Are you getting bored of virtual events which go on for hours, with one speaker after another or one panel after another? Often the most gripping moment is seeing how the moderator copes with the technical glitches or closes down the speakers who go over time!
Far too many event organisers have not understood the difference between what goes into a virtual one as opposed to face-to-face. They try to replicate their usual half-day, full-day or two-day event online without thinking about the audience experience.
Having moderated many virtual events in the past 7 months, I firmly believe that organisers will need to work harder as the pandemic continues to retain audience share. Audiences are going to be more selective, only tuning in to events that are well produced, informative and insightful.
Producing a virtual event is like producing a TV programme
As a former BBC TV producer and editor, I advise clients organising events to use the same techniques that professional programme producers use to attract and retain audiences. Here are some of my tips:
• Short – TV programmes are rarely more than 60-minutes. Often, they are 30 to 45 minutes as producers know that people’s attention span starts to wane without a break.
• Varied – Our brains switch off if they are not stimulated every 8 minutes. A TV programme is broken down into short varied segments – presenter intro/interview with a participant, known as a “fireside chat”/double-headed interviews/studio discussions. Schedulers make sure that the same format is not used in consecutive TV programmes. A documentary is followed by drama that is followed by light entertainment or reality TV.
• Creative – Programme makers experiment with new formats, ensuring a mix of light and shade to keep people’s attention. Even in TV news there is a mix of serious and less serious stories.
• Human-interest – People are interested in people. Programme makers are looking for stories of the challenges people face and how they are overcoming them. They know that stories build emotional connection and keep people captivated.
• Pre-recorded – Most TV is pre-recorded. News programmes are live as well as some sports events and of course, election night special. But these are produced by teams who regularly work together and are at the top of their game!
• Rehearsed – Live TV programmes are rehearsed – just like music concerts or theatrical productions. Presenters make it look as if it is happening naturally but programmes have a minute-by-minute running order that is rigorously adhered to.
• Time-managed. A TV or radio programme never over-runs due to the skill of the studio producer and presenter.
Applying these tips to your virtual event
If you are organising an event that is longer than 1 hour, here are some tips to keep your audience engaged. You could offer breakout rooms where the audience can continue the conversation with the speakers, as well as content on demand such as videos, podcasts or in-depth written content.
When you go beyond an hour, as an organiser you need to ensure a variety of formats from panel discussions with different formats, interviews, keynotes, and facilitated breakout sessions.
Fundamentals of a good virtual event
Don’t forget that the basis for any successful event is to be creative in structure and format. Inform, educate and entertain are the essential ingredients of all good events, so when preparing your virtual one, make sure you appeal to all of the senses – visual (video, images, cartoons) audio (recordings, music) and kinesthetic (icebreaker activities, quizzes, energisers, storytelling).
Are you suffering from Zoom fatigue as you rush from one online meeting to another? I am using Zoom as shorthand for all the different platforms that are jostling to sign you up as a customer. In my opinion, Zoom is by far the most interactive and participatory platform, although MS Teams and Webex are catching up.
But the platform is not the biggest challenge to facilitating an online meeting. According to participants in my eWorkshops it is the passive audience, made even worse when people turn off their cameras! Number two, by the way, is lack of non-verbal cues and number three technical glitches.
As a meeting facilitator you have to work hard to get and keep people’s attention. And even harder if you want to break through the virtual divide and get people to engage and participate. In the real world, our brain switches off every 10 minutes if it is not stimulated, so imagine how quickly it tunes out in the virtual world.
The solution is to view facilitating a meeting like running a training session. You have to borrow tools and techniques from training to build engagement and participation.
Here are some of my most effective tools to boost your meeting.
1. Polls are popular. In Zoom there is an integrated polling option, where you can ask people multiple choice or single choice questions. Within 1 minute, you can share the results. It is best to set them up before to be as efficient with the time spent online as possible.
Even better are slido.com and mentimeter.com – two applications I use as a conference moderator to ask questions before and/or after a panel discussion. Mentimeter.com has a multitude of uses from asking people their expectations, to checking their understanding or evaluating a session. The word cloud option is particularly fun as people see the words appear in real time.
