The future of meetings online conference

The Future of Meetings: Doors open at 12:45 UTC.

Registrations are now closed.

Streaming of sessions is available on this page.

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The Coronavirus is changing how we meet and interact, ushering new ways of organising conferences and other events. Blended meetings, which combine virtual with face-to-face interactions, will become the norm.

The ongoing transformation of meetings and diplomacy will require us to adapt quickly to this new norm. Future meetings will require us to become conversant with technology, take security into account, adopt new moderation techniques, keep behavioural aspects in mind, and adjust traditional diplomatic meetings to blended formats.

DiploFoundation’s online conference The Future of Meetings was held on Tuesday, 12th May, from 13:00 to 16:00 UTC (15:00–18:00 CEST), and tackled the most pressing questions and issues, and how to resolve them. Are good online moderators born or bred? How do we combine online and onsite events into the same policy process? Can we integrate corridor chats into formal virtual meetings?

The conference included 20 sessions (grouped into 5 tracks) with 15-minute pointed discussions that will be facilitated by trained moderators.

Reports and video recording are coming soon.


All times given in UTC

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13:00–13:30 UTC
Welcome remarks
– Mr Antonio Hodgers (President, State Council, Canton of Geneva)

COVID-19 and online meetings
– Mr Bernardo Mariano (Chief Information Officer and Director, Department of Digital Health and Innovation, World Health Organization (WHO))

Setting the scene: A future of blended meetings
– Dr Jovan Kurbalija (Executive Director, DiploFoundation; Head, Geneva Internet Platform (GIP))

Meetings and Environment:
– Dr Stephanie Borg Psaila (Director, Digital Policy, DiploFoundation)

Principles and Guidelines for the Future of Meetings
– Ms Virginia Paque (Programme Manager, Internet Governance and E-diplomacy, DiploFoundation)

Conference Photo


Platforms | Apps


Data protection| Confidentiality


Planning | Executing


Psychology | Culture | Emotions


Protocol | Procedures | Etiquette

13:30–13:45 UTC Selecting online meeting platforms: Costs, usability, and functionality Security concerns of online meetings: Software flaws, leaks, data protection Talents and skills for effective event moderation: Recruitment and training Distractions: How our attention span varies between online and in situ Seamless procedures: Is the future of diplomatic meetings a blend of online and in situ?
13:45–14:00 UTC Apps and tools: Ice-breakers, surveys, and animations ‘Zoombombing’ and intruders: Avoiding unwanted guests Over-prepare and be ready for surprises: Roles and scenarios in online meetings To see and not be seen (online): The psychology of face-to-face interaction and body language ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘plenipotentiary’ online: Between tradition and innovation
14:00–14:15 UTC Coffee break
Exhibition: Art Goes Online
14:15–14:30 UTC Artificial realities: Meeting via holographic technology, and virtual and augmented realities The Chatham House rule in online meetings: Attribution and discretion Are we out of time? Time management tips for online moderation Corridor chats: Have online meetings killed impromptu conversations? Discuss, draft, and vote: Moving diplomatic practice online?
14:30–14:45 UTC The use of artificial intelligence, chatbots, and other advanced meeting technologies Data protection and confidentiality: Who is (mis)handling records from our meetings, and how? Your Plan B: Things that can go wrong and how to react E-politeness:  How to handle long speeches, tech glitches, and other interruptions Bonjour, buenos días, guten Morgen:  Translation and interpretation for the new ‘online’ diplomacy
14:45–15:00 UTC Coffee break
Exhibition: Art Goes Online
15:00–15:30 UTC Wrapping up: The main takeaways
15:30–15:40 UTC Coffee break
15:40–16:00 UTC Graduation ceremony for participants of DiploFoundation’s Online Meetings for Diplomacy and Global Governance course

Last updated: 12 May 2020

diplofoundation conference tech lab

Session descriptions

Track lead: Mr Arvin Kamberi, Lead – Online Meetings, DiploFoundation

The technology track will focus on platforms, tools, and apps used in online meetings. The discussion will bring new insights and understanding for choices we have to make in selecting and deploying technology for online meetings. In the second part, we will turn towards the future which has already started emerging via holograms, virtual/blended reality, AI, and other frontiers: What can be used today and what is ahead of us?

Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Jitzi are among the options in the fast-growing online meetings market (see: ConfTech Lab detailed summary). How do we make an optimal choice of platform to meet our needs? Are our decisions informed or a matter of inertia? What are the ‘hidden’ criteria which emerge once we start using the platform?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Dr Stephanie Borg Psaila, Director Digital Policy, DiploFoundation

In addition to online meeting platforms, our meetings can be enriched with a wide range of other tools to help us with registrations, running surveys, and creating effective icebreakers and animations. The session will kick-start a survey of apps and tools that can enrich future meetings (online and in situ).

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Sherna Alexander Benjamin, The Center for Building Resilient Communities

Holograms and ‘various’ realities are not a matter of science fiction any more. They are within our reach. But they can also be used as a gimmick. This discussion will provide a reality check and a peek into the future. In particular, we will focus on augmented reality for in situ meetings which is likely to become a bridge between online and onsite meetings in the years to come.

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Prof. Jovan Kurbalija, Director of DiploFoundation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is part of our meetings as it is part of our daily lives. It is used to identify trending topics for meetings, level of interaction, interests, etc. But new functions are also emerging around the use of chatbots in replacement of moderators, and the use of facial recognition to gauge the mood and ‘temperature’ in online meetings. AI and other new technologies open numerous ethical, technical, legal and practical questions as our discussion will show.

Moderator and Lead Discussant: Mr Michael Aaendenhof, Cyberdiplomacy Envoy –  Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium

Track lead: Vladimir Radunovic, Director of Cybersecurity and E-diplomacy – DiploFoundation

The security track will bring more insights into the discussion on the risks arising from the use of Zoom and other platforms. What are the perceived and real security risks in attending online meetings? How can we deal with these risks? How can we make informed trade-offs between usability and security? Are open-source platforms a possible solution for some of these risks? Join us for a discussion on these and other cybersecurity questions.

This session will discuss a cognitive and practical toolkit for thinking about cybersecurity of online meetings. It will identify the main cybersecurity risks and place them in the broader context of the use of online meeting platforms and our digital reality. Ultimately, we will start developing our toolkit for making informed trade-offs and decisions on cybersecurity.

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Trishia Octaviano, Asia-Europe Foundation

‘Zoombombing’ has been in the media headlines for weeks. While Zoom has now fixed its backdoors, it remains to be seen how online meetings can be inclusive, but also safe from blatant misuse. ‘Zoombombing’ will be used as a case study for this cybersecurity and organisational challenge for online meetings.

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Andrijana Gavrilovic, Digital Policy Programmes Assistant, DiploFoundation

The Chatham House rule is probably the most popular procedural rule in meetings worldwide. Will these rules remain as relevant in online meetings? How can online meetings preserve a certain level of discretion and non-attribution?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Mr Andrej Skrinjaric,  Online Programme Coordinator – DiploFoundation

Meetings generate video and sound records and textual transcripts. These make up a rich record of our interactions. Online meeting platform servers are becoming major repositories of such data. How do we preserve this rich record of our public and professional life? How can we prevent surveillance and the misuse of meeting records for political and commercial ends? Do we need open-source platforms that will ensure the protection of meetings of public institutions such as the UN, parliaments, governments, and local communities?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Mr Vladimir Radunovic, Director, E-diplomacy and Cybersecurity, DiploFoundation

Track lead: Ms Natasa Perucica, Research Officer, DiploFoundation

Are good moderators born or bred? What type of talents do they need? What skills can be acquired? Why are some good onsite moderators not as effective online? The discussion should contribute to outlining the ‘profile’ of an ideal moderator and training curriculum for online moderation.

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Priyanthi Daluwatte, Registrar – Northshore College, Sri Lanka

Planning, preparation, and patience are probably the keywords for a successful online meeting. Given that technology is sometimes unpredictable, online meetings are prone to technical issues. The threshold of tolerance for failures in the online setting is low. A crackling sound or an unmuted mic can easily distract participants and compromise the quality of the meeting. How should we respond to these surprises? What qualities should an online moderator possess to cope with such a situation effectively? What should an online meeting scenario include? The aim of this session is to discuss scenario preparation and the division of roles as a formula for success in organising an online meeting.

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Selly Muzammil, World Food Programme

Starting and finishing on time is the golden rule of online meetings. In the online world, should we wait for late arrivals as we sometimes do in physical meetings? When should polls be introduced, and how should long statements be wrapped up? Our sessions in today’s conference are an example of conducting rich exchanges in a very limited timeframe. An example to emulate?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Kimberly Ibrahim, Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Trinidad and Tobago

Even when we plan and prepare ahead of the meeting, there is always a chance that things can go wrong. What can go wrong and what should we do about it? Staying calm, and making fast decisions are imperative. For instance, if a speaker has poor audio, he or she should be muted immediately. When making decisions on the spot, one should keep in mind that participants are just a click away from the next online event, chat, or social media update. How do we envisage potential problems and prepare adequate solutions? Join us to discuss practice recommendations.

