As I write this, the list of cancelled events and meetings is growing by the hour, with events into June now on the proverbial slag heap. Ontario, Alberta and BC have instructed event organizers to cancel all gatherings over 250 people. More are sure to join in the coming days.
Think Twice Before Cancelling
I sympathize with event organizers who must now send an email to registered participants, letting them know that the event they’ve been looking forward to (and booked flights to!) is cancelled or postponed indefinitely.
I also sympathize with meeting organizers and facilitators who must find alternatives to gatherings that are vital to the operation of the company or nonprofit: board meetings, strategic planning, operational planning, employee development, town hall meetings, stakeholder engagements and the like.
Without knowing how long this current COVID-19 crisis will last, can the organization afford to cancel these meetings indefinitely?
And, if you choose to cancel, what message does that send to employees, customers and other stakeholders about business continuity?
The Virtual Option: Can It Be Done?
You’ve probably had a hundred people tell you, “Just do it online.”
And you’re left wondering, “Can this even be done?”
In short, yes, absolutely.
There are many reasons to explore the virtual option, including:
- The technology exists today to take any meeting or larger event into the virtual realm.
- People have already set the time aside, and you can still make good use of that time without putting anyone’s health at risk.
- It’s easier for people to pivot on short notice to a virtual meeting as there are no flights or hotels to book.
- You’ll look like a hero.
Where to Start
As you consider your options, you will find it helpful to have a conversation with someone who knows what is possible given the technology and who can assure you that your meeting objectives will be met.
As a facilitator who regularly facilitates virtual meetings and events, I can say with all confidence that you can pivot and turn your key meetings into productive and collaborative virtual meetings. You’ll need a video conferencing platform, an online collaboration tool that integrates well with the video conferencing platform, and some creativity. If you work for a large organization, check what platform your company uses already and become familiar with it.
Digital Facilitation for Important Meetings
You’ll also need an experienced digital facilitator to work with your meeting facilitator. The digital facilitator will have an in-depth understanding of the technology and how to use it creatively to, for example, have small group brainstorming in breakout rooms. Yes, really!
Together, the facilitators will work to create an agenda that combines the best of the technology with some creative facilitation techniques. You’ll find that you won’t need to give up much, other than the fancy dinner, and you might find it to be a fun, collaborative and productive experience for all.
Larger events such as conferences can also be held as virtual events. You’ll want to use a video conferencing platform in webinar mode.
You’ll be able to have panel discussions, even if the panelists live in different countries. Speakers can be live-streamed from wherever they are in the world or can be recorded ahead of time.
Where you planned for participants to have group discussions with their table mates, you can plan on using an online collaboration tool. Most webinar platforms provide the ability to do polls, chat with participants, queue up questions, raise hands, react with emojis and more. Your digital facilitators will know how to make the most of the software to guarantee a rich experience for attendees.
An aspect of conference-going that most people find extremely valuable is networking. Can people network virtually? We say “yes” if the following conditions are met:
- Enough opportunities are provided for interaction with fellow participants
- Attendees are rotated through small-group intentional and purposeful conversations
- Networking exercises are adapted to create real human connection
The result can be a networking experience that will lead to lasting connections. Ask your digital facilitator how this can be done.
The Message You Send Right Now Is Vitally Important
With so much confusion and uncertainty in the world right now, a message from you that says, “We’re moving forward” provides people with something they can count on. Even as you move to cancel your events, we encourage you to tell attendees that you are exploring online alternatives and will have more information shortly.
We hope that, in this short article, we’ve helped you to see the possibilities. The next time someone comments, “Just put it online,” you’ll be able to respond, “We’re on it.”
If you’d like to chat about virtual options for your important meetings and events, please reach out to our digital facilitation team. Book a time to connect below.