How we can enhance everyone’s experience of conducting events online in the COVID-19 era
Half a year into the pandemic, the world has seen a surge in the popularity of virtual conferences, meetings and events. Conferencing platforms like Zoom, BlueJeans and Cisco Webex are among those who have benefited; Zoom’s users alone increased by 100 million between April 1 and April 23 this year.
Following this sharp upswing in the number of online events and webinars available to the public, some, like SaaStock, have found that the model appeals to them, and say that their online iterations are here to stay. This means that going forward, event organizers will need to learn new professional standards for every kind of setup, whether it’s a simple shoot with a mobile device, laptop webcam, or a professional studio shoot for a high-production-value conference.
In our last article featuring Melody Kwan (‘A Turn of Events,’ Jumpstart Issue 29: Back to Basics), we explored the crucial role of event specialists and emcees in the era of Covid-19. Having worked with big names such as Google, HBO Asia, Alibaba Group, Manchester United, Cartier, and the Hong Kong Government in her career as a host and an event curator, Kwan spoke about the multifaceted demands that event organizers are expected to meet, and delineated what she and her team did to set themselves a class apart.
At the outset of the era of online events, companies shuddered at the prospect of conducting large scale events with participants scattered all over the city, country, or even the world. Over time, they acclimatized to the new landscape, and have begun to use these platforms on a regular basis. A common concern, however, is the disparity between the quality of events conducted on online platforms versus real-life events.
Despite rising above their qualms regarding this new trend in event organizing, the online aspect lures many into a false sense of confidence, lulling them into accepting lower standards than normal. Thus, a large number of these events fail to meet professional standards.
“Many clients still believe all they need is to talk at their online audiences, by doing something no different than a ‘mobile phone video call’ with professional content,” Kwan explains. “Ultimately, they find the resulting video is underwhelming, unprofessional and far from engaging.”
There are multiple problems that companies and speakers face while conducting events and sessions online. Using presentations and videos in meetings held via video conference platforms may not be as engaging as when they are used in the conventional way, as video conferences are two-dimensional in nature, regardless of their content.
“We now have to do much more to achieve the same results as we would in physical offline engagement, with new reach but also new limitations,” Kwan adds.
Even though there are multiple platforms that companies could opt for, they are often unaware of the nuances and distinguishing features of these platforms. This leads to poor decision making in terms of matching a particular event with the best platform for its effective execution.
Talking to a camera rarely, if ever, engages the audience. Conveying simple messages over an online medium necessitates extremely effective communication skills, which very few managers or company members may be endowed with. This, Kwan says, is understandable, since few people were equipped with these skills before the ubiquity of online video sessions.
The concept of ‘work-from-home’ is still relatively new to most individuals, which makes it difficult for them to strike a balance between lounging on their couch in sweatpants, and bringing out their professional side. With many leaning towards the former persona, online events may turn out to be sloppy and lacking in professionalism.
Kwan, however, has designed an online course to help both beginners and seasoned offline speakers explore the various possible ways in which to conduct meetings, conferences, and other online video engagements. Her sessions range from simple one-on-one zoom meetings they can set up themselves, to working with a setup in the office boardroom with colleagues, to shooting high quality content with a crew at a professional studio.
“The day came when I received no less than 20 enquiries a day, from seasoned offline speakers, presenters, and beginners crying out for help,” says Kwan, explaining the rationale behind this new offering. “I decided to do something to help them rather than let them flush their hard-earned work and professional image down the drain by doing a sub-par job via online video sessions.”
Speakers and presenters need better direction as to how to channel their energy and resources toward hosting good-quality online video sessions and events, even drastically changing their processes if need be. Kwan’s course helps speakers and organizers acquire the necessary knowledge to do exactly that, by answering a number of crucial questions:
- What are the commonalities between face-to-face and online sessions, and what is new?
- How do people behave when online, and what are the norms and etiquettes observed on these platforms?
- How can we better engage with an online audience we cannot even see sometimes in order to achieve their professional goals?
- What gear is needed to ‘survive’ on this platform? How do we select a suitable software?
- How can we plan our activities to tackle the increased technical elements, increased participants, and higher margin of error of online events?
- How can the speaker manage all their roles and tasks simultaneously? And what to do when it’s simply too much?
During an online session when representing a client, the requirement to conduct a professional session of high quality (i.e. upholding the client’s professional reputation) increases dramatically.
Using her experiences as an emcee, DJ, voiceover artist, horse racing commentator, TV host, event choreographer and manager, as well as an online and offline public speaking coach, Kwan hopes to create a roadmap to conducting professional online sessions anywhere, from conference rooms to living rooms.
The aftereffects of the havoc that Covid-19 has wreaked on workplace culture will remain even after the pandemic has abated. Even if the current trend of conducting events online is replaced by its predecessor, the conventional meeting, the knowledge that company members have gained from conducting online events will forever be integrated into the future workflow of companies. Or, as Kwan calls them, “hybrid” events combining the best of both worlds.
This reiterates the necessity of conducting online events in the best manner possible, to ensure that individuals are able to make the best out of the current situation, and apply the knowledge they have gained from the present in the future in an effective manner to further boost their professional image.
This article was written in partnership with Speak Up Event Coordination.