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Chapter News: South Central Chapter’s 2020 Digital Conference

Digital versions of South Central Chapter members.

As the looming threat of the pandemic remained constant into the summer of 2020, the South Central Chapter (SCC/MLA) Executive Board was faced with a harsh reality: an in-person conference would be impossible. Plans had to be made to convert the meeting to a virtual platform. The first hurdle that Chapter President Anne Baxter Howard faced was the strict cancellation fee of $56,000, a clause written into the conference’s contract with the hotel. After many rigorous discussions, Howard was able to secure a nonmonetary cancellation, following a promise to reschedule in 2022.

Nine members volunteered to help make this idea a reality and formed the Virtual Arrangements Committee (VAC). When it is said that VAC “came together” to plan the virtual conference, it should be clarified that this naturally was also done virtually, adding an extra layer of difficulty. With just twelve weeks to go, these members pooled a substantial amount of technological knowledge to breathe life into a conference that appeared to be on its deathbed.

While initially we worried about the involvement of SCC/MLA members, we were in fact overwhelmed by chapter support. Not only did we have a record of 273 registrants, the October 25–29 conference centered on the submissions of more than 40 high-quality papers and posters by fellow attendees. From an outside perspective, the flow of the conference seemed effortless but really was achieved by extreme detail and planning. The coordination and teamwork put forth by various members to facilitate this transition from in person to via Zoom spoke volumes about the adaptability of SCC/MLA members. One thing became clear from this chapter’s above and beyond approach to tackling the challenges of this year: adversity only enhances the spirit of a strong community.

Additionally the SCC/MLA’s virtual conference brought with it an unpredicted financial success. Of 12 sponsors, a third achieved the golden level by contributing $1,000. We allowed each of the golden sponsors 15 minutes to present their products uninterrupted by other programing and, as a result, received excellent feedback from the vendors. We received a response from a vendor stating that our meeting provided “the best representation and interaction” that they had received in a virtual format. Unlike the exhibit hall presentation style often provided to sponsors, this format allowed a high-traffic platform as the products were presented. Notably, the vendor product information was actually informative and was a strong addition to the breadth of the conference’s knowledgebase. In total, the conference generated over $13,000 from the 273 registrants and various sponsors.

SCC/MLA 2020 conference
South Central Chapter Business Meeting & Professional Awards.

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