2. Whiteboards are the new black! On Zoom there is an integrated whiteboard but it is clunky to use as participants can easily write over each other’s contributions. Much better and more engaging is Google Jamboard.
Here you can create post-it notes and move them around the board. It is great for collaborative and brainstorming exercises as you can move around the post-it notes, cluster and use the annotate pen to name the groups.
Google slides is also useful as a simple whiteboard to write ideas on and then share as part of a presentation.
3. Go beyond the chat box. Chat is the easiest function and every platform offers this – even Skype for Business. But you can be far more creative using Google Docs which everyone fills in either as an exercise while people are waiting to join the meeting or as part of the meeting to get a discussion going.
Image courtesy of ICA:UK
If you want to encourage people to participate anonymously before, during and after a meeting, padlet.com is effective. You create a board and can add questions, illustrate with images or even draw that participants can answer and then rate.
4. Make some decisions – tricider.com is a free tool where you can analyse the pros and cons and then vote to come to a decision.
5. If money is no option, you may want to invest in Miro or Mural which are tools that integrate many of the above features in one – but you will have to spend some time bringing participants up to speed in how to use them as they can be rather overwhelming.
If you use these tools well, they will help you facilitate not only productive but also engaging and participatory meetings. You may even find that people cast aside their Zoom fatigue as they rush to participate in your next conference call!
In my next blog in my getting real in the virtual world series, I shall look at techniques for participatory conversations and how to develop your on-screen presence.
Until COVID-19 struck, my virtual training consisted of coaching over Skype for clients I couldn’t meet face to face.
Today all my training is conducted virtually over numerous other platforms; clients highly rate the experience and learning and development departments are happy to be able to provide this opportunity for their staff’s personal development while working remotely.
In the past 6 weeks, I have been running eWorkshops in writing, moderating, storytelling, presenting, media and job interviews and speechwriting.
This is what I have learnt about what makes a successful virtual learning experience.
eWorkshops not webinars
Clients are telling me they much prefer an eWorkshop, which is interactive and participatory rather than watching a YouTube video or attending a webinar, which is usually a PowerPoint Presentation with Q&A.
I know from my attempts to do yoga online that what I really miss is the individual feedback on what I am doing wrong!
With eWorkshops, participants can get that individual feedback just like in the face-to-face training room experience, as long as the group is no more than 8 people.
Participatory workshops with individual feedback.
Short bursts not long seminars
Managing attention span is particularly challenging over videoconferences. According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor at INSEAD this is because everyone – participants and trainer – are consuming more energy trying to process the non-verbal cues when we are all reduced to thumbnail videos.
This is why all my trainings are either 60 or 90 minutes in length. If I am asked for longer, we take a break so that people can stretch their legs and give their eyes a rest from the screen. Often I ask them to prepare or reflect on something related to the workshop so it is time well spent.
Furthermore short sessions spaced out over a period of days fit well into people’s busy schedules as they juggle work and personal commitments.
Synchronous and asynchronous learning is a win-win
This hybrid model where participants learn during and also between sessions means they have more time to absorb the learning, put it into practice and prepare well for the next session. They can also choose when they want to do the asynchronous learning.
Furthermore over a series of three or four short sessions, they can cover in the eWorkshop the same amount of material as in a face-to-face training.
A dynamic trainer to recreate the training room experience
It is vital that the trainer has the skills to make the learner feel as if they are in a face-to-face training. This means taking a learner centric approach so that the content is well structured, easy to follow and varied to appeal to those who learn by seeing, watching, hearing, doing, touching and interacting.
In addition, the trainer has to power up their delivery skills – be more animated, modulate their voice and better read the participants non-verbal cues.
And they have to have a great sense of time management. Training virtually is like producing and presenting a TV programme so the trainer has to keep track of the time and end on time as otherwise the line will go down!
Zoom into the virtual training world
I recommend Zoom as a platform for training