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Five Lessons Learned From GeoAmericas 2020

GeoAmericas 2020 Online Details GIF

Our Brazil Chapter made history for IGS conferencing when GeoAmericas 2020 went virtual.

The event, due to attract a worldwide audience to Rio de Janeiro in April, had to be postponed because of health, safety and travel concerns due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, organizers ensured it was realized in 2020, setting new dates of October 26-31 and moving the entire conference online. This included making sure much-anticipated workshops, lectures and discussions continued, as well as exhibitor and networking opportunities, and a social program, all working together to satisfy the expectations of sponsors.

Here, IGS Brazil President Victor Pimentel reflects on the mammoth challenge, and offers advice for staging future virtual IGS conferences.

How did your virtual conference go?

We already knew several surprises were expected, considering we were promoting an online IGS conference for the first time. So many nuts and bolts were encountered and fixed along the journey; one, the variables of an online event were considerably different from a face-to-face event, and two, there was no precedent within the IGS for such an effort.

The main learning point had to do with the level of detail and communication an online event needs in every session, so speakers understand what is expected of them and the technicians have everything they need to make things run smoothly. And also so attendees know what to expect. Having a short time to meet and deliver each session via a communication media can present problems so keeping potential technical issues to a minimum was key.

What would be your Top 5 tips for a Chapter considering hosting a virtual conference?

I would suggest members consider:

* Technical support – ensure you have a good team in place to identify and fix any technical issues before and during the event so participants can have a stress-free experience.

* Communication – for many this will be the first time they have attended or delivered lectures in this format. Have a clear plan of how this will work and communicate this clearly.

* Add value – make the virtual format a virtue, not a hindrance. Exploit features like live streaming, replay, customizable schedules, and other functionality only an online experience can offer.

* Share content – use social media platforms to make recorded content more widely available after conference sessions, and to shout about all the great work you’re doing for members.

* Feedback – we’re learning together in the ‘new normal’. Invite feedback so you can improve the virtual conference experience for guests, sponsors and attendees in the future.

What was the feedback from participants?

Sponsors and delegates were very pleased with what GeoAmericas 2020 online has achieved. Companies had the opportunity, through the virtual booths, GeoAmericas app, quizzes, advertisements, and other tools, to network in a totally new environment.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues to be solved to make their experience even better. Still, most of the companies and attendees were very understanding and supportive with the organizers. We thank all of them for that.

What were your personal memorable moments?

It was so nice to see so many faces on the numerous screens of each session room, wanting to participate, willing to cooperate, and accomplish the main objective of a major conference such as GeoAmericas.

I personally had the opportunity to talk to many attendees personally, aiming to guide them and say “Hi” and thank them for the contribution. That was such a unique personal opportunity.

We even had a Samba music event streamed live from a theater with a group of very talented women who performed the finest Samba selection. We will make the Samba video available to all attendees as a souvenir, as we had a lot of positive feedback from so many people.

Do you think the aims of the conference were met?

From the point of view of the organizing committee and IGS Brazil, we were very pleased with the final results of the conference regarding the achievement of the three main objectives: knowledge transmission, networking opportunities, and access to the newest technologies on geosynthetics.

Would you host another virtual conference or recommend other chapters to try?

I surely and strongly recommend other chapters to go down that route, so we can continue evolving and understanding what appears to be a new form of communication for scientific and commercial objectives. It is an effective, safe, and economic way of communication that won’t replace the face-to-face meetings but can, surely, complement and seed more and more users of geosynthetics. So, let’s use online to ‘seed’ and the face-to-face events to ‘harvest’.

What is in the IGS Brazil calendar for 2021?

We plan a continuous agenda of online events for the first half of the year, aiming to attract more end-users to our community and discuss guidance on the proper specification and installation of geosynthetics. For that, we are counting on the partnership of sister societies like ABINT (Brazilian Association of Nonwovens and Technical Wovens Manufacturers), ABMS (Brazilian Association of Soil Mechanics), in addition to the support of IGS through the Pan-American Activities Committee (PAAC).

And any final thoughts?

On behalf of IGS Brazil, I want to thank the geosynthetics community for being so supportive. A special thanks to IGS and all companies and entities that have put their brands next to ours on this digital journey. That meant so much to our organizing committee, which worked so many hours making difficult decisions all the time. It was a real demonstration of the maturity of a very proud geosynthetics community.