My first article for the NEW Edmond Business e-magazine
Thanks to COVID-19, I need to update my professional bio from “bring me to your next event as a host, panelist or keynote speaker” to something more like “available to host virtual conferences, facilitate Zoom meetings, Skype interviews or live streams from my professional video/podcast studio.”
As someone who has done a lot of public speaking and hosting the Oklahoma Venture Forum this last year, it’s a whole different ballgame leading a virtual discussion than in-person. There are fewer visual cues, such as body language or other feedback to “read the room” when you’re standing alone in your office staring at a computer screen. But, these events are beneficial for all of us to develop our professional skills, network, collaborate, and find career opportunities so we adapt the current situation to keep learning and collaborating.
However, too many people are not approaching virtual events the same way they would a live, in-person conference, meeting or keynote. Often the comfort of hosting from a private space or home office and not in the usual meeting room or convention center setting leads to a lowering of expectations for the event. We’ve all seen the memes about working in your PJs or attending a meeting without pants. Too much comfort can result in a meeting or presentation that holds little to no value for the audience. Event “hosts” often don’t put enough consideration into the guest experience.
A few rookie mistakes I have witnessed recently include a real lack of understanding (preparation is the key to professionalism) of the technology, awkward openings with large gaps of “dead air” or a generally relaxed attitude that you wouldn’t have when standing at the front of the room looking at the audience in person. This might be cool for casual happy hours, but not if the expectation is a polished professional development- type event.
Don’t assume you can be lax because everyone is working from home. In fact, do the opposite and try to make the virtual meeting better than an in-person event to make up for a lack of connection in the room, networking, etc. Here are a few tips for making your virtual events feel more like live events.
- Dress the part, all the way down to your shoes. You will feel more professional, confident and in charge. Plus, you never know when someone might tell one of those “working without pants” jokes that might put you on the spot to prove you’re not “that guy.”
- Focus on the essentials. If your original meeting or conference called for a lot of segments like breakout sessions, training, trade show, small groups, along with the main presentation, awards or keynote, then simplify as much as possible for logistics. However, try to find technology or other options if possible to allow these activities to happen. Keep the main program simple to achieve the most impact, but get creative to offer additional programming.
- Practice, just not in the mirror. Don’t let the technology or lack of feedback from the audience intimidate you. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth being prepared.
- Have a plan B, C, D. . . Anytime you get more than three people together, you have the potential for something to go wrong. The additional technology and geography between the host, guest and speakers make that much more likely and harder to fix during the program. Plan ahead. Over plan, in fact. Like insurance or emergency response protocols, be prepared for the worst and hope you never need to put any of your multiple plans into action. Once the meeting starts, you will only have a small window to make it happen with limited feedback, options, and experience in these specific situations.
- You have the advantage of keeping a script, clock, or other aids near you but out of the camera view. You’re not in a 360-degree environment. Use your physical space to assist you as much as possible.
- Communicate before, during, and after the event. Create expectations, and then meet or exceed them. Look for feedback and collaborate with your audience. Even if something goes wrong or is less than expected, you will have buy-in on your ideas and efforts.
- Take advantage of the setback. Use the technology to make your presentation more interactive and personalized. Use slides, links, background graphics, mixed media, and any other extras to deliver more information than just oral and visual presentations. The audience is in front of a computer or smart device, use that to enhance the presentation. Take a poll, let questions cue up via text options while the presentation is ongoing, offer links to additional documents, etc. Time a follow-up email to deliver at the end of the presentation for fresh feedback.
Right now, we don’t know how much longer events of this type will need to be executed via technology for social distancing, or if virtual events become more popular than traditional in-person presentations. Either way, the goal is attendance, participation and creating value for those who give up their time and/or money to listen and learn. If you stay focused on providing that value and meeting and exceeding expectations, then you will be able to count your event as a success. The Golden Rule of events pertains to both in-person or virtual gatherings — give them more than they expected.
If you need assistance, technical support or just advice about how to pull off a virtual event instead of a live event, hit me up http://bit.ly/GGContact.