With increasing social distancing efforts and widespread travel restrictions, we’ve seen sweeping event cancelations both locally and abroad. However, not all conferences and meetings require in-person contact. Technology allows us to stay nimble and adapt to new and changing circumstances – and more and more live events are morphing into virtual experiences where everyone can participate, no matter their physical location.
As we’re all forced to get creative with how we connect and, perhaps, work outside our comfort zone as we work from home, we hope you find the following best practices helpful as you host more virtual meetings and events:
Plan Ahead. Test all technology in advance and ensure Wi-Fi connectivity (especially at the host site) is strong. Have technical support on standby to troubleshoot if needed.
Set the Stage. At the start of your event, acknowledge all remote participants. Set ground rules on when and how to ask questions and announce any breaks available to manage audience expectations and avoid potentially chaotic interruptions. And with smaller groups, request – or require – attendees to turn on their cameras to encourage everyone to fully tune in.
Mix Things Up. Keep sessions less than 1.5 hours and, throughout the event, provide time to allow for discussions and breaks to keep participants engaged. Ensure regular opportunities for engagement to keep attendees connected to the event through intermittent live polling, Q&As periods, breakout sessions, etc. This is also an effective way to check in with attendees and make sure your audience is “with you.”
Prep Presenters. Brief speakers with expected audience type, size, locations and any other relevant demographics, as it can be especially challenging to present to an “invisible” audience. Ensure they are comfortable and remember to ask questions of online participants, intermittently speaking to them directly.
Make it Meaningful. With group- or team-based viewings, use remote facilitators to continue the conversation with their office or working group. Scheduling structured break-out sessions and developing facilitator discussion guides can help promote meaningful small-group conversations, takeaways and action items.
Go Global. Consider the best timing for events to take place if people are joining from different time zones. For international meetings, it may be necessary to film some speakers ahead of time and rely on their recorded content due to time zone or scheduling conflicts. For all recorded presentations, try to capture audience reactions and questions, pausing the recording as needed, and allow the presenter an opportunity to follow up.
Think UX. When developing content, think about the user experience (UX) from the start and carefully consider how layout and format may affect accessibility for remote participants. Keep in mind your audience may be joining from various devices, from phones and tablets to laptops and desktops. If participants are expected to reference visuals or handouts during the presentation, let them know ahead of time and have any important files available to download before and/or after the event.
Of course, the most fundamental best practice is simply to foster dialogue as much as possible. If you’re attending a meeting remotely and are having trouble hearing or seeing the content, let the organizer know. If you’re hosting a virtual event, check in with attendees regularly for “temperature checks.” If you’re speaking remotely, you may wish to pause periodically to ask for questions or comments, rather than waiting until you’ve finished presenting. While connecting with one another has certainly become more challenging, open and honest dialogue is always an effective communication strategy.