SmartMeetings.com posted an article recently about what event professionals can learn from the Olympics. The Olympics brings millions of people together from around the world, yet not all of those people are actually present at the games. Fans watch and cheer for their countries in the comfort of their own home or at a local restaurant. Even though from where fans watch to where the actual games are played can be thousands and thousands of miles away, it somehow makes us feel connected, excited and joyful. (The same can be said about the Superbowl…go pats!)
The big question is how do we learn from that type of engagement and apply it to our own meetings and events? I’m sure since it has been over four months since quarantine began, many of us have either participated in or organized countless video conference calls. From what I’ve seen, here are six best practices to increase engagement and promote a genuinely connected virtual environment.
#1 Choose a Speaker Comfortable Presenting Via Webcam Both in person and virtual events benefit from having a high-energy speaker as it keeps the audience engaged, but finding a speaker that can translate that same energy via webcam is just as important. Some speakers that are fantastic in person, yet some how can become mediocre online because that same energy is not translated through video or they are not comfortable using the technology. The speaker you choose makes all the difference in keeping your audience engaged.
#2 Use Your Platform Features! Emoticons, Annotate, Chat Box, Polls, Etc. We are all guilty to have at one point muted our mics and video to go do something else. Many platforms have some type of engagement function such as a chat box, poll questions, raise your hand button, etc. Will Curran, Founder & Chief Event Einstein at Endless Events, does a fantastic job of keeping his audience engaged by being both comfortable presenting in front of a webcam (although comfortable might be an understatement!) and using these functions such as doing the “wave” with his audience. My favorite function through Zoom is the annotate function which allows all attendees to brainstorm together by typing their ideas onto the actual presentation. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is an example: fast forward to 1:53 in the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGQkAsKtriU.
#3 Have a Dance Party Dancing is a great way to boost endorphins and help keep your attendees energy high. Here are 3 ways to incorporate dancing in your virtual event: 1. Open with a DJ before the program officially starts that way as people join the meeting they are met with upbeat jams to get their energy soaring! 2. Find local artists to showcase their music between breakouts. MPI WestField, an association for meeting & event professionals in Westchester and Fairfield Counties, does this really well as it also helps to connect local artists to meeting planners looking to add music to their events. Its a win-win for everyone as the music is fabulous! 3. Play a song to end the meeting and encourage everyone to dance it out. You’ll be surprised how many people stay until the song ends! Dancing naturally brings people together and can honestly put you in a better mood!
#4 Use Breakout Rooms Networking is one of the biggest reasons we attend events and it can be difficult to figure out how to create a meaningful networking environment virtually. The best way is to incorporate breakout rooms by dividing your larger general session into smaller groups of 2-4 people. The emcee can provide a prompt to aid with the discussion as it can help start a meaningful discussion especially when not everyone in the group has met. If you’d like to see this in action, join MPI WestField for their free weekly #lunchbunch every Wednesday at 12pm! https://www.mpi.org/chapters/westfield/education-events
#5 Send a Meeting Box This is one of my favorite ideas to cultivate the idea of being together. If you are having a meeting, pick a theme and mail a box to each attendee with a mixture of snacks and swag that match the theme. Think of it as sending your attendees their mid-day break, something that you would normally offer at an in-person meeting. Another option is to email a Dunkin’ gift card or set up an Uber Eats Business account for your attendees to purchase lunch during the meeting. It’s a small detail that attendees will remember.
#6 Go On A Scavenger Hunt Get your attendees engaged by having a scavenger hunt or challenge during your meeting. It will add a nice break and a little fun! A simple way is to provide a prompt to your attendees to find something in their home and have a “show & tell”. Attendees may find that they have something in common with each other besides being in the same meeting! For a more advanced team building activity, create a list of items for attendees to take pictures of themselves and post in a private group. The list can be simple and include items such as a selfie, view from the kitchen, computer view, etc. At the end of the week have an awards ceremony and whoever posts the most items wins!
As we continue to embrace a digital first environment, engagement ideas will continue to evolve. I hope these six steps will help you to foster a more human and connected experience for your next virtual meeting or event.
References Lorenz, Tony. “What Business Events Can Learn from the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” SmartMeetings, July 17 July 2020, http://www.smartmeetings.com/tips-tools/127969/events-olympic-games