There is a lot of talk in the meetings industry right now about what happens to live events during the Coronavirus health crisis. I have been monitoring conversations from MPI, PCMA, ASAE and other meetings industry organizations on how to proceed as the virus continues to expand around the globe. I was at a meeting for the National Speakers Association this weekend and it was a main topic, as many speakers are already seeing upcoming events cancel. My sister-in-law works for an insurance company, and their organization has banned all travel and canceled all employees from attending conferences. Many of my planner friends are looking closely at what it will take to convert to a virtual meeting, virtual conference, or adding a hybrid conference option. Another idea I came up with was producing a branded podcast with in-depth interviews with all the presenters who were going to be at the now canceled live event (more below).
I got a call from a former client that wanted to have a “brainstorming session” with me since I attend a lot of events a speaker and master of ceremonies. We chatted for a long time about what she could do if her April event has to be canceled or if many participants decide to stay home. A virtual meeting / virtual conference is one option.
Virtual Meeting / Virtual Conference
What is a virtual conference / virtual meeting? The definition of exactly what this means probably has many answers. To me it would be a event with no in-person option. I think this is more than a video conference, as to me that seems to be smaller on scale. What I see in this case is a day long (or longer) online meeting that would be run in a similar fashion to a live conference. This means a variety of speakers presenting and a planned agenda. To organize a good virtual meeting / virtual conference is not something that will be easy. This will take some thought and planning. The good news is the meeting technology and meeting software exists and is affordable.
To conduct a successful virtual meeting / virtual conference you will need to get all your team members and partners (speakers, video conference software vendors, etc….) on board and focused on creating a real time virtual environment. Fortunately, in 2020 there are many experienced people and companies with products or services that can help you create a amazing online meeting with group chats, video tools, mobile app, etc…. While a face-to-face meeting is always the best option (people are drawn to share experiences), there are other options if the Coronavirus creates meeting cancelations.
If you are holding a live event, but suddenly you find that your participants are nervous to travel or their companies have mandated a no-travel policy, you can still go forward with your event, but include the remote participants. Companies like Digitell have the technology to create digital broadcasting for your conference. The technology is here. We just need to embrace the unfortunate and scary realities of the Coronavirus and do what we can to include our communities in the meetings if they cannot show up in person.
The one thing you want to consider if you are hosting a virtual meeting / virtual conference or a hybrid meeting is that you should add a virtual host. If you host a virtual event there has to be some elements that engage the audience. Simply streaming speakers is not enough, as that can get boring very fast. If you have a day-long or multi-day conference you need to shake it up for the remote audience. There should be conversation, someone to monitor the online chat groups, and an infusion of interviews instead of just talking heads. Make the at-home audience feel they matter, not that they are an afterthought.
If you like this Hybrid option (or even switching to a virtual meeting / virtual conference) check out The Conference Talk Show as an option to help you create the right vibe. Along with speaker Eliz Greene, I have created this virtual hosting / hybrid hosting product and service. We can work with Digitell or any company that is assisting you broadcast, but we add the on-camera fun and engagement.
Let’s face it, podcasts are hot right now. It seems everyone, including your goofy cousin, has their own podcast. With over 800,000 podcasts (many that are just some person sharing their thoughts), many companies and association have not yet looked at this medium as a way to launch their message. But with over half of the American population showing they have listened to podcasts (and close to a quarter do so regularly), it is a way to reach people in a familiar manner. But when I talk about a “Conference Podcast” I am not talking about some comedian in his garage creating random episodes, but a branded program that highlights the speakers at your association or company event. This can be done at a moderate cost (beware of some vendors, as many of my association clients have talked to me about their podcast plans (just to brainstorm), but when they share the quote of the cost it has an super high mark up (the reason you goofy cousin can have a podcast is the price is not ridiculous).
I believe a podcast can take the place of a virtual meeting / virtual conference and can be created quickly. The interviews of each speaker can be created, edited, and uploaded to your website, Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, I Heart Radio, YouTube, etc….. My advice would be to get the right host to ensure the episodes are engaging.
If you already have a podcast for your company or association, that can become your “venue”. Create special episodes and drop them all at once or over a series of weeks. I have brainstormed this idea with a few people already, and I am happy to share my thoughts if you want to know more.
See my other blog post on online meetings in the wake of the Coronavirus.
Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies / EmCee. He is the host of two podcasts (“Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” and “The Digital Enterprise Society Podcast”). Singer is the author of 12 books and has presented over 950 times in his career as a professional speaker.