Running a weekly virtual colloquium

Written in collaboration with Hsueh-Ti Derek Liu

In September 2020, together with Seungbae Bang and under the advisement of Professor Alec Jacobson, we founded the Toronto Geometry Colloquium, a student-run, weekly virtual webseries about geometry processing. Since then, we have successfully organized four seasons of our colloquium, which is still ongoing. In two years, we have hosted almost 80 speakers and accumulated over twenty thousand audience views.

This document has two purposes:

  1. By the student-run nature of our colloquium, it is expected that organizers will graduate, go off on internships or step down for many other reasons. At the same time, new students will join the team with fresh energies and new ideas. We want this to serve as an internal guide for any future additions to our team, who will hopefully continue our colloquium in one way or another after the original organizers have (reluctantly!) moved on.
  2. Starting this colloquium was a lot of work. We have been approached by groups of students who want to organize similar initiative in other disciplines and institutions. By writing this guide, we hope to make the work of starting your own webseries slightly easier, so that we can all enjoy more diverse, quality talks in the future.

We will organize this guide as a chronological checklist, grouping simultaneous tasks by topic.

2+ months before series launch

These items are a lot of work, but we speak from experience when we say that it is work that will get very quickly amortized as you start hosting the series.

Important decisions and internal logistics

  • Decide on a mission. This sounds abstract, but it will become important later on as you decide on speakers and judge success. Some interesting questions to ask yourselves and make sure you agree on before you start: What (and how large) is your target audience? , Who are your target speakers?, How broad are the topics you are willing to cover?. Most importantly, What does success look like? Would producing a very popular series that covers only the most popular of topics with the most well-known speakers satisfy you? How about one that is less accessible, but very important to its niche audience? Or one that loses on nuance in favour of being accessible to the newest of undergraduate students? Or one that introduces new speakers to your field?. As an example, you can find our colloquium’s mission at the top of our website.

  • Decide on a format. Ideally, this will be something that makes your webseries special. In our case, we took inspiration from live comedy or music shows and decided to pair an “opener” (more junior, speaking usually about one recent work) speaker with a “headliner” (usually more senior, giving a keynote-style talk that includes many works).

  • Decide on a rough timeline: when do you want your first session to be? How often do you want to host sessions? When will you have breaks between seasons?

  • Gather a (large) list of potential speakers that adjust to your mission statement. Survey members of your lab or colleagues about people they would be interested in hearing from, write down the names of authors of papers you really like. Don’t be afraid of being selfish: is there someone you are whose work you are really excited about? Add them to the list. A hundred names is an ambitious but reasonable target.

  • Create a spreadsheet that all organizers have access to, containing all past and future session dates (see below). Set very clear rules and conventions for adding names to this spreadsheet: for example, names in italics denote “people we are considering inviting”, names in roman font denote “potential speakers that we have invited but have not yet responded” and names in bold denote “speakers that have agreed to participate”. This will help make it very clear which dates are filled and which dates aren’t, and will avoid the situation where several speakers are offered the same date.

spreadsheet
  • Agree on a distribution of labour among the team members. Running this (especially if it’s weekly) is a lot of work, so it is very important to parallelize it efficiently. Everyone should be confident that they can fulfill their own role, and everyone should trust all others to fulfill it, keeping horizontal communication to a minimum. For example, you may appoint a poster person, an , a , a tech person and a host. In our case, the host role rotates weekly, while some people may take on more than one of the other roles at a given time. We will color-code the items of this mega-checklist so that each person can quickly identify their own personal checklist. Items in black should be shared by all.

Tech preparation

  • Create a simple website for your series of talks. You can spend as long as you want on this, but the minimal requirement is that it should list all upcoming talks, your mission statement and should link to all your social media. We are not expert web programmers but if you want to start somewhere, our html website repo is public. We use github pages to host the website for free.

  • Create a Google Account and its Youtube Channel.

  • Use your google account to create an empty, public Google Calendar where you will add any confirmed talks. We have found this is a the simplest, most accessible way of keeping a schedule.

  • Create (or make sure you have access to) a Pro Zoom Account, which may be provided by your institution.

  • Do one full dry run of all the items in the “Day of session” checklist below, with a fake speaker giving a short talk, running to the end. Use an unlisted Youtube livestream and check that it is streamed properly.

  • Create a mailing list that people can join to learn about upcoming sessions. We use Google Groups for this.

