A Sprocket Mural Works mural at the Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg, PA. Photo courtesy of Sean Simmers, PennLive.com July 12, 2016

mural on brick wall says Harrisburg in large letters

Wonder what’s going on with the our 2021 Annual Meeting planning?

Read on to find answers to your questions. Have additional questions? Contact us.

This FAQ is a work in progress. We will continue to update it as our planning evolves.

Last updated: July 6, 2021

Planning Process Questions

When is the 2021 meeting?

There will be both an in-person and a virtual component for those who cannot attend in person. The two modes will be consecutive, but not simultaneous.

A limited number of in-person sessions will be held October 21–24, 2021 at the Hilton Harrisburg in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Some of the events from the in-person meeting will be live-streamed and/or recorded to be available to all participants.

Virtual sessions will take place over 3-4 days in mid-October, on dates close to the in-person meeting but not overlapping it. The exact dates will be released with the preliminary schedule in June. Keeping these dates open until then will give us needed flexibility in scheduling the accepted proposals that we will collect through April 30. Most virtual sessions will be recorded for asynchronous access.

All registered attendees will be eligible to attend either or both conference modes. However, if current levels of social distancing are still required in the fall, we may need to enforce capacity limits at the conference venue in October. In that case, we may add a separate, first-come, first-served sign-up process, at no extra charge, to limit in-person attendance; we will inform all registered attendees if/when that sign-up begins.

For now, we will wait and see, and hope for the best. We urge you to do the same, and to refrain from making any non-refundable travel arrangements until more information is available.

What is the timeline for submitting proposals?

The call for proposals was posted at the end of March. The deadline for proposals was May 2.

What kind of program can we expect, given two meeting modes?

As usual, the lion’s share of the program depends on the proposals or presentations and events that are submitted by participants. If there is something you’d like to see, help us make it happen! We encourage session organizers to think creatively about how to adapt panels to make the most of each meeting style. Contact us at [email protected] if you’d like to discuss options.

Important Note: By default, sessions will be limited to 90 minutes. In Harrisburg, these shorter sessions will allow time for ventilation and cleaning in-between sessions; in the virtual meeting, shorter sessions help avoid Zoom fatigue and leave time for breaks. Contact us at [email protected] if you have plans that warrant an exception.

We expect both modalities to include a range of events, including keynote addresses, sessions, and social and networking events, and to be complete, satisfying experiences individually, while also complementing each other.

Because social distancing reduces the physical capacity of the conference meeting space, and because more attendees will be able to participate in the virtual meeting, most paper panels will be presented virtually, while we will prioritize panels and events that foster or depend upon active interaction in the limited physical space of the in-person meeting.

Recordings of most virtual events will be added for on-demand viewing for a limited period of time to registered attendees.

When will the program be released?

The preliminary program will be posted by July 10. Requests for changes must be submitted by July 18. Changes to the scheduling of concurrent sessions should be implemented by the end of July, though additional information about events may continue to emerge through August and September.

Why was this decision made in February? Why not wait to see how the vaccination roll-out proceeds?

In short, planning an annual meeting takes time, not just because of the amount of work for the planners, but also because we must conclude contracts with meeting service providers well in advance. The timing of this decision is driven, in part, by our existing contract for conference space, which includes increasing penalties for changes as the meeting nears.

In addition, our 2021 survey of prospective attendees provides evidence that a significant number of prospective participants will not be able to travel for reasons that will not be resolved by vaccinations, like financial concerns, so it’s not too soon to choose a virtual option in order to keep the annual meeting as widely accessible as possible.

I would be interested in hearing about the breakdown of costs of a virtual conference. Is a virtual meeting cheaper than an in-person meeting?

We know many of you are curious about costs and the meeting planning process. We could talk about this for hours. Later this spring, we will host a virtual information session to dig into the issue for those who would like to hear more.

For now, in short and generally speaking, virtual meetings are not necessarily cheaper, and we are finding that they can cost as much or more for AFS than our typical in-person meeting. As we explore our options, we are focused on producing the most engaging virtual meeting possible while keeping costs similar to meetings in previous years.

