Well, 2020 was...something, and it looks like 2021 is shaping up to be...something else. And with vaccines rolling out, we’re starting to see a light at the end of the long LONG tunnel! But we’re not quite there yet, so virtual meetings are here to stay for a while. **Cue collective groan of disappointment.** Look, I get it. The Zoom fatigue is REAL, but work still needs to be done. So here are 6 best practices to help keep your virtual meeting attendees engaged:
Amp Up Your Equipment
Invest in a decent quality camera, microphone and lights. Use a hardwire connection rather than wifi, or test your internet speed and connection. You don’t have to break the bank here, but it’s MUCH easier to pay attention if the person you’re looking at isn’t blurry, dark, hard to hear or lagging. Also RAISE YOUR CAMERA!! Nobody wants to be looking up your nose while you’re talking. I use yoga blocks for my setup. You can use books, pillows, cereal boxes, whatever you have. It honestly doesn’t matter, because literally NO ONE will see it but you! If you’ve got the funds for it, send an AV pack to your presenters. If not, confirm their equipment well in advance so you know what they’re working with.
Work That Room
Having a great in-person presence doesn’t guarantee that it will translate to on-screen. The presenter-audience energy is non-existent because you have one person talking to a camera, not interacting with a room full of people and adjusting as needed. So make sure your presenters know how to work that (empty ass) room! A great option is to have your presenter pre-record their session and interact with the audience via chat or periodic Q&A time.
Short & Sweet Sessions? Yes, Please!
The sweet spot is 45-60 minutes of content for webinars and meetings. When a longer half-, full- or multi-day conference is needed, try to keep your sessions at that same 45-60 minute mark and schedule plenty of break time! Just because you CAN schedule back to back remote presenters and pre-recorded sessions doesn’t mean that you SHOULD. Folks may need a snack, a bathroom break, to check emails, to cruise social media, any number of things. Wouldn’t you rather they did that during a break instead of during your session?
REHEARSE REHEARSE REHEARSE!
Remember that part where I mentioned amping up your equipment and knowing how to work with a virtual audience? Yeah, you get a lot of those kinks worked out during rehearsal. Confirm that equipment is working properly. Test any graphics, music or video that will be incorporated. Make sure everyone knows how to use the platform. Check out presenters’ surroundings and make sure they’re appropriate for the event. If you can, rehearse at the same time of day as the event so you know if glaring sunlight or aggressive shadow shapes will be an issue.
Presenters should also submit pre-recorded sessions. Things happen. Power goes out. Internet fails. People get sick. This is the events world, so we rehearse plan A, but prepare plans B, C and D...just in case.
Pick Your Team
"Team" can mean a lot of things when it comes to virtual events. It can range from something as simple as a meeting moderator and someone to manage chat comments, all the way up to a full production team. Remember, these folks will make sure that your event stays on track, any issues are resolved properly and information flows between participants and presenters.
Make it interesting
Picture this: You’re back in school, sitting in a classroom while a teacher lectures at you. Just talking. They might spice it up by reading a Powerpoint presentation at you! Your mind starts to wander… How did that feel? I mean, I just fell asleep writing it. Now imagine that same situation, except instead of being in a classroom, your attendees are all
watching the presentation on their device of choice, surrounded by 50 potential distractions. Want to keep their attention? Make the presentation interactive and engaging! Gamification (“The process of adding games or gamelike elements to something so as to encourage participation.” Merriam-Webster) is HUGE nowadays. This can include polls, surveys, word clouds, competitions, leaderboards, trivia, scavenger hunts, the options are endless. You can also provide different types of sessions, such as yoga breaks, cooking classes, mixology lessons, entertainers. There are so many opportunities to keep your attendees engaged that no one should be having school lecture flashbacks!
As ready as many of us are to get back to in-person meetings and events, virtual is the way to go for the foreseeable future. Hopefully these best practices will increase value for everyone involved in your virtual meetings and events. What are some tips that have worked for you?