Holding an Online BIRS Meeting

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, BIRS has embarked on a new method of holding scientific meetings: via Zoom.

One advantage that online workshops have over physical ones is that the capacity is not limited by our physical room size. Our Zoom meetings support up to 300 participants, and BIRS can leverage its large database of mathematical scientists to provide suggestions for researchers who may be interested in joining your meeting.

Several BIRS workshops have opted to try this format, and feedback has been very positive. Checkout the schedules and video recordings of these events, to get an idea of how they were organized:

The dedicated team of BIRS staff are available to help you plan and setup your online meeting, and remain available for providing support to organizers and participants throughout the online meeting.

Tips for Organizing Online Meetings

  • The same Zoom links all week We find it works best to schedule 1 - 3 Zoom meetings, set for 24 hours long, recurring every day for the entire length of the workshop. We will setup a "Main Meeting" to be used for all of the talks, and 2 or 3 others for breakout sessions.
  • Use a compressed schedule. Video chats are more exhausting than in-person ones. So the meeting will be more enjoyable for participants if there are fewer talks, and shorter ones. Also schedule longer breaks, to allow people to recover between sessions.
  • Schedule social time. Science is a social activity. One of the main reasons that people like to go to conferences is to meet new people and have informal discussions about their research with peers. Scheduling social sessions can provide some semblance of these opportunities. Meeting 10 minutes before, and after, scheduled talks can provide some time to chat and establish bonds.
  • Technical support and practice sessions. Some people may be apprehensive about the technology. BIRS staff will be there to provide any support needed, and this needs to be communicated to participants at every opportunity. We will schedule at least one of the meetings to start before the workshop, so that participants can join to practice sharing their slides, or anything else they wish to test.
  • Recordings of talks. Due to timezone issues, people are going to miss some talks. BIRS provides almost immediate posting of video recordings, so participants can catch up on what they missed. Recorded live talks are much more enjoyable to watch than pre-recorded talks with no audience.
  • Use real names. Participants should be encouraged to use their professional names as their online handle, just like a conference name tag. This will encourage interaction and enhance the meeting experience for participants.
  • Consider collaboration software. We can setup a Slack workspace, or a Zulip account for your participants to continue discussion in written form, and work together on open problems, before, during, and after the workshop.

How To Prepare Your Online BIRS Meeting

1. Let BIRS know

E-mail the BIRS Program Coordinator at birs@birs.ca to let us know that you want to proceed with your meeting. Please include your event code, e.g., 20w5143, in the subject line. We will guide you through every step, and do whatever we can to help, starting with setting up the Zoom meetings, and posting the details where you and your participants can access.

2. Enter your schedule of talks

If you have not done so already, first register an account with our workshops management interface, at:


Once you are registered, navigate to your workshop and click the Schedule link.

Click the "Add an Item on [Day]" to add items to the schedule. If you want to record a talk, select a name of a confirmed participant from the drop-down menu under the heading, "Speaker (if this is a talk):". The time zone is in Mountain Standard Time (Edmonton, Canada), MDT (UTC-6h).

Please schedule:

  • 5 minutes for a Welcome Talk by BIRS Staff on the first day of your meeting.
  • 5 minutes for a Group Photo — we will ask everyone to turn on their cameras, and take a screenshot.
  • shorter talks than usual, if possible, because being online can be tiring for many people
  • longer breaks than you would for a physical meeting, because being online is tiring and breaks at home often take more effort

3. Invite more participants (optional)

BIRS can search its database to find potential participants with research interests that overlap with the subject of your workshop. We will add them to your Not Yet Invited list for your review, and you can click a button to send them an invitation. You can have up to 300 participants in each Zoom meeting. More can watch on the BIRS Live Stream.

Participating in the Meeting

If you have specific questions about the software, Zoom has extensive documentation at https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us. You can also email us at help@birs.ca to ask any question.

When participants click the meeting links, they will be asked whether to open the Zoom software (if installed -- if not, it will ask to download & install), or to join with their web browser. Most modern computing devices -- desktop, laptop, tablet, phones -- can be used to join. Room-based videoconferencing systems can also join.

Upon joining the virtual meeting, the participant's microphone will automatically be set to Mute, so any noises they make will not interrupt the meeting underway. If they want to speak, first they click to unmute their microphone. They can also choose to enable or disable their computer's video camera, so others in the meeting can see their face.

The Zoom software does a pretty good job of picking out the active speaker, and putting the video focus on them. BIRS staff will make the organizer a co-host of the meeting, which will give you the ability to mute and unmute participants (if they have trouble doing it themselves), and to request that they turn on their video camera. A BIRS staff member will also be present in the virtual meeting, to assist if needed, and to start and stop live streaming and recording of the sessions.

During sessions, external viewers can watch on the BIRS live stream. Recordings will be posted to the workshop web page. BIRS will also provide an easy way for participants to submit their slide files, to be included on the workshop web page.

Questions & Technical Help

If you have any technical questions please reach out to our Technology Manager at help@birs.ca.

If you have logistical questions, please contact the BIRS Program Coordinator at birs@birs.ca.

You can reach the BIRS Scientific Director at birs-director@birs.ca.