The American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) virtual annual meeting this year was scheduled to last 13 days, with 27,000 attendees and thousands of sessions running nonstop for 20 hours each day. The event organizers quickly realized that running the event with producers spread around the world would not be feasible. 

To solve the problem, they used a central, socially distanced command center with an in-person team of 11 people. The team of AGU staffers – and members of the event’s production team, Projection – were seated at individual stations – 10 feet ( ~ 3 meters) from each other and used headsets to communicate with each other and any remote staffers. Along with the headsets, they utilized a 26-screen viewing center in order to see and hear every single session, communicate with the team in charge of each session, and troubleshoot in real time.

“We realized as the meeting grew that managing that scale of complexity, remotely, is really hard to do,” said Lauren Parr, vice president of meetings at AGU. “With all of these people working together behind the scenes, we were much more quickly able to troubleshoot issues and repair them or fix them. Blood pressure-wise, stress-wise, I would not have survived this remotely. I needed to be with my people.”

In order to ramp up to the expected 26 concurrent sessions per day, they initially

launched seven or eight tracks the first day, and added a few more on the following days. Additionally, in the first few days, sessions were simultaneously streamed live on Facebook. 

“So in the event that you couldn’t get into the platform, or didn’t have the bandwidth or were just figuring it out, you could still get that content,” explained Parr.

As almost 40% of attendees were not based in the United States, captions and accessibility features to offer interpretation were available for both live and pre recorded sessions.