From AEA 2020 to C2021: Breaking new ground

This year the American Evaluation Association (AEA)’s annual conference was a virtual one, with online sessions replacing the event originally scheduled for October in Portland Oregon. The theme of the AEA 2020 conference was How Will You Shine Your Light?

Last summer, because of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, the AEA had to pivot sharply and begin planning for a virtual conference. AEA conference organizers had much to learn about holding an online event. Fortunately, they saw opportunities for innovation and took advantage of them.

The AEA 2020 experience provides lessons to the CES about holding our upcoming conference. A team of tech-savvy C2021 conference leaders participated in AEA 2020 and recently met – virtually of course – to review what worked, and why, and what features can be incorporated into C2021 to create value in the online experience for participants. Here are some of their thoughts about conference features that worked well:

Participant and presenter interactions

Seeing everyone in a session. Photos and profiles of participants are helpful.

Enabling participants to interact live during sessions, including sharing resources and tips during practice-oriented sessions.

Allowing participants to connect individually.

Having questions and polls that allow for immediate feedback, for example, to prioritize questions to a presenter from a large group.


Daily messages on what’s coming up, reminders about sessions, and highlights of the day’s sessions and conversations.

Posting sessions and presentation documents online ASAP following sessions, and leaving them up for several months.

A host who can direct traffic and help participants to navigate through a full agenda with concurrent sessions.


A platform that supports multiple windows to facilitate multitasking, referring to materials during presentations, and seeing two or more concurrent sessions.

Inspired and informed by this successful AEA experience, CES leaders are committed to making C2021 the best virtual evaluation conference!