Social media preparation

Email preparation

Art preparation

  • Create some basic branding artistic elements: for example, a 400 px square logo and a 1500 px by 500 px banner image will cover most of your needs. This just needs to be good enough that it creates a recognizable brand identity for all your content.

  • Create a poster template. This is just a simple document that you will edit to insert each session’s art, speaker names and details. For example, here’s ours made in Adobe InDesign. It may also be useful to make a Youtube thumbnail template.

  • Gather a list of potential artists. You can look for freelance illustrators online or you can look at our colloquium’s art (artist names are on each poster’s bottom right) and write down the names of those you like.

Session checklist

Once you are done with all the items above, you are ready to start your webseries. It’s now time to prepare and run each individual session. Of course, the checklists for different sessions intersect: as you are inviting one speaker, you may be preparing the previous session’s poster and you are hosting the session before that. Something that has worked for us is setting a weekly time, for example, Mondays at 5 pm, where one goes through their role’s checklist for every upcoming talk as well as the shared spreadsheet and makes sure they are not behind schedule. This will also help limit your time commitment.

2 months before session

  • Choose and contact an artist to produce the session’s poster. In the first email, you can inform them of the deliverables (in our case, two portrait images and one main illustration), deadline (ideally, at least 14 days before the session date) and budget (the 500 dollar range is a reasonable one). You do not need to provide many details yet, so you can do this before you have confirmed the speakers. Here’s an example of what that email can look like. If they refuse or you don’t hear back, ask a different artist until one accepts.

  • Choose the speakers for the session. Anyone in the team can suggest names from the list, but care should be taken that the decision to invite them is unanimous.

  • Note: This action item can be very labor intensive, especially in the month before the series launch, so other team members may help with this step as well. A reasonable goal is to always have two pending invitations in the months before the series launch, to not get behind on filling up speaking slots.

1 month before session

  • Add confirmed speakers to Google calendar and website.

  • Send an email to the confirmed artist with all the poster details: speakers, topics, prompt, format, sketch deadline (usually a week before the final art deadline). Here’s an example of what this email can look like.

2 weeks before session

  • Converge with artist on final poster.

1 week before session

  • Create Youtube link for the session, using poster art.

  • Create Zoom link for the session. Importantly, make sure you are enabling the Zoom waiting room and the room has a password that you only share with your team and the speakers.

  • Add Youtube link to Google calendar and website. Add poster to the website.

Day before session

  • Write a detailed script. Don’t rush this step. Learn about the speakers, read their work, and craft proper, personalized, generous introductions for each speaker. They prepared a whole talk to present to you, they deserve a proper introduction. Here’s an example.

Day of session

  • 30 minutes before session start (T-30m)

  • (T-15m) Open the Zoom room for the session. Make sure you are in “Speaker” view, not in “Gallery” view in Zoom.

  • (T-15m) Open Youtube Studio. Enter the live stream control room.

  • (T-15m) Welcome speakers to the room.

  • (T-13m) Click on “Start livestream on custom live streaming service” in the Zoom room. It will take you to a website with some textboxes to fill. Use the information in the Youtube Studio livestream control room to fill these items out, and click on “Start Streaming”.

  • (T-10m) Do a quick tech check with all speakers: check that they can properly share screen, that their videos/audio are shared properly.

  • (T-5m) Explain process to speakers.Here’s my script for this step

  • (T-2m) Share screen with session poster (use “Advanced Screen Sharing options -> Share Region of Screen” in zoom so the window edges don’t appear).

  • (T-2m) Ask everyone to turn off their camera and microphones. Then, turn off your camera and microphone.

  • (T-1m) Click on “Go Live” in Youtube Studio. Wait one minute while sharing screen.

  • (T) Start speaking.

  • (T) Start speaking, following script.

  • (T+5m)

  • (During talk) Listen to the speakers carefully. Think of questions, and gather them from all internal and external channels, including Youtube Live Chat.

  • (T+59m) As the host is saying goodbye, start sharing screen with next week’s poster. Turn off everyone’s camera and microphone if they don’t do it themselves. Wait for one whole minute

  • (T+60m) On Zoom, click on “Stop Live stream”. Wait 30 seconds. Then, click on “Stop Livestream” on Youtube.

  • (T+61m) Tell everyone else in the room that you are now off the air.

  • (T+62m) Thank and say goodbye to the speakers.

  • (T+65m) Close the Zoom room.

Day after session

Week after session

  • Mail physical poster copies to speakers.