A "Virtual" Conference
By Barbara Heaney
Niantic Connecticut USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 3, May-June 2000, p. 90
How would you like to attend an LLLI Conference from the comfort of your own home? You can read session reports and view photos of participants and guests of the 1999 LLLI Conference at the LLLI website (www.lalecheleague.org/99conf. html). Most of this section of the website was created during the Conference by volunteers who staffed the Technology Room, an entire room that was devoted to La Leche League Online's activities.
During the Conference, visitors to the Technology Room had an opportunity to see web pages being created for the LLLI Website, send email to friends and family at home, and meet LLLOnline staff. At certain pre-scheduled times, they could see Conference speakers such as Peggy O'Mara, editor of Mothering magazine and Nancy Samalin, author of Loving Your Child Is Not Enough, participating in five online chats with people at home. These chats were like online "sessions" with Conference speakers - a "virtual" conference.
The Technology Room introduced the online ventures of LLLI to Leaders and members who otherwise would have no access to them. Conference attendees with no personal computer access could view the LLLI website and see for themselves the information and support it provides to mothers throughout the world. Since web pages were created during the Conference, Leaders and members who were unable to attend could see highlights and photos of sessions soon after the sessions occurred.
The activities in the Technology Room were helpful to Leaders who work with LLLOnline. There were many handouts about how Leaders represent LLL in online forums and how local LLL Groups can get Group Web pages. Mini-sessions were available on answering Help Forms, participating in online chats, and other topics for the benefit of LLL Leaders. LLLOnline staff and Leaders who previously knew each other only via the Internet were able to meet face-to-face. The informal networking and brainstorming that occurred in the Technology Room has had lasting impact. It has led to improvements in many of LLLOnline's activities, including plans for the next LLLI Conference which will be held at the Chicago Hilton and Towers July 7 - 10, 2001.
"It was extremely gratifying and encouraging to hear the comments we received on our Virtual Conference activities," said Sue Ann Kendall, LLLI Website Manager. "Other common comments were about how loyal and helpful our volunteer staff was. There was a core of dedicated members of the LLLOnline staff who donated much of their conference time to help host the Virtual Conference, keep the computers up and running, and facilitate our chats and web pages. In many ways, our volunteers stepped in and did whatever was necessary to make the Virtual Conference experience great."
Plans are in the works for the 2001 Virtual Conference for live Internet broadcasts of some of the major sessions, banquet talks, and other points of interest. The Technology Room will have even more resources available for Conference attendees relating to web browsing, chatting, and creating web pages.
Kendall adds, "I'd like people to know that LLLOnline and the Virtual Conference do not represent a radical departure for LLL activities. Instead, LLLOnline takes what LLL has always done in local communities and applies it to a new type of community, the Internet. We do the same kinds of outreach and mother-to-mother support, just among people who are separated physically. Emotionally, though, we are one big community. The love and caring expressed by LLLOnline staff is just as real as that among local Chapters and Areas."