Moderator and Lead discussant: Mr Carlos Polo, Cybersecurity Expert, Republic and Canton of Geneva

Track lead: Dr Tereza Horejsova, Project Development Director, DiploFoundation

Meetings are a deeply human and social experience. They are much more than an exchange of information or an attempt at finding solutions to problems. Meetings validate us as persons, and nurture the social fabric of organisations and communities worldwide. The behaviour track will focus on these hidden aspects of online (and offline) meetings which are often more relevant than official outcomes and outputs. Join us in navigating the psychological, cultural, and emotional aspects of meetings.

Each of us has experienced the challenge of following meetings attentively, irrespective of whether they take place onsite or online. Many scientific studies have shown that our attention span in situ lasts no more than 10 minutes. When we are online, preserving the attention span is even more demanding. Respecting participants’ time is the first step to gaining trust, and to show that their time will not be wasted. Our session will address practical aspects of ensuring that participants remain engaged in meetings.

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Ines Hfaiedh, Tunisia Coordinator of the Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation

Body language, which is one of the richest conveyors of emotions and signals among humans, is limited in online communications. What are the limits of online meetings when it comes to body language? What type of meetings should be held in a face-to-face setting, instead?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Mr Mohamed Gawad Allam, Permanent Mission of Egypt to WTO, Geneva

Corridor chats, bilateral meetings, conversations over dinner, or informal chats while waiting in line for coffee often turn out to be very valuable. These encounters, however, are clearly not happening online. How will this change the way we network and dialogue informally? How do we address this aspect whenever we are faced with the question of whether to run a meeting online or onsite?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Charline Van Der Beek,  Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations – Geneva

Politeness nurtures social fabric. It is essential for diplomacy and societal encounters in general across different communal, professional, and other barriers. What does it mean to be polite in online meetings? How do we ensure that the standing and emotions of other people are not hurt? How do we take cultural differences into account, when it comes to e-politeness and the smooth running of online meetings?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Christiane Herre, Head of Leadership Development, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

Track lead: Dr Katharina Hoene, Senior Lecturer, Researcher, and Project Manager, DiploFoundation

Meetings and negotiations are at the core of diplomacy. Online events pose new challenges for diplomacy as a profession, and as a tool for solving conflicts in the relations between communities and states. The diplomacy track will focus on the interplay between the centuries-old rules of diplomatic protocol, procedures, and etiquette, and the fast emerging digital tools for meetings and negotiations. Join us in outlining this new type of hybrid and blended diplomatic meetings which are emerging at the intersection between diplomatic tradition and technological innovation.

After witnessing a strong push towards online meetings, will the pendulum swing back towards onsite meetings? We need to capitalise on the new practices and approaches that have emerged and that will continue to do so in the future. How can we combine onsite and online events in order to create dynamic experiences, especially for the prolonged work of negotiating bodies and working groups that can sometimes take years?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Ursula Wynhoven, International Telecommunication Union

Tradition and innovation are two dynamics that have shaped diplomacy throughout history. The times we are living in could mark another important turning point. What elements of diplomacy will survive, despite the technological changes? What diplomatic practices need to be updated, adapted, or abandoned?

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ambassador Stefano Baldi, Embassy of Italy in Bulgaria, Sofia

The practice of diplomacy boils down to discussion, drafting, and voting. Starting with the ‘bread and butter’ of diplomatic work, this session will discuss the criteria for deciding what diplomatic practices can be accomplished online and which tasks can be handled only offline. This discussion will reflect on ongoing debates on diplomatic ‘business continuity’ during the COVID-19 crisis held in many diplomatic centers worldwide.

Moderator & Lead Discussant: Ms Katharina Frey, Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations in Vienna

Translation and interpretation are the key elements for inclusion in deliberations, and a formal requirement for multilateral meetings. Are online meetings more ‘linguistically inclusive’ than traditional ones? Can technology help with interpretation and translation? Our discussion will address these and other questions related to translation and interpretation for the new brand of online meetings in post-COVID diplomacy.

Moderators & Lead Discussants: Mr Christopher Mcinnes, College of Europe & Ms Virginia Paque, DiploFoundation