Moving Your Events Online
Many organizations conduct events to attract and connect with their target customers. If your business is one of these organizations and you are accustomed to conducting events on a steady basis, you may be wondering what to do now that social distancing is the norm and gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed. Conducting events online is the new normal.
How to Conduct Events Online
As we all know, businesses have moved meetings, small gatherings, classes, workshops and other events online using various video conferencing platforms. Gathering online instead of in-person for these types of events can actually be beneficial and cost-effective, as it saves traveling times, costs for space, food and beverages, and the need for attendees to be in full business or appropriate attire.
But what if your business’ events have been the type in which you thrived on having in-person contact, fully engaging with your audience and making solid connections? Whether you are transitioning to online platforms for meetings, providing instruction or building customer relationships, there are a number of factors you should consider and address to ensure your online event is a success and you don’t leave your customers with a bad impression or feeling disconnected.
Using the Technology
While most of the available video conferencing platforms are easy to use, they are not without their quirks. Of course, the biggest technological obstacle can be the internet and what type of connection and signal you and your event attendees have at any given moment. As we all know, the use of mobile devices and availability of wi-fi can be unreliable at times.
What you want to do is ensure that 1.) You have an excellent internet connection (check with your provider) and 2.) You have a thorough understanding of the video conferencing technology you are using. Although all the platforms have similar features, each has its uniqueness. Once you determine which platform you want to go with, you want to make sure that you are 100% up-to-speed on all its capabilities. Think about all the things you would want to be able to do during your event, but also explore what features are offered that may help you make your event more interesting (such as breakout rooms for events integrating group activities).
Even more important than ensuring your competence (or your event facilitator’s) is having a tech-savvy person on the event who can help with any issues that arise (including attendees trying to connect) so there is no need for you (or whomever is presenting) to pause the event to address them.
Lighting & Camera Placement
Many of us have been on online meetings already and have seen speakers whose faces are washed out, covered in shadow, and even appear ghoulish because of how they placed themselves in relation to the natural and artificial light around them. You and your speakers should evaluate the lighting situation, steering away from uncovered windows, and determine the best web camera placement for the time of day the event is scheduled. Make sure your audience can not only see the speakers’ faces clearly but also directly and not at an angle. As with in-person sessions, speakers want to make eye contact with the audience as much as possible and not have attendees staring up their nostrils. Proper camera placement in conjunction with lighting is key!
As mentioned, you want to present your speakers in the best possible light, but in more ways than one. Your speakers also need to ensure they have a good internet connection so that their talk isn’t breaking up and they aren’t appearing to freeze mid-sentence. Just like in-person presentations, they want to bring high energy and professionalism, making sure to dress in proper attire and have their hair and make-up done. We have all become so accustomed to wearing sweats and no makeup and going without our haircuts, dye jobs and manicures, that the desire to look “professional” has gone out the window. Events in the COVID-19 era should be viewed as opportunities to get “dressed up” for a change!
Running the Event
It is a good idea to have a moderator or event facilitator to go through the event agenda, and pace and run the event rather than have the speakers coordinate when they need to focus on their presentation. The moderator/facilitator can moderate the open discussion, manage the questions and pose them to the speakers, and watch the time, ensuring the event doesn’t go overtime.
With workshops and other instructional-type events, incorporating slide presentations can be useful for the speakers and valuable to the audience. But any company that regularly does webinars as well as in-person events can tell you that you need to avoid the “Death-by-PowerPoint” trap. Slides shouldn’t be lines of text. You need to incorporate graphical elements such as charts, tables and infographics, or images that add interest, facilitate understanding of the topic or tell a story. An embedded video can be very effective for both capturing and maintaining your audience’s attention. Remember to provide relevant stories and case examples that will help the audience relate to your business as well as the speakers.
Engaging Your Audience
Under any circumstances, events must be engaging as well as informative. Try weaving in random questions the audience needs to respond to via either the chat or poll feature or pause for quick group breakout work or an interactive discussion. (The latter works best with gatherings of 25 or less). You should have a Q&A component with any workshop and especially with any informative event you do online. Also, invite your audience to participate in the event by sharing a relevant personal story or experience. If appropriate, consider introducing something humorous or entertaining, as we all can use that right now!
Whether through Q&A, open discussion, or light entertainment, it’s important you think of ways to engage your audience. Afterall, the reason you are having the event is to appeal to them, so it should be all about them.