Let’s get real: virtual meetings are not going away anytime soon. Even when we return to live meetings, they will, in all likelihood, be hybrid meetings with virtual components. It’s time to review what we’ve learned so far about taking our meetings online. There is no science behind this list—just our experiences in attending lots of virtual meetings over the past several months.
1. Make sure you are using the most current version of your chosen platform. Select the best platform for your purposes, learn its features, and check for updates after you download it.
2. Use security protocols, like a username and password. Or have your participants sign up and then send them a secure link. If you simply publish a link without security, you are inviting hackers.
3. Create a virtual ‘green room’ for your speakers. Make sure their posture puts them squarely in the screen. Oh, make sure that their backgrounds are not chaotic offices.
4. Online body language is just as important—maybe more so—as it is at a live event. If your speakers are shown only from shoulders up, for example, their hands should remain on a surface, so they don’t appear to come flying up like little birds. People are not aware of their tics—it’s up to you to (nicely) point them out.
5. Adequate bandwidth is critical. Post a dial-in number for those people who have no other access than a phone call.
6. Have a strategy. Know your audience—just like you would for a live event. How are you issuing invitations to the meeting? Your CRM? a users’ group list? through a publication? Or are you just opening the meeting up to the public?
7. Decide early in the process what you want to get out of the meeting and how you’re going to determine whether or not you achieved your goals and objectives. That means measurement, right? For starters, who has registered for the meeting? And how will you follow up? How will you append the data from the meeting to your CRM? (the best way to demonstrate the value of the meeting)
8. Use a moderator. You need someone who can mute or unmute participants and who can handle questions or chat. Live or virtual, meetings don’t run themselves. Your moderator should be someone who has the skills to keep the meeting moving, to interact with presenters, and make sure there is a balance of content.
9. How will you get real-time feedback? Not just from the chat function but from polls, games, surveys—anything that promotes interactivity.
10. Rehearse! Not everyone is comfortable with virtual meetings. Your speakers may be comfortable speaking in front of crowds, but technology can be intimidating. For instance, you might have to shorten the time speakers devote to their bios.
11. Don’t just hope that you have no technical glitches. Have a pro on hand. Believe it or not, participants, even at free webinars, post angry chat messages when things go wrong.
12. After an hour, people zone out. Plan accordingly. It’s okay to take breaks if your meeting is longer than an hour. Breaks can be fun, and you can offer different break or chat “rooms”—the music room, the discussion room, the yoga room. Get creative. Some meeting planners make arrangements with a caterer to deliver lunch to participants. Not a bad idea if you have the budget. And if your virtual meeting is content-heavy with virtual exhibits, it’s preferable to extend the meeting in shorter bites over several days rather than try to pack everything into one very long day.
13. The right content will build brand affinity. No question about it. The reverse is also true. Virtual meetings are the real deal. Make sure slides are well designed.
14. The visual impact should promote audience engagement. You are creating an engaging environment. That means showing your speakers, not having them talk over slides. Your audience wants to see faces, even if they are only on a screen.
15. One more thing: we are face-to-face people. Who knew we would have to learn the ins and outs of virtual meetings? We’re all upgrading our skills. We’ve learned you can’t just dump your live program into a virtual format, so don’t do it alone. You don’t want to hear complaints about a virtual meeting from participants who might be key customers. We can help you like we’ve helped our other clients to create a compelling virtual meeting or virtual exhibit.