Heads up: you aren’t supposed to upload a prerecorded talk for ESA 2021. You’re supposed to record it using the ESA’s online system.

Last night I had planned to record and upload a video of my talk for the ESA 2021 virtual meeting. My plan was to do what I did last year: record my talk in Zoom and then upload it as an mp4 file. I was all ready to go when, on a whim, I decided to first click the link in the email from ESA, labeled “Guidelines for preparing a talk for upload“.

Am I glad I did! Because it turns out that they’re not guidelines for uploading your prerecorded talk. They’re rules for creating and recording your talk. You can click that link to see the rules, but here’s a summary:

  • You first have to upload your slides in PowerPoint or pdf format. Your slides cannot have any animations, or any audio or video embedded.
  • Wait 5 minutes or so for the uploaded slides to be processed.
  • Record a voiceover for whichever slides need voiceover, using the ESA’s meeting platform. This means that there won’t be a window in the corner with a video of you speaking; it’s voiceover only. And as best I can tell, you can’t record any pointer or cursor movements either (remember, no animation). You have to record voiceover for one slide at a time.
  • Not required but strongly recommended: copyedit the AI-generated closed captioning, using the text editor within the ESA’s web interface. The ESA’s website warns you that the text is likely to need a lot of editing. AI-generated closed captioning is bad with technical language.
  • If you don’t want to do the above, and prefer to record your own mp4 and upload it, you have to ask permission from the meeting organizers. The organizers then have to make special arrangements for you to do your upload. Also, apparently you can’t upload an mp4 video instead of your slides? It sounds like you can only upload a video as a way to provide a voiceover for your slides? I infer that because the meeting website says that you have the option to upload a video “instead of recording audio within the system”, and warns that your video “will not automatically sync with your slides”.

I wish I’d realized this sooner. I shared this news with a couple of colleagues as soon as I found out, and they were both shocked to hear it. So based on that admittedly small and non-random sample of ESA meeting presenters, I bet a lot of presenters have no idea that they can’t just upload an mp4 video of their talk, like they did last year. And I bet a lot of them have not blocked off the considerable extra time that will be required to use the ESA’s online system to record their talks.

I’m afraid I don’t have that time myself. I budgeted enough time to prepare my talk in my usual way, record it in Zoom, and upload an mp4. I didn’t budget time to strip the animations out of my slides, learn to use the ESA’s online recording system, and copyedit AI-generated closed captioning. I’m out of time now. I’m traveling today, to finally see family I haven’t seen in 18 awful months. I won’t be back until after the July 15 deadline to upload talks. So I’ve pulled my talk from the meeting. I feel bad about that. I’ve never pulled out of ESA before, and I’ve been presenting pretty much every year for over 20 years. So I’ll probably record the talk on Zoom as I originally planned and post it on the blog for anyone who wants to see it.

But hopefully you still have time. For those of you who are giving oral presentations at ESA 2021, I hope that you found this heads-up useful.

27 thoughts on “Heads up: you aren’t supposed to upload a prerecorded talk for ESA 2021. You’re supposed to record it using the ESA’s online system.

  1. Yup, sounds like the autogenerated closed captioning will indeed require a LOT of editing. As in, *at least 30-60 min. for a 12 min. talk*!

  2. I too am very bummed that I won’t be able to even see the faces of my friends as they present.

    Frankly, I’ve not only pulled my own talk, I don’t think I’ll watch any of the talks either. PowerPoint voiceovers are terrible to watch. I’d rather just read/skim papers and preprints, and hold Zoom meetings with my friends. I’ll learn more science, and get more interaction, in a more enjoyable and time-efficient way.

    • I think there is a misunderstanding here of one important part of the meeting — the slides w/voice overs are not going to be presented at the meeting. They will be available *before* the meeting, and the time in the program at the meeting is devoted to live discussion, questions, and answers from the audience to the “presenters”. Flipping the meeting, basically. As far as I know, you will be able to see and interact with your friends more than the usual cramped one or two minutes that follows the usual talk.

      Full disclosure — I haven’t finished my slides either, and I am not 100% sure that what I’ve said here is correct, but it’s my current understanding.

      • Jeremy — that’s not exactly to my point. It’s not that the slides will be available in advance, it’s that there will be NO SLIDES at the conference itself, voice-over or not. So, e.g., Scott Peacor’s comment about a “whole conference of voice-overs with no visible speakers” isn’t quite accurate.

        Which is not to say that I am convinced this format will work, but I am eager to see if the conference is improved by being a conference of visible discussants. We shall see, I guess.

  3. I’m not attending this conference, but if this were the case I’d reach out to the conference organizers and provide feedback. The process seems clunky and unnecessarily complicated. It’s also a clear time commitment that the organizers should be upfront about on the instructions.

    I don’t blame you one bit for pulling a talk that’s more effort to upload than to purely present. We’ll look forward to supporting you here or on another platform virtually. Enjoy the opportunity to be with family and friends again, that is truly a gift and more precious than attending a scientific talk.

