Virtual Events - The Basics

We at Covision want to wish all of you, and the entire world, good health.  These are unprecedented times and before an economic or business crisis, this is a human crisis.  People are dying. People are losing their jobs. People are scared. Our healthcare, grocery, and other essential workers are on the front lines each day. And in general, times like these tend to bring out both the best and the worst in us. Take care of yourselves and those around you. If we let compassion, generosity, and gratitude lead the way, we’ll get through this together.

Over the past several weeks, Covision has heard from many of our partners, clients and colleagues, trying to figure out what to do next. Like them and everyone else in the events industry, we’ve been dealing with our share of postponements and cancellations. We’ve also been fielding dozens of calls from people who are wanting to explore the idea of “taking the event virtual.”  It’s an obvious choice.  You had so much planned and you want to somehow get participants the content and connection they need.  Postponing isn’t possible and canceling is a tough decision to make.  

At Covision we believe that making an event virtual can be an opportunity to engage participants in a way that will lead to new and deeper insights.  In the coming weeks we will tap our experience from conducting virtual events over the years and share that expertise in a series of articles to help those facing this new challenge.  Be sure to check back to our LinkedIn page as we continue to post case studies and tips on holding virtual events.  And be sure to share your experiences with us in the comments section.

In this first edition we tackle the basic building blocks of taking meetings online for those with the most immediate need: organizers who had an event scheduled and have been tasked with seeing if it’s possible to make it virtual.  

We’re hearing far too many people trying to replicate the same agenda they would have had at their face to face event in a virtual environment. We know that while that’s an easy reaction to have, it’s almost always a poor decision.  At face to face events we’re already concerned about competing with phones, texting, and emails.  We work so hard to make our sessions engaging so that people pay attention and learn more.  Now a person is going to be at their home “office” (often the kitchen table!), sitting in front of a computer trying to participate and pay attention while all of the distractions from their homes or offices (kids, emails, news reports) is coming at them.  

To have a successful virtual event you have to step back and see your event with new eyes and apply new frameworks.  You have to use new ways of engaging the participant in the realities of their location and the fact that they are physically alone.  The good news is that there are new engagement opportunities not viable only a few weeks ago and it will be possible to achieve most of the desired incomes from the event, maybe even some new ones.

We begin this week at a high level with three key considerations.  We’re not getting into the deep details here - we’ll save that for future articles.  But these are the main points that everyone should consider when taking an event online.  If you have more questions, reach out or put them in the comments.  

Simplify

How can you reduce a meeting that was scheduled for three days into something simple? It can seem a bit daunting. However, with the more limited attention span in a virtual setting you have to make sure you focus on your core learning and key takeaways. So when talking to other stakeholders and planners about the viability of going virtual, don’t be afraid to edit and simplify.  How?  Here are our tips: 

  • Prioritize - Take a look at your event from 30,000 feet and identify your top three desired outcomes. What do you as organizers need to get out of it and what do you want the stakeholders to walk away with?  Be specific.  Generalities like “We want participants to be engaged” or “We need them to learn” are way too general.  Think instead about specific key takeaways like getting alignment on a certain initiative or teaching salespeople or clients about a certain new product.  If you only have 2, excellent!   If you have 4 or 5, no worries.  But if you have more than five, you’re probably being unrealistic in trying to convey these to participants virtually.

  • Get Innovative With Your Format - Think of what you’re trying to accomplish and then come up with ways that you can realize your goals but perhaps not in your typical meeting format. For example, split up your meeting into a live stream of keynotes or opening plenary, then have your breakouts and educational sessions available for streaming when participants have time.  Don’t be afraid to think differently. A virtual event can be flexible and the more innovative you are, the more likely your participants are to be engaged.

  • Leverage Technology Your Organization Is Already Using - If possible, leverage  software that is already in use in your organization and that is familiar to your participants.  Adoption is your biggest obstacle so you want to make it as easy as possible for participants to engage. Sometimes this means using existing platforms in a new and creative way. Covision can help evaluate your existing platforms and make suggestions of how to leverage them.  Of course, if you don’t have an in-house platform then you’ll need to consider new tools.  In a future post we’ll list virtual meeting platforms and talk about their pros and cons.  

Engage

Mobile devices, laptops, screaming kids, barking dogs, the latest headlines...all of these are the realities we face when we work from home. Therefore, it’s never been more crucial to integrate interactivity through your live presentations in order to keep participants actively engaged.  People always want to participate at events and in the new world of isolation and social distancing, they want it now more than ever. Give people the opportunity to interact and they’ll pounce on it.  In a virtual setting you can do this with:

  • Q&A

  • Live Polling

  • Surveys

  • Small Group Discussions

  • Brainstorming

In a future post we’ll talk about these processes in great detail; when and how to use them, best practices for the microtiming of interactivity and variations that can make a big impact.  For now, start to think at a high level of how you may employ interactivity as you will need some in your if you want your participants to pay attention and commit in depth to the topics.  Reach out to us at Covision if you’d like to discuss in more detail in advance of our next post. 

Plan & Rehearse

You do rehearsals for your face to face meetings, and for online events, the timing and practice is just as important.

  • Practice the Tech  - Ensure that you have tested the broadcasting experience (logins, cameras, microphones, connections) from both a participant and presenters point of view.  There is nothing more awkward and attention losing than people stumbling to get started.

  • Login in as a Participant - With online meeting software there are often different login and interface experiences and views for administrators vs. participants.  Make sure you log in as a participant and check the full experience from login, to meeting activities (viewing video, sending questions, surveys), to wrap-up..  

  • Practice transitions - Presenters are going to need guidance.  Script the transitions and practice them so the process flows smoothly.  And keep in mind that presenters don’t need to manage all the transitions.  Just as with a live event, someone else can run the screen sharing, hold slides, be the VOG, etc.  If a new team is coming together, then it’s even more important to practice transitions along with a backend method for communicating during the process (i.e. a private Slack channel). 

That’s our first entry into the suddenly extremely relevant world of virtual events.  We hope these basics will help get you started.  In future posts we’ll go into more detail.  And of course, If you have a pressing need or want to talk with Covision about any of this, we’d be happy to hop on a quick video call with you.

Christian Saucedo