By Sheryl Kline and Carole Sox
Over the past few weeks, the world of in-person events and meetings has ground to a halt. The COVID-19 virus has forced important get-togethers to move to the virtual world for the safety of attendees and society.
Professionals, managers and others have had to take unprecedented precautions to assist in flattening the curve of the virus as it travels throughout the globe. Fortunately, event planning professionals and managers have accommodated this request in record time and continue to show impressive effort and adaptability.
If you’re looking to do the same for your events, here are eight critical questions you should ask to create a successful online meeting. Each of these suggestions is based on research from successful virtual meeting planners!
How will we communicate? Collaboration with professional meeting designers, the planning team and meeting participants are all imperative to your success. Once a plan is in place, your team should swiftly communicate it in numerous sites (e.g., email, website, social platforms, etc.). Do not bombard your meeting participants with emails, but make sure what you are sending them is clear, concise and gives the right message. Provide a general outline of your meeting to all facilitators and attendees.
Can I simplify? There are many tools you can employ to move information online in a meeting environment. Whichever you choose, make sure it is easy for your audience and presenters to use. Remember that they did not initially register for an online event, so some of them may not be particularly comfortable with this option. You want attendees to continue to participate, so make sure they can access the material, speakers and online engagement opportunities in a way in which they are comfortable. Keep it simple.
Are you talking to me? Include a variety of interactive opportunities for your moderators and participants. For example, can you stream questions that moderators can answer in real time? Or perhaps you can include an organized Q&A period within a session? Coach your meeting facilitators and moderators on how to best engage their audience. Ask the participants to use technology during the presentations. Do you want them to use hashtags, share information on social platforms and like your posts? Create a plan for interactive opportunities and refer to it frequently with your facilitator and participants.
Can I watch this later? Record your meeting sessions so you can post them on your website. You can archive the recording for future use or post it on your site and social platforms. This can be very helpful to participants who missed a session and can also be used as part of your marketing plan for future events. However, an important note: You must get permission from your presenters before you can record a session.
Will this work? Make sure all your equipment, software and plans will work before your meeting begins. Allow time for any kinks to be tested and corrected ahead of time. Since some moderators may not be familiar with this format, planning can significantly reduce their stress, as well as the stress of your participants. Ask your moderators and presenters to engage in a practice meeting before the event. This will ensure all questions are answered, and all is working as planned.
Who is invited?The number of attendees invited to the online meeting will help you determine the platform you should use and how you should handle discussions within the conference. If it is a small meeting of 50 people or less, Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting platform both works well. You can also engage the Chat function for Q&A sessions. However, if you plan a meeting with 100 or more attendees, webinar platforms are more appropriate. You want to limit the attendees to those who are essential and highly interested in the topic. Also, you want to define the way your team handles questions and comments, in order to you limit the number of people who are talking at one time.
What will I see at this meeting? In addition to showing the speaker, it is good to provide visuals to support your agenda and speakers’ points. It is much harder for attendees to focus on presentations and meeting topics when they are home with many distractions. Keeping to the agenda and providing clear visuals that support the speakers’ points will help to keep people focused on what is essential.
How did it go? Make sure to survey your participants and moderators after the meeting. This will help you to learn what worked and what will need to be improved. Understanding exactly what your participants thought of your efforts can significantly assist you with planning future events and meetings online.
These are trying times for the meeting industry, and we have yet to know the full impact the COVID-19 virus will have on business. For now, however, business online is the new business as usual, so we must adapt.
Sheryl F. Kline Ph.D. is the deputy dean of Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and the Aramark Chaired Professor in the Department of Hospitality Business Management at the University of Delaware. Dr. Kline teaches courses in hospitality management at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Carole Sox is an assistant professor and the Hospitality, Tourism, and Event Management Program Director at Columbia College in South Carolina.