Virtual Insights: Interview with INTA’s Lori Schulman on the 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting

Published: October 7, 2020

Lori Schulman

Lori Schulman, INTA’s Senior Director, Internet Policy

As INTA’s Senior Director, Internet Policy, Lori Schulman has participated in a considerable number of virtual events in 2020, including public meetings hosted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Here, Ms. Schulman reflects on her varied experiences with virtual meetings and shares her insights for getting the most out of the Association’s upcoming 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting.

Based on your experience, what has surprised you most from your participation in virtual events?

I think a few things. One, I think people are much more open and flexible to the virtual environment than I would have thought. Traditionally, the kind of advocacy work I do is very much face to face, involving handshakes, meals, forming personal connections and bonds. And that’s very important. I know there’s been a lot said about how difficult it is to read social cues [while videoconferencing]. But I’ve also found it’s more relaxed, more collegial, more open than I thought it would be. That informality, I think, is useful; it breaks down some barriers.

It surprises me that we still can have that feeling of being connected, even though we’re not in the same room.

During the upcoming Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting, what are your top recommendations for managing time and maximizing opportunities?

I would say, learn the platform, learn the technology. Wherever you’re going to be, whatever tools you’re going to use inside our platform familiarize yourself with them; don’t do it as you go. Confidence with the technology is important. Also, to avoid screen fatigue, plan to take plenty of breaks and take advantage of on-demand sessions that you can watch at other times during or after the Meeting.

Learning the meeting technology beforehand is like getting to the convention center early and looking at the map to make sure you know how to get to the rooms.

The other advice I would give is to be open minded. One of the first virtual meetings I attended had coffee hours. I thought they would be silly, and I didn’t participate. In subsequent meetings, they had similar small group activities, and I started to participate and found them delightful. Although it tends to include smaller groups of participants than regular sessions, it’s not always the same people you see on your normal policy circuit. I’ve had some very pleasant, productive interactions using social activity features like trivia and mixology. People who attend these lighthearted sessions are very interested in interacting. It’s always nice to make new professional contacts and friends.


It surprises me that we still can have that feeling of being connected, even though we're not in the same room.

How should one plan for follow-up after a virtual meeting?

If I’m interested in making connections and contacts, and the forum I’m in has a chat feature, I do privately chat with people. I will exchange a personal email or phone number through the private chat. I don’t do it through the public chat.

I will also do open forum chatting to spur ideas. That has benefits because you can have the main topic of discussion and react without interrupting. We know that people can focus on the verbal conversation and look at something written at the same time. It’s a nice way to float an idea or put a little punctuation mark on something.

I want to point out that the INTAconnect [networking, registrant directory, and appointment] feature at this year’s Meeting is a great way for follow-up. You can use the feature to schedule appointments during the Meeting with new contacts as well as old friends.

Additionally, INTAconnect has an AI matching feature to cultivate new contacts. The more you use the feature, the more it learns the types of connections that you are looking for. I have not attended any other conference with this feature. INTA is trailblazing here.

Based on your extensive experience at ICANN, please tell us about accomplishing a lot in moving issues forward in a virtual environment and share some tips and tricks for doing so.

It’s funny with ICANN: it’s fast and slow moving. I mean, some issues we’ve been talking about for 20 years, but when you’re on a particular piece of policy work, it can go super-fast.

I think [the tip] for getting the most out of the virtual environment has been breaking tasks down into small groups. We find that it isn’t really efficient to do certain types of policy drafting with 100 people, but it could be very efficient to do it with 7 or 10. So when there’s big pieces of technical work to do online, we’ve broken out into small working groups and then come back together. The bigger groups work well for broad discussions and garnering different points of view.

When collaboration is virtual, you can share documents in real time. This is a definite plus.

Could you tell us about the important work of your committees and how effective they have been in virtual meetings, as well as how they will be getting together at the Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting and what they plan to accomplish.

My committees have a real advantage because I manage the Internet Committee and the Data Protection Committee. Both committees have a lot of ICANN veterans on them so they’re very, very comfortable in the virtual environment.

The committees’ switch to videoconferencing this year in January, prior to thoughts about the pandemic, set things up well for when everybody went online in March. We had a little head start on virtual meetings in that regard.

On the Internet Committee side, we’ve been devoted to two streams. We’ve been devoted to the ICANN work, which has taken on particular urgency this year because the major policy reviews on right protection mechanisms, subsequent procedures for the next round of new gTLDs [generic top-level domains], and registrant directory services are all winding down.

They have required highly technical comment submissions. And that was all done online. We had places where members could contribute, everybody took a question, we put it all together, and then I uploaded it into ICANN’s system.


[For a virtual meeting] learning the meeting technology beforehand is like getting to the convention center early and looking at the map to make sure you know how to get to the rooms.

[In the second stream], we’re looking at other avenues of Internet governance—what is going on outside of ICANN. It’s something that INTA started focusing on in the last few years. We will take this opportunity at this Meeting to review these initiatives and see where INTA can provide interventions and feedback.

On the Data Protection Committee side, harmonization of privacy laws is on our members’ minds, whether inside the United States or worldwide. With GDPR [the EU General Data Protection Regulation] having such a broad effect, we are looking at global best practices and emerging legislation. The local issues of privacy are transcending into something much bigger and broader.

On a fun note, the Data Protection Committee members are having a happy hour during the Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting just as if we would in normal times. So, we’re carrying on that tradition.

What will make this year’s Meeting different of course is that we’re not in the same room, breaking out into breakout tables. But that’s the beauty of [videoconferencing]. I think the work may be more efficient, because in a regular Annual Meeting committee setting, maybe you’ll have 100 people … in the same room, and then they break out into 10 tables of 10, and it’s noisy and it’s hard to concentrate. But here, subcommittees can collaborate in separate breakout rooms. That goes to my point about working at ICANN; because the work is complex and technical, there is a real need to have a few people who hold the pen to get the work done in small groups, and then it’s socialized to broader audiences.

The Annual Meeting traditionally provides an opportunity for collaboration between government officials and INTA policy staff and members. Can you talk about continuing that tradition in the virtual forum this year?

Yes, INTA has made a concerted effort to ensure that governmental participation is as strong as ever. Our regional offices have worked hard to invite officials from all levels of government. Committees welcome the opportunity to speak with the officials as part of their meetings. This is an opportunity for our members, especially those who may not be in front of government officials on a regular basis, to take a deep dive with policy questions.

And you get that at the Annual Meeting for sure. The Internet Committee has had officials from EUIPO [the European Intellectual Property Office], ICANN, and the U.S. government in the past. We’re setting our agenda now.

The great advantage with virtual is that the meetings are more focused. Typically, government officials are tightly scheduled and running from room to room. People are literally tugging at their elbows. Those distractions are limited when you are online.

Everybody can convene rather easily and quickly online. Travel costs are eliminated, and there is more time to focus. So, for meeting with government officials, I think this is particularly expeditious.

What are you most looking forward to at this historic INTA event?

I’m excited for the Exhibition Hall as I would be in a face-to-face meeting. I love seeing what people are bringing in terms of new products, swag. And I’ve wondered this year how that might be handled. I’m very interested to see how our exhibitors get creative with marketing through a virtual exhibit space versus a brick and mortar exhibit space.

Overall, I’m excited that INTA has gone “all in” on virtual meeting planning. There has been no hesitation to create every single aspect of a typical meeting, including networking and socializing, which we know is important for our members. We’ve gone above and beyond what I’ve seen at any other conference, and I’m very proud of us for doing it. I think it’s a risk, but it should have a pretty big reward.

Learn more about the 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting.

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