My first article on virtual events was about preparation. Related to this, is preparing and operating the tech you are going to use. Firstly, you need to research and choose the most appropriate platform. Then learn how to use it effectively.
A disclaimer: I am not an overly techy person. I know and can do the basics with most of your typical computer programmes. I’ve learnt how to use the main online platforms most of the world is now using (Zoom, Teams, etc). I am able to do a bit more than log in, mute/unmute and use the chat. I’ve attended conferences on a variety of bespoke platforms with more complex features (e.g. Airmeet, Hoppin). What I’m outlining here is not the all singing and dancing features of these platforms and phenomenal ways you can present online (and there are some very impressive techniques!).
These are in my view the fundamental things to consider for the tech, based on what I’ve experienced and observed in the past year of virtual events.
Know the tech
The level of knowledge you will need for a virtual event will be dependent on its scale. As a minimum, you will need someone fairly competent in the platform to run this side of the meeting. The platforms are constantly releasing new and improved features. A practice run is essential if you’re going to use breakout rooms, spotlighting, screenshare, etc. Make sure you are up-to-speed with how these work before the main event to ensure your audience gets a smooth experience. Most people should be able to learn how to run a relatively simple event with a bit of practice.
The larger and more complex the event, the more skilled the person running the tech needs to be. I’ve seen some conferences where the main meeting / speakers were streamed from one zoom to another. Some have had impressive camera angles, imposing of images and integration between speakers. If this is needed in your event, find the right person to enable it.
If you’ve got speakers at your event, having a run through with them is equally important, especially if it’s a platform that they haven’t used before. They need to know what to expect, how they can interact with you and the audience during their talk.
Make sure your participants know how to login (or at least try to). Most of us are getting pretty proficient at this now, but always send clear instructions. Also be prepared that no matter how good the instructions, some people may still have challenges. For a great participant experience, ensure they know where to get help. All part of the joining instructions referred to previously.
What you see on screen is not necessarily what the audience sees
Part of testing the tech is understanding what your audience will experience. I have two contrasting examples of why this is necessary. With “mirror my video” on zoom, I’ve held books or papers with written words on it – to me they look backwards and unreadable (inducing some confusion and panic the first time I tried it). To those on the other end of the call, they were fine.
In one seminar I attended, the screen share ended up being presenter view (I’m assuming the speaker thought the audience could just see the slide content). First problem – you don’t want your audience to be able to see your speaker notes and upcoming slides. It also means they can’t see the full slide properly as the screen is busy with other things. Worse – as an audience we could see that the speaker had over 100 slides…for a 45 minute presentation. The right format and number of slides in a presentation is a detailed subject in its own right, but more than one slide a minute is definitely not ideal. I was unfortunately distracted and put off before the speaker even began. Which was a shame – the speaker appeared to be knowledgeable and engaging, if we could have just seen them / useful slides.
The lesson, whatever the platform – make sure you know what your audience can see when you test your tech. One way I’ve done this is logging in from a second device. Enlist help if necessary.
Know when to give up
Whether in person or online, things may well go wrong. We cannot control computer glitches or broadband failures. Waiting a minute or two for a reconnection is expected and acceptable. Your audience will understand. But there will come a point past which their understanding and engagement will wane. When do you make the call that the dalek voice is too incomprehensible or the nth dropped connection is too much?
Always keep in mind your audience experience. Can you find another way to deliver? I’ve seen this happen, via someone else taking over, rescheduling to another day and sharing recordings later. Do everything you can to prevent technology failures, but know who is going to decide when it’s not recoverable. The audience will thank you for it.
Keeping up the goodwill and engagement of your audience is probably the biggest factor in measuring the success of your virtual event. I’ll explore ways to engage your audience in my next post.