Almost two years ago, I had the honour of joining the Board for the HNS North America 2021 conference. It’s a totally volunteer board charged with the responsibility of putting on a conference for historical fiction enthusiasts – primarily writers – every other year. HNS conferences alternate between those located in the UK, North America, and Australia and I’d attended four (London, Denver, Portland, and Maryland) and been a volunteer and/or presenter at three prior to joining this board.
With a stellar cast of experienced volunteers and former board members, we set about planning for 2021. One of our first board meetings involved a “big picture” discussion where each of us tabled ideas for something new and different along with broad objectives for the North American conference like enlarging our attendance to 500 people. We even tabled the idea of looking for a conference app to enhance the attendee experience! Little did we know what was lurking around the corner.
During the winter months of 2020, something called a coronavirus hit. In late May, the UK cancelled its 2020 conference due to pandemic lockdown conditions. “But the North American conference will be fine,” we told ourselves. “It’s more than a year away!” Just to be cautious, a subset of the board, including yours truly, began to investigate the topic of virtual conferences.
In November 2020 the board made the very difficult decision to shift the conference to virtual. For a few weeks, it felt like we were turning a massive cargo ship in the Suez canal as each member of the board revamped their areas of responsibility. What would the program look like if virtual? How would registration be affected? Would agents and editors be willing to take pitches via Zoom? What were the financial implications? Was the hotel willing to negotiate? How could we market a virtual conference? What about our guest of honour? Could we put the right technology in place quickly enough?
Under the leadership of board chair, Jenny Quinlan, we worked hard and applied a lot of creativity during the next few months. The ship turned. We opened registration in February and were delighted – absolutely delighted – as we watched attendance numbers surge. By June 21, 630 people had registered to attend.
All of the board except me gathered in San Antonio to manage the conference. They were joined by two authors who live in Texas and had volunteered to be on site. Because of Canadian cross-border restrictions, I remained at my laptop in Toronto running conversation rooms, moderating panels, keeping an eye on chat streams, and responding to registration-related matters.
It was an amazing week! Attendees praised the experience, the program, the conversation rooms. They loved ‘hanging out’ with their tribe of historical fiction enthusiasts.
As I said at the beginning, it was an honour to be on the board and to work with this terrific team. And guess what? Planning for 2023 has already begun!
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.