserving the various aspects that underpin a successful planning process and a successful conference (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

2021 SIOP Conference Committee Guiding Principles


The Conference Committee’s current vision is to host one “hybrid” conference that will consist of:

  • In-person live sessions from April 15–17 enjoyed by in-person conference registrants at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, some of which will be live streamed to virtual conference registrants.
  • Virtual live sessions from April 15–17 enjoyed by in-person and virtual conference registrants, regardless of location (e.g., Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel room, home, office).
  • Virtual asynchronous sessions available during and after the conference dates enjoyed by in-person and virtual conference registrants on-demand (similar to the 2020 SIOP Annual Conference offering).

Based on findings in the 2020 SIOP Virtual Conference Postconference Survey, the Conference Committee seeks to maintain “convenience,” the most common one-word description of the 2020 virtual conference. Specifically, we are offering content “on-demand” during the dates of the in-person conference and for approximately 3 weeks (until May 7, 2021) after the in-person conference ends. We believe this will maintain the same level of convenience experienced by attendees in 2020 and hopefully allow attendees to engage with the conference around existing work–life demands and in consideration of a range of time zones.

Though the heart of the conference is the educational program, based on feedback from the 2020 annual conference, the Conference Committee is prioritizing interactivity for the 2021 annual conference to maintain the sense of community. First, there will be live (in-person and virtual) sessions where presenters and attendees may attend in real time, asking questions and allowing opportunity for engagement. Second, there will be scheduled blocks of time for social/networking, akin to coffee breaks that would occur at an in-person event. Finally, there will be greater guidance on how to optimize Whova’s Community Board in order to enhance the ease of finding attendees with whom you may desire to network, initiating and joining meetups, and engaging in discussion throughout the conference.

Although the Conference Committee recognizes the enhanced work–life demands that many are experiencing during the pandemic, we are hopeful that the SIOP community and their organizations have largely adapted to such demands,2 allowing for attendees to access information on their own schedule as compared to in 2020. The Conference Committee is also making efforts to better prepare presenters and attendees on how best to engage in the hybrid conference including offering greater guidance on “how-to-conference” that will be released in advance of the conference going live. In summary, the Conference Committee is confident that our responsiveness to feedback received in 2020 will provide for a more successful 2021 conference, and we look forward to welcoming returning and new attendees this April!

Please find the most current information regarding the 2021 SIOP Annual Conference at https://0-www-siop-org.library.alliant.edu/Annual-Conference



1 There are statements included in this section that are taken from the SIOP 2020 Virtual Conference Postconference Survey, which will be made available via SIOP’s website by January 2021.

2 See this article in the current edition for some data on that point — Ed.


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