  4. Jeremy. Awful nice of you to post this. We communicated about last year’s ESA, and I expressed how difficult I found it. In part due to the way presentations were done.
    As a budding young physicist at my first American Physical Society (APS) meeting (!!), where and when most were formally dressed, I sat listening attentively to my second talk on the very first day, how exciting! My advisor leaned over and said to me: “Scott, I can’t take many more of these”. HA!! We had four more days. And that was in person!
    A whole conference of voice-over no visible speakers sounds dreadful.

    • The voice-overs with no visible speakers will not be presented at the conference; they will be available in advance, and the conference is for discussion and questions. Or, that is my understanding.

      • Thanks Hal! That makes a big difference. I suppose this is similar to last year then, when a given session had the opportunity to have an addition time beyond the presentation session, where speakers met and fielded questions. My group logged on before that addition session and we guessed how many people would come — with a mean of about 5 and range of 1 to 30. The real number was about 50. So attendance was much higher than we expected. And there was good conversation. So in addition to being technically inaccurate, I was in spirit as well! This is not the first time I’ve been well corrected by you, by the way (we met many years ago, and your answer to a question I had changed my view on it).

  5. Thanks for the heads up about this, and the explanation of how the conference will work. It sounds great.

    However, it seems to me that other methods for producing on-demand talks (such as record and upload a video mentioned by Jeremy) would be compatible with a flipped conference, and could allow more engaging talks (and for some people be easier to produce).

    Furthermore, I just attempted to add audio to my slides using the official online system, and confirm what Jeremy wrote about it needing considerable additional time, compared to recording in one take. (Could just be me, of course!)

    Anyway, I’m sure it’ll be a great conference, even if I don’t successfully manage to record audio (its not mandatory)!

  6. I just recorded my audio. I mentioned in the first few seconds that this was a “teaser-presentation/audio” to fertilise live discussions during the conference week, and that as such not everything in every slide is explained in the audio. Then the audio for each slide was a brief introduction to each slide. This felt more compatible with the recording method, than trying to use it to do a normal, flowing, conference presentation.

    I’m not sure if my way of doing it is what was expected / planned. And it still took longer!

  7. I fell you on this. I was planning on doing this much closer to the meeting date, but now am frantically trying to make my 5-minute teaching talk, that has timed slide advances, while not having planned ahead with childcare! And even though our session will have a live Q&A, I bet no one will actually watch our recorded talks ahead of time. This meeting might be a disaster. But I do like the idea of including a link to a video of a “real” talk presentation!

    • That’s rough. Good luck pulling it off.

      I really have no idea how many people will watch the talks in advance. Or how many will show up to the live discussion sections. Personally, I’m not going to watch any of the talks or attend the discussion sessions. I don’t want to watch PowerPoint voiceovers. And there’s no reason to attend the discussion sessions if you haven’t seen the talks. (Plus, I’ll be on holiday at a location with spotty internet when the discussion sessions are running…)

      • I’m just going with we still have time (until the 26th) to upload something, so I’m trying to get it done sometime this weekend. But I’ll definitely going to go with the link to a recorded video lecture, I have no time to do so much fiddling with a 5 minute talk…

  8. Pingback: Video: most meta-analyses in ecology are too small (for most purposes) | Dynamic Ecology

  9. Noted:

    Glad to hear the ESA’s recording system works well for some folks.

    Speaking only for myself, I’ve already pulled my talk, so it is indeed too late for me to upload a talk. And even if I hadn’t pulled my talk, I still wouldn’t have time right now to record and edit it using the ESA’s system. I’m sure the amount of time required will vary from person to person. Like I said, I’m glad to hear it’s gone smoothly and quickly for some presenters. It has gone non-smoothly and arduously for other presenters, and knowing myself I would likely fall into that category of presenters. Hopefully this post has helped the recording process go more smoothly for some presenters, by increasing awareness of what the recording process involves. The more information everyone has, the better-positioned everyone is to make the choices that will work best for them.

    • Having successfully uploaded my slides and a handout, I have to report that the system was much better than I feared. Since I always start with too many slides, I did my usual thing of practicing the talk, seeing how much too long it was, revising, repeating… until I had a set of slides and a set of things to say for each slide that would fit in the allotted time. I would have had to do that if I was just going to record a mp4. Uploading the slides was simple, and saying what I wanted to say for each slide was easy. I could revise my speaking on each slide until I liked it. When it was all done, the closed captioning was way better than I anticipated, and not hard to edit.

      One thing that didn’t work: the ESA instructions said that you could go over the 12 minute mark by a few minutes. The online system cut you off at 12 minutes exactly. I asked tech support and they knew nothing about it and said I would have to talk to ESA organizers. I was done by then, so didn’t bother.

      • Glad to hear you had a good experience with the system Hal. The anecdotes I’ve been seeing here, and while lurking on social media, seem to vary widely.

  10. Dear Fellow Ecologists,
    This is my first virtual meeting and I’m embarrassed to say I cannot even figure out where (what link) to load up my slides for my talk. The deadline was given as July 15, but it was also stated that talks could be uploaded after that.
    The section on ‘how to prepare your talk’ doesn’t include a link on uploading, unless it was taken down July 15 and late uploads need to be done through the ESA helpers.
    Somewhat mystified..
    Erik Hobbie

    • You should have gotten an email from ESA with your personal link to upload your talks and there are instructions there. If you didn’t see it maybe check your spam folder?

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