How many Zoom meetings have you attended this week?
Since COVID, we probably lead or attend 35-45 virtual meetings a week. Whew! It seems we better figure this out and develop strategies for success.
What About a Virtual Conference?
Now take that to the next level with a virtual conference. In co-leading the Society for the Advancement of Consulting’s Global Annual Meeting, we had six Zoom sessions going at once and sessions starting at 6am Pacific (for European attendees) and going straight through to 7pm Pacific (for our Pac Rim attendees) with North American attendees in the middle. We left 10 minutes before the top of each hour for a break and scheduled a few networking sessions throughout the conference. No lunches. After all, which time zone would be allowed lunch? Of course, attendees could come and go but it made for long days for us. Now that is a coordination trick if you’d like your speakers and hosts comfortable, audience engaged and the core team sane.
A Few of the Key Lessons Learned (the first 7 that pop to mind):
- Test technology in advance: No matter how experienced, items arise you don’t expect. The more prepared for the unexpected, the better.
- Use Multiple Zoom IDs: We would have had a disaster if we had to end sessions before starting the next session, and that wouldn’t have allowed prep time with each speaker for last minute issues. There is conference software that avoids this issue but whether it makes sense to invest and figure out a more complex technology depends on the needs.
- Get help: We had hosts, a technical support resource and a core team to jump in and resolve issues. We needed EVERYONE.
- Music and graphics: They go a long way to creating a brand and pleasant experience. Just make sure you know how to use these features so that the audience can hear (not as easy as it sounds) and the presentation is showing properly.
- Create engagement: Ideally, use multiple strategies to create engagement virtually with the use of interaction, sharing screens, chat, questions & answers, polls and more.
- Show passion: Just like in a regular speech or workshop, you have to show passion. Facial expressions, movements and voice inflection make a big difference.
- Offer Choices & Breaks: We put extra effort in pre-planning to offer options, choices, different types of sessions, different tracks and breaks for attendees. Since we were recording, it also offered an easy way to plan a break and catch up later.
The Bottom Line
In our experience, you must prepare, prepare and prepare some more. Of course, it is always a good idea but it is far easier to be ‘in the moment’ in an in-person speech. You should certainly be in the moment in a virtual meeting as well but you have to prepare for engagement, issues and more so that you have the opportunity to be ‘in the moment’. We had a few issues arise, and when they occurred, my co-leader or I jumped into the session to help the host spur the conversation or address the issue. 80/20, the audience didn’t even notice. With that said, a few of us slept for MANY hours upon the conclusion of the conference.