Virtual meeting costs include remote meeting software licenses to meet the number of sessions needed, a platform (website and backend) to run the meeting, and considerable staff time (with additional tech staff support) in planning, production, and attendee support (more than for an in-person meeting). Other important add-ons include networking, on-demand access of videos, processes to make signing-in to the platform easier for attendees, and tech support. Some features, like an event platform with networking, tend to have a significant fixed cost as an entry point; then, in general, the variable that affects pricing more than most is the number of sessions and the labor needed to prepare and execute the meeting.

AFS in-person meeting costs include AV equipment and production (the single biggest price tag is internet, projectors and screens in each meeting room), food and beverage, honoraria, travel support, and staff time. In-person meetings have a lower threshold for fixed costs, but higher variable costs and higher potential liabilities to the conference venue if meeting attendees can’t participate. (We urge all attendees who can afford to stay at the meeting hotel to do so, since this will help us meet our contractual obligation.) As in the case of virtual meetings, the variable that has the biggest impact on cost is the number of sessions.

A true “hybrid” meeting, which aims to deliver an in-person meeting and a virtual meeting simultaneously, with live broadcasts of local content and virtual participation in local sessions, is the most expensive option, since it essentially adds all the basic costs of one mode to all the costs of the other. There are additional AV costs to integrate the two modes, as well, and industry experts agree that hybrid meetings require roughly 3-4 times the number of staff hours of a conventional meeting.

Our 2021 commitment to both in-person meeting and virtual components will likely exceed the costs of either an in-person meeting or virtual meeting taken individually, but they will not rise to the level of a true hybrid model, as we are working to rein in costs by finding reasonable limits to the scale of each.

Why do both? Why not offer only one?

Our existing contract with the Harrisburg Hilton would not allow us to walk away from the in-person meeting without significant penalties, even if we wanted to. And we don’t want to: most prospective attendees really want to meet in-person as soon as possible, and our survey results tell us that many are willing to travel if they can.

On the other hand, going all-in on an in-person meeting would make the annual meeting inaccessible to a significant number of potential attendees:

  • There is consensus among conference travel industry leaders and association colleagues that safety measures, including social distancing, will remain in place for some time, certainly through the end of 2021.
  • In our survey of prospective attendees’ preferences, half of the survey respondents said they would have concerns about travel, even if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Setting health concerns aside, significant numbers of respondents cited other obstacles to meeting in person, including travel restrictions (49%) or other travel concerns (42%), financial barriers (45%), and schedule inflexibility (33%).
  • If social distancing remains in place, as current news suggests will continue to be necessary, our meeting spaces can’t accommodate our usual attendance safely.

Though our 2021 commitment to both in-person meeting and virtual components will likely exceed the costs of either an in-person meeting or virtual meeting, it will not rise to the level of a true hybrid model, as we work to rein in costs by finding reasonable limits to the scale of each. Furthermore, we urge all attendees who can afford to stay at the Harrisburg Hilton to do so (and to make your reservation using the link that we will provide later, on the 2021 Annual Meeting page), which will help us meet our guest room commitment.

What plans are in place to deal with COVID-19?

Our answer to this question will evolve throughout our planning process as more information becomes available. See our most recent status update at Meeting Essentials.

We will also continually update the section on “COVID-19 Risk” in our Annual Meeting Policies. Contact us at [email protected] for questions.

Why are sessions planned to be 90-minutes instead of two hours?

In Harrisburg, these shorter sessions will allow time for ventilation and cleaning in-between sessions; in the virtual meeting, shorter sessions help avoid Zoom fatigue and leave time for breaks. Contact us at [email protected] if you have plans that warrant an exception.

Why are virtual events scheduled on Eastern Time?

Despite appearances, AFS virtual events are scheduled not for Eastern Time, but for a wide range of time zones. We may display times in Eastern Time (which governs Harrisburg and where we are headquartered at Indiana University), but we strive to schedule virtual sessions at a time that adjusts to other time zones.

Based on our membership, past meeting registration lists, and our meeting planning surveys, we expect participants from around the world. In 2020, AFS staff spent a great deal of time reviewing the virtual meeting daily schedule from every angle, aiming to make it as accessible as possible for the greatest number of participants. Though we regret the discomfort of an 8:30 am EST session for those in Pacific Time, that early start time makes it possible for participants as far to the east as India, and every zone in between, to take part in live sessions.

Registration and Fees

What are the registration rates?

We have discounted our 2021 meeting fees by offering the member-discounted rates of the last few years, without the requirement that attendees have an active AFS membership. 

