The Virtual Pivot: Transforming Your In-Person Meetings to Successful Virtual Events
Written by: Almeda Kyser
Virtual events are the new norm. With travel restrictions due to COVID-19, many organizations are rethinking how they disseminate information, build communities online, and engage users. As businesses rush to transform the workplace to accommodate these new demands, virtual workspaces are growing through the use of innovative digital tools and platforms.
But it takes more than digital products to craft an innovative solution to conferences and meetings in the current pandemic. Pulling off a successful virtual event that effectively brings teams and clients together from across the country or around the globe requires strategy, customized technology, and detailed project management.
Virtual meetings can generate higher participation and engagement than in-person meetings regardless of size, with careful attention to the logistical challenges of hosting an event. The Bizzell Group’s (Bizzell) Conference Management and Logistical Support team developed the following list of best practices to help clients and partners transform their in-person meetings to successful virtual events.
DEVELOP A STRATEGY
Strategy drives the meeting planning process and is the critical element when pivoting to virtual events. It is important to ensure that meeting stakeholders’ perspectives are considered in defining the elements of a successful event outcome, and in choosing the set of virtual tools to deliver that outcome.
- Set clear goals and objectives for the meeting.
- Determine which components will be a part of your virtual event: for example, general sessions, breakout sessions, posters, trade show, and networking sessions.
- Choose a virtual strategy that will help you meet the goals and objectives of your meeting and is aligned with the needs of the audience.
- Develop a detailed work plan that will create a clear path towards meeting the goals and objectives.
CHOOSE THE BEST MEDIUM FOR YOUR AUDIENCE AND MESSAGE
How you deliver the content is just as important as the content itself. The medium really is the message when it comes to virtual meetings. Choose the medium that best meets your audience’s needs — whether it is a webinar to share PowerPoints with a large group, or a teleconference for your weekly team check-in.
- Webinars/Video Conferences/Virtual Events
- Webinars allow participants to join from anywhere and view presentations from one or more speakers. Most webinars allow participants to view speakers with video conferencing, ask questions with chat features, provide feedback with polling tools, and use closed captioning. Since webinars allow you to present live or pre-recorded events, be sure to post recorded presentations to your website
- To enhance the participant experience and innovate your virtual conference, consider creating a virtual world and use a virtual reality system. 3D virtual event platforms are lifelike environments that best match your event’s audience and mimic the dynamics of a physical conference.
- There are many tools for webinars and virtual events, such as Zoom, Adobe Connect, RingCentral, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, Crowdcast, Intrado, Webex, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, Google Meet, GlobalMeet and JoinMe. Each offers a variety of tools and features to enhance the overall experience. An experienced Meeting Planner can help you choose the best program for your needs.
- Teleconferences allow participants to join an audio call from anywhere. They are accessible through landline, smart device, and computer, making them a good choice to reach a wide variety of participants in multiple locations with varying technology.
- Many platforms for webinars and virtual events also offer teleconferencing capacity. Check with each platform to evaluate their features and ensure the best fit for your teleconference.
- Hybrid Events
- Hybrid events are held for participants unable to travel or attend an in-person event such as town hall meetings, trainings, department meetings or conferences. These events require very high-level video production equipment and online requirements for virtual participants. When successfully implemented, they can offer participants nearly the same experience as in-person attendance.
DESIGN EVERY DETAIL
Maintain a Standard Operating Procedures checklist that can be used and customized across all types of meetings and at every venue, whether virtual or in person. Make this a living document that will guide and develop meeting plans before, during, and after an event, and serve as a record of lessons learned that will track data and drive continuous improvement.
- Set clear goals for your virtual event and share those goals in your messaging before, during, and after the event.
- Determine the appropriate platform and technology for your event based on the goals and objectives, and the event components.
- Design every detail of the meeting, script out every phase in advance, and schedule a dry run rehearsals of all elements including the technology platform.
- Always have a plan to prepare for disruptions or glitches that may occur during the meeting. Assign staff to be in charge of managing this aspect of your event.
RECRUIT DYNAMIC SPEAKERS + DELIVER RELEVANT CONTENT
The success of many events is determined by the quality of the speakers. Preview the speakers before the event and check out reviews from their past presentations. Discuss the meeting goals with the speakers and ensure the content will be focused on the needs of participants and the event.
- Recruit dynamic speakers who present great content that is relevant to the goals of the event. Content is key, and the content and delivery need to capture and keep your audience’s attention.
- Recruit speakers who are experienced in virtual formats and have an active plan to engage the virtual audience.
MAKE IT INTERACTIVE
Audience engagement is more important than ever in the new virtual environment. Technology offers exciting opportunities to reach participants in new ways.
- Create an interactive, meaningful experience by incorporating activities like gamification to keep the audience excited about learning.
- Leverage digital collaboration tools such as white boards to increase engagement.
- Incorporate creative tools such as Word Clouds and breakout room discussions and have participants report back to the larger group.
- Include participant polling and chat box responses during the meeting to enhance engagement and invite feedback.
- Keep real-time notes of audience discussion, and invite the audience to recap key themes, takeaways, and next steps at key junctures throughout the meeting.
COLLECT AUDIENCE FEEDBACK
Audience feedback after the event is the key to making data-driven improvements. With expertly crafted survey instruments, meaningful insights will increase opportunities for success.
- Analyze participant polling collected during the meeting, to assess real-time engagement and tracking towards meeting goals.
- Design post-event surveys to capture meaningful metrics and drive data analytics, such as speaker feedback, digital platform accessibility, participant engagement, achievement of meeting goals, and opportunities for quality improvement.
With a clear strategy, customized technology, and detailed project management, virtual events offer new opportunities to keep groups of all sizes engaged with focused content and active tools to bring meetings to life. Bizzell has successfully orchestrated webinars, virtual conferences, teleconferences, and hybrid events ranging from thousands of participants, to small groups of high-level decision-makers.
Do you need innovative solutions and assistance converting your in-person events to virtual meetings? Contact Bizzell’s team of event planning experts to support your conference and event planning needs.