More Thoughts on Pre-recording Conference Talks

Posted on 7 minute read

Over the weekend, I posted an article here about pre-recording conference talks and sent a tweet about the idea on Monday. I hoped to generate discussion about recording talks to fill in gaps—positive and negative—about the concept, and I was not disappointed. I’m particularly thankful to Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and Andromeda Yelton along with Jason Griffey, Junior Tidal, and Edward Lim Junhao for generously sharing their thoughts. Daniel S and Kate Deibel also commented on the Code4Lib Slack team. I added to the previous article’s bullet points and am expanding on some of the issues here. I’m inviting everyone mentioned to let me know if I’m mischaracterizing their thoughts, and I will correct this post if I hear from them. (I haven’t found a good comments system to hook into this static site blog.)

Pre-recorded Talks Limit Presentation Format

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe made this point early in the feedback:

Jason described the “flipped classroom” model that he had in mind as the NISOplus2021 program was being developed. The flipped classroom model is one where students do the work of reading material and watching lectures, then come to the interactive time with the instructors ready with questions and comments about the material. Rather than the instructor lecturing during class time, the class time becomes a discussion about the material. For NISOplus, “the recording is the material the speaker and attendees are discussing” during the live Zoom meetings.

In the previous post, I described how the speaker could respond in text chat while the recording replay is beneficial. Lisa went on to say:

She described an example: the SSP preconference she ran at CHS. I’m paraphrasing her tweets in this paragraph. The preconference had a short keynote and an “Oprah-style” panel discussion (not pre-prepared talks). This was done live; nothing was recorded. After the panel, people worked in small groups using Zoom and a set of Google Slides to guide the group work. The small groups reported their discussions back to all participants.

Andromeda points out (paraphrasing twitter-speak): “Presenters will need much more— and more specialized—skills to pull it off, and it takes a lot more work.” And Lisa adds: “Just so there is no confusion … I don’t think being online makes it harder to do interactive. It’s the pre-recording. Interactive means participants co-create the session. A pause to chat isn’t going to shape what comes next on the recording.”

Increased Technical Burden on Speakers and Organizers

Andromeda also agreed with this: “I will say one of the things I appreciated about NISO is that @griffey did ALL the video editing, so I was not forced to learn how that works.” She continued, “everyone has different requirements for prerecording, and in [Code4Lib’s] case they were extensive and kept changing.” And later added: “Part of the challenge is that every conference has its own tech stack/requirements. If as a presenter I have to learn that for every conference, it’s not reducing my workload.”

It is hard not to agree with this; a high-quality (stylistically and technically) recording is not easy to do with today’s tools. This is also a technical burden for meeting organizers. The presenters will put a lot of work into talks—including making sure the recordings look good; whatever playback mechanism is used has to honor the fidelity of that recording. For instance, presenters who have gone through the effort to ensure the accessibility of the presentation color scheme want the conference platform to display the talk “as I created it.”

The previous post noted that recorded talks also allow for the creation of better, non-real-time transcriptions. Lisa points out that presenters will want to review that transcription for accuracy, which Jason noted adds to the length of time needed before the start of a conference to complete the preparations.

Increased Logistical Burden on Presenters

This is a consideration I hadn’t thought through—that presenters have to devote more clock time to the presentation because first they have to record it and then they have to watch it. (Or, as Andromeda added, “significantly more than twice the time for some people, if they are recording a bunch in order to get it right and/or doing editing.”)

No. Audience. Reaction.

Wow, yes. I imagine it would take a bit of imagination to get in the right mindset to give a talk to a small camera instead of an audience. I wonder how stand-up comedians are dealing with this as they try to put on virtual shows. Andromeda summed this up:

Also in this heading could be “No Speaker Reaction”—or the inability for subsequent speakers at a conference to build on something that someone said earlier. In the Code4Lib Slack team, Daniel S noted: “One thing comes to mind on the pre-recording [is] the issue that prerecorded talks lose the ‘conversation’ aspect where some later talks at a conference will address or comment on earlier talks.” Kate Deibel added: “Exactly. Talks don’t get to spontaneously build off of each other or from other conversations that happen at the conference.”

Currency of information

Lisa points out that pre-recording talks before en event means there is a delay between the recording and the playback. In the example she pointed out, there was a talk at RLUK that pre-recorded would have been about the University of California working on an Open Access deal with Elsevier; live, it was able to be “the deal we announced earlier this week”.


Near the end of the discussion, Lisa added:

…and Andromeda added: “Strong agree here. I understand that this year everyone was making it up as they went along, but going forward it’d be great to know that in advance.”

That means conferences will need to take these needs into account well before the Call for Proposals (CfP) is published. A conference that is thinking now about pre-recording their talks must work through these issues and set expectations with presenters early.

As I hoped, the Twiter replies tempered my eagerness for the all-recorded style with some real-world experience. There could be possibilities here, but adapting face-to-face meetings to a world with less travel won’t be simple and will take significant thought beyond the issues of technology platforms.

Edward Lim Junhao summarized this nicely: “I favor unpacking what makes up our prof conferences. I’m interested in recreating that shared experience, the networking, & the serendipity of learning sth you didn’t know. I feel in-person conferences now have to offer more in order to justify people traveling to attend them.”

Related, Andromeda said: “Also, for a conf that ultimately puts its talks online, it’s critical that it have SOMEthing beyond content delivery during the actual conference to make it worth registering rather than just waiting for youtube. realtime interaction with the speaker is a pretty solid option.”

If you have something to add, reach out to me on Twitter. Given enough responses, I’ll create another summary. Let’s keep talking about what that looks like and sharing discoveries with each other.

The Tree of Tweets

It was a great discussion, and I think I pulled in the major ideas in the summary above. With some guidance from Ed Summers, I’m going to embed the Twitter threads below using Treeverse by Paul Butler. We might be stretching the boundaries of what is possible, so no guarantees that this will be viewable for the long term.