Conferencing in a Virtual World

The 2020 National Presidents’ Leadership Conference was scheduled to be held at the University of Pittsburgh on September 18-20, 2020. In late spring, the national board made the difficult decision to move the conference to a virtual format in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of boarding planes and gassing up cars to travel to Pittsburgh for a full weekend conference, the attendees logged into Zoom for a one-day remote conference on Saturday, September 19. Although the conference may have had a different look and feel, many of the same objectives were achieved.

Traditionally, due to the cost involved in hosting the in-person conference, each chapter sends one representative to the conference. While the virtual format did require modifying many of the elements of the conference, one advantage it provided was the flexibility for chapters to send more than one representative to participate. As National Board member Ryan Upshaw put it, “Given the difficulty of the pandemic, the advent of technology allowed us to still meet with our presidents and deliver our Gift of Fellowship to our new members. Being able to engage virtually took the pressure of travel off of our students.” 

The morning started with a welcome by the National President, John Hauser, followed by an overview of the four pillars of the society, a presentation of the mission and diversity statement, and a vote on national board elections and national by-laws changes. After taking care of the general conference business, the attendees participated in interactive sessions on four topics: Leading a Chapter in a Pandemic, Fundraising, Service Projects, and Recruitment and Rituals. They also had the chance to meet in smaller groups with their national board liaisons who serve as their primary point of contact when they have questions or need support at the local chapter level.

Image of conference zoom session
One conference session asked the participants to reflect on leadership qualities of effective chapter presidents.

In addition to learning more about these essential elements of running a successful Lambda Sigma chapter, the chapter representatives had the opportunity to connect with each other and get to know their peers via virtual ice breakers. These ice breakers also served to model how they might engage their chapters’ members during virtual meetings. Given the remote format, there was some concern that participants might not get to know each other and form connections the way they normally would at the in-person conference. Board member Becki Leonard said, “I was worried that students would be nervous to engage, but I felt that they had really great conversations and shared valuable insight.” Several chapter presidents mentioned that they learned a lot during the day and enjoyed being able to meet chapter representatives from across the country.

As expected, many of the discussions and ideas that were shared at the conference focused on how to foster fellowship, leadership, scholarship, and service during a pandemic, but one sentiment that was expressed throughout the day was that despite challenges there will be new opportunities for service. The chapter leaders seemed as eager to serve their communities now as ever. When asked what stood out to him, Vinnie Birkenmeyer shared this takeaway, “It was so great to hear from the various chapters about the amazing ideas they have for their campuses this year! Although this is a different year, it is clear that one thing is still the same- Lambda Sigma has great leaders amongst their ranks at all of our chapters across the nation!”