Registration revenue is essential but not sufficient to cover the higher cost of our 2021 annual meeting (see above, Planning Process/breakdown of costs), just as membership revenue is necessary but not enough to cover our wide range of activities throughout the year. 

We are grateful to all those who can support AFS at one of our membership and registration tiers.

Why aren’t registration rates lower?

As noted above, our meeting expenses will be higher this year, but we hope to cover those costs by the combination of registration revenue from those who can afford them, and contributions from those who can manage to give a little more.

 We are aware that some organizations have offered dramatically reduced meeting registration rates for virtual meetings. In fact, AFS offered “pay what you can” registration rates for attendees in 2020. We can’t speak for every organization, but the ones that we have talked to did what we did: we chose to take a loss on the event balance sheet in order to subsidize members in a difficult year. Actually, in the end, AFS did not take a loss on the meeting, because we recovered lost revenue through fundraising and through the generous contributions of our members.

Every year, the cost of an AFS annual meeting exceeds registration revenue, but we manage our overall budget to subsidize our conference because we consider it such an important part of how we support our members and the field.

If you can make a contribution to help fund others’ access to the annual meeting, thank you!  You can also submit your donation with your registration fee payment when you register yourself.

Will there be separate registration for the in-person and virtual components?

All registrants will get two meetings for the price of one, with access to both meetings if they choose. In fact, all virtual events this year, whether they are scheduled during the conference dates or throughout the year, will also be included in annual meeting registration. (See the question above related to meeting costs.)

However, some meeting events may include a separate sign-up process, first come, first served, to control audience capacity; a few special events may require ticket sales to cover their specific costs.

If social distancing is required in October, there may be a separate sign-up for events in Harrisburg, at no additional cost, to ensure that we do not exceed a safe capacity in the conference venue. Information about all events that require an additional sign-up will be emailed to all registrants and posted to the 2021 Annual Meeting page.

We urge you not to make non-refundable travel plans until more is known about recommendations for social distancing in October, since that may impose some limits on capacity at the conference hotel.

Again this year, most virtual proceedings will be recorded and available online for a limited time, allowing all registrants the option of attending live events or catching up with them later, when their schedule allows. We are also planning to record or live stream several of the sessions taking place in person, so individuals unable to travel to Harrisburg have access to those sessions.

Will there be a sign-up process to attend in person in Harrisburg?

As of July 6, we are implementing an RSVP system to monitor attendance at the in-person meeting in Harrisburg; if circumstances change enough to suggest the need for an absolute cap on the number of in-person attendees to maintain safe limits, then the responses to that form may serve as a de facto sign up system. We urge all attendees to RSVP, whether or not they intend to attend in person. 

The link to the RSVP form will be emailed to all registered attendees by July 10, and in a confirmation email to new registrants after that date. Contact us at [email protected] if you can’t find the link, or if your plans change after you RSVP.

I’m currently facing financial difficulties. Is there a source for financial assistance?

Yes, the American Folklore Society is committed to making participation in AFS and the AFS annual meeting as widely accessible as possible.

 If financial hardship will prevent you from participating in this year’s meeting, we invite you to apply for financial support, like a registration discount or fee waiver.

Submitting a Proposal

How do I submit a proposal?

I see that I will have to state my preference for in-person and virtual presentations. What will you do with this information?

We will try to accommodate your preference and schedule you accordingly within our scheduling constraints. We will not require you to present in either mode contrary to your stated preferences.

Once you are scheduled, as published in the preliminary program, we will prefer not to switch you from one mode to the other. If a public health emergency requires a pivot from in-person to virtual presentation, we will try to accommodate those who are willing to do so, but we may not be able to support a complete pivot.

The usual scheduling constraints, like trying avoid conflicts within time slots, are complicated this year by additional capacity issues — the  physical space of the in-person meeting is limited to a few concurrent sessions.

Because of the limited space in Harrisburg, we will prioritize proposals that depend on or foster interaction, and most paper panels should be scheduled virtually.

Can some of my panelists be in-person, and some participate virtually?

Not really. The cost of a truly hybrid meeting is beyond our budget. If you’re planning a panel that includes one or more people who can’t attend in-person, you should plan for the entire panel to present virtually.

