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ICLR2020 Guidance for Virtual Workshops

ICLR2020 will be hosted as a fully virtual conference this year. Like the main conference, each workshop should also be a mix of pre-recorded talks, asynchronous engagement, and live engagement through Q&A and in-person video calls.  In general, you are free to experiment with your virtual workshops in any ways you like - your experience will later be collected to inform the set of possible approaches for virtual events in our field. This is a guide with the key tasks and considerations for your next steps as we approach the workshop day.

Aims and Objectives

We know that the changing situation creates a great deal of uncertainty and pressure on you, and our aim is to support you in all the ways we can. Our aims are to:

  • Give you the  structure and support you need to reduce uncertainty and give you the confidence needed to create the best workshop you can;

  • Align the tools and experience in certain ways with what will be used in the main conference for consistency and ease of use;

  • Support the creation of the long-lasting archive of your workshops activities and outputs;

  • Allow you to explore different ways of creating virtual workshops that can provide insight into the future support of virtual events across our field;

  • Do this in the time we have available, i.e. before 24 April.

To achieve this, there are some tools we will require you use, and others that are our recommendations. This message has these details and instructions for tasks we need you to complete. We have a slack workroom for workshop organizers (sent in email) so we can more easily discuss our plans. We have a detailed FAQ that will provide other details and answers to other questions that you should also read. 

Overall Format

The virtual format of the workshop means that asynchronous engagement becomes a basis of the workshops so that it works across time zones and access needs. Our guidance is:

  • You must use pre-recorded videos for all keynote talks, contributed talks, and posters. Details of recording are in the next section. Posters are also presented as short videos.

  • As a suggestion, you can ask participants to create 5 min videos for poster presentations,  15-min videos for your contributed talks, and 30-min videos for invited talks.

  • Use a Q&A tool to gather questions for the keynotes throughout the day. 

  • You can create live Q&A sessions, 15-30 mins in duration,  with your keynote speakers. A moderator will be needed to read out submitted questions, as well as to coordinate and take any live questions. 

  • Use a dedicated block of time for live engagement (in a chosen timezone), wherein you can host live content, such as panel discussions, live poster spotlights, and Q&A sessions. 

  • Host blocks of time when poster presenters will be available online to discuss their poster. This can be over live video call. If chat is easier, use a collection of ask-me-anything-type sessions.

Talks and Videos

All your workshop’s talks must be recorded using a tool developed by our video partner SlidesLive (which allows us to have a consistent experience, and rely on the scalability of slides live for large amounts of video content). To do this every poster and speaker will need to be sent a personalised invitation link by SlidesLive

TODO: Please create a spreadsheet with the names of every poster presenter and speaker at your workshop. Include the fields:  ID, name of speakers, talk/paper title, speaker-email. For ID, create an ID of your choice,.eg., the Workshop on Machine Learning for Developing Countries could use MLDC_1, … , MLDC_50  for their 50 presenters. Copy your sheet to the Driver folder (sent in email) by Wednesday, 1 April 2020, 3pm UTC.


  • Ask your speakers to prepare the material for their talks, which they will eventually record as a video as soon as they get their invitations.  These videos will become part of the permanent record of the conference workshops.

    • For poster presentations, this video takes the place of what you would communicate at an in-person poster session. Make sure it is easy to understand.

    • Authors of accepted papers do not need to make a poster. They can use slides that help communicate their work in the most accessible way, and in the time allocated. 

  • Speakers will need to upload the slides or share a link to them, so use only formats that can easily be shared: a PDF of your slides, link to a cloud-based presentation that is widely accessible (e.g., Google Slides, Dropbox Paper, Prezi), or on a web-page.

  • Submit your videos by 14 April 2020 (AOE). You can make this date sooner, but it shouldn’t be done later so that you have all the content needed to test your workshop’s tools.

Time Zones

Accessibility across time zones is one of the major challenges of the virtual format. By mixing the asynchronous and synchronous formats, you can still form the sense of community and engagement around a shared topic. We recommend: 

  • Pick a timezone for live events. There will always be people who are excluded by this choice, which is unavoidable. This will involve a tradeoff between where most of your organisers are versus where your contributors are based.

  • If you can, record your live sessions; this allows people who miss the live sessions to still learn from the discussion.

  • Take advantage of the asynchronous nature. For example, for the main conference we have live poster sessions at different time zones across the world, creating a constant set of poster discussions.

  • In general, make time-zone decisions that make participation in healthy working hours a priority.

  • See the ICLR blog post for the details of the main conference approach.

Live Q&A and Panels

  • Live Q&A and panels can be hosted through a series of video calls, a live stream or webinar.

  • You can use any tool you like, especially tools you are familiar with and trust. 

  • ICLR may already have a subscription to some tools, so check the workshop section of the FAQ or with the workshop organisers.

  • Depending on the approach you take, if you need a subscription for any particular tools, we ask that you pay for them and then claim the cost from ICLR, which we will reimburse. Check and coordinate this with the workshop chairs before going ahead.

Website Presence

  • Every workshop will have a page on the main conference portal (we will give you an idea of what this is  soon) that will point participants to your workshop and website. Each workshop will also have a chat stream that can be used for general discussion of the workshop topic throughout the week.

  • Most engagement will happen through your own pages. Two possibilities:

    • You can create your own webpages for the video and other content by building on your existing site, embedding videos into your own site, using online tools that you might prefer and trust, and providing the links and schedule for synchronous and asynchronous engagement.

    • You can use some of the tools we are using for the main website, which involves creating static web pages for every poster/talk with a dedicated chat channel using Gitter, Slido for collecting questions for the live sessions, and Zoom for video calls for poster sessions and live sessions. We will soon post a guide on the FAQ section of the website (so check again soon for these details). 

  • When considering tools, think about what is most accessible. Many of the tools we listed above were chosen because they are accessible in most countries and support other accessibility modes.

Sponsors, Communications, Engagement

  • Some workshops may have already agreed sponsorship. How you proceed with this depends on how conversations have evolved with your sponsors since the shift to the virtual format. Continue to recognise your sponsors in tasteful ways, use them to support your tooling needs and organisation, and to allow their experience in the topic of your workshop to continue to inform the conversation and outcomes. 

  • We’ll do what we can to support the engagement and visibility of your workshop. Send us a tweet that we can share from the ICLR account. We will monitor our feed for anything we are included in and retweet as well.

  • Create a calendar that participants can include into their calendars to help them manage their time and know when live sessions are taking place.

Summary of Tasks

  • Send us a list of papers and IDs by 1 April so we can get the recording links sent out.

  • Decide on the concrete format of your workshop: decide how you are going to run invited talks (if any), the contributed talks/posters (if any), and the discussions (if any).

  • Join the slack workroom for workshop organizers (sent with email) so we can more easily discuss our plans.

  • Finalize the schedule (time at which live-session should take place), make the timezones clear.

  • Create a plan for bringing your content together and some testing of different edge cases, and complete this before the workshops on the 26th of April.