Online conferences – suggestions and solutions

Every year the Information and Communications Technology Forum (ICTF) holds an annual summer conference for around 400 delegates. In the past, this has always been an ‘in person’ event aimed at Oxford University IT staff and guests from the University of Cambridge as well.     

Faced with the ongoing global pandemic and uncertainty over government restrictions, the organising committee decided to run an online event in 2021 and extended invitations to the University of Edinburgh as well.   

As it was the first time the team had run a virtual conference - this brought new challenges to be met, but they were not daunted. 

The challenge in 2021 

New challenges associated with holding the conference online included: 

  • No exhibitors meant the conference would be free to join, but of course, this meant no/very small budget to work with.  
  • Speakers from around the world and delegates from three universities meant the conference needed to be held on an accessible, easy-to-use platform that would work for all.  
  • Three plenaries and 21 workshops over two half-days needed scheduling. 
  •  A user-friendly booking system that would work for three different universities needed creating from scratch. 


Microsoft Teams was the platform of choice for the event – this was technology the University already had (so no additional cost), and that all speakers and delegates had easy access to. 

Sticking with other technology we already had, the organisation team made a booking form using Microsoft Forms and Microsoft Flow to create registration confirmation emails, including Outlook calendar invitations to the events. Rob Eadie from IT Services told us about creating the booking form:

This was the biggest Flow I’ve created to date, and it worked well. We received positive feedback from delegates which was great to hear.  

All sessions were recorded in Microsoft Stream so they would be easily accessible to all. 

Things the team learned  

Of course, the team emerged from the process having learned a lot. Here are a few of their top tips: 

  • Keep it simple  
  • Use a platform people are familiar with  
  • Allow plenty of time for thorough testing  
  • You don’t need to spend extra on other conference platforms to run a successful event  
  • Virtual networking sessions need structure and meeting etiquette expectations announced 
  • People tend to participate more in Q & A when written in the chat.  

Although this was the team’s first time running an online event with new challenges, it worked well on the day receiving positive feedback from delegates such as:

Outstanding content from credible speakers in plenaries and workshops.

What does the future hold? 

The team has already started thinking about next year and how to do things next, possibly even holding a hybrid event. If you have any helpful suggestions, please get in touch with  

More about ICTF 

ICTF is a group which is made up of everyone at Oxford who works in Information and Communication Technology. Every year there are elections to nominate members of a steering committee, which spends the subsequent year delivering conferences, and other events, which it believes will be beneficial to the rest of the members.