I want to propose a panel, and all of my panelists intend to come to Harrisburg, but there’s nothing particularly “interactive” about the panel itself. What should I do?

If all the panelists are agreeable, indicate that you’re willing to present either in-person or virtually (that’s a tick box on the proposal form) and use the Notes text field to say that you’d prefer to present in-person. That will give us the most flexibility in scheduling and increase your odds of acceptance.

However, don’t say that you’re willing to do in-person unless you’re extremely confident that everyone will go to Harrisburg. It won’t be easy to pivot from in-person to virtual, so we wouldn’t want to try to do that later just because someone changes their mind. From a planning perspective, it’s probably easier for everyone, panelists included, to plan for a virtual panel from the outset if your panel can be virtual.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come to Harrisburg. On the contrary! You all should absolutely come to Harrisburg anyway to enjoy interacting with the people and events that have to be in-person only. We will schedule virtual sessions close to the in-person dates, but with enough time to allow for travel.

I deferred my 2020 proposal. What should I do?

You must register for this year’s meeting and confirm your intention to present in 2021. AFS staff will communicate directly with you by email to give you access to your past proposal data and provide instructions about how to confirm or update your proposal; if you don’t receive that email by April 1, contact us at [email protected].

Do not follow the instructions on the 2021 Meeting page about how to submit, or use the link to the proposal portal that you will receive in your registration confirmation email. Those are all written for new proposals, and do not apply to you.

Presenting Virtually

I’m interested in presenting virtually. What should I know moving forward?

Successful virtual presentations require some preparation in advance of the meeting:

  • All presenters should make sure that they have adequate bandwidth and equipment to present, including a computer with Zoom software installed (strongly recommended) or the capability to run the Zoom web browser client. You can check your bandwidth here. You should also think about your lighting, microphone, and background. AFS will provide a customizable, virtual background, but this option only works for those who have sufficient bandwidth and a software version that supports it.
  • Industry experts suggest that pre-recording papers makes for better presentations and a more relaxed live experience for presenters, but pre-recording is not required. Either way, we will schedule presentations in a live session with time for questions, so you can give your paper live or play your recording from your own device using “screen share.”

Information about standard presentation types are available, but we encourage session organizers to think creatively about how to adapt panels to make the most of a virtual platform.

Contact [email protected] if you’d like to discuss options.

Will presentations be given live, or do they have to be pre-recorded?

Pre-recording isn’t required. If you opt to record your paper, as some meeting experts recommend, you can play the recording during your scheduled time slot and take questions afterward. We advise that you play the media from your own device using screen share, but arrange to share a copy with someone else on the panel as a back-up, in case you have internet or other technical difficulties on your end.

Will my live presentation/discussion session be recorded? How will it be used?

By default, most live sessions will be recorded and made available to registered attendees on the secure conference website soon after the live session concludes; the recording will be accessible during the conference and for a limited period of time after the conference.

Presenters may opt out of the recording if they prefer, knowing that this decision will limit the audience to those who can attend the live presentation.

Will there be clear guidelines, instructions, or tutorials?

AFS will provide guidance and support throughout the process. A detailed guide of best practices and instructions for the transition to a virtual format will be posted to Information for Presenters and is available upon request in the meantime. You can also see this guide to general principles for virtual presentations until then.

We encourage session organizers to think creatively about how to adapt panels to make the most of a virtual platform. Contact [email protected] if you’d like to discuss options.

Attending Virtually

Will attendees be able to ask questions or participate in the sessions?

We prefer for sessions to be interactive when possible. All presentations will be scheduled in live sessions that will include time for questions and answers, either as live discussion or chat.

What if my schedule prevents me from attending live sessions?

If you are unable to attend live proceedings, most events will be recorded and available on demand during the conference and for some weeks afterwards.

How will the virtual mode make up for some of the best parts of an in-person meeting? Will the virtual meeting include social events? Will the program provide opportunities for networking and mentoring?

Yes! We’re working on developing those plans now, so stay tuned for more information.

Exhibiting and Sponsoring

How do I sponsor registration scholarships for the AFS Annual Meeting?

Thanks for considering this! Donations to the Sustainers’ Fund will help subsidize participation in the 2020 virtual meeting by those who would otherwise not be able to attend.

I want to sponsor an event. What steps should I take?

Contact us at [email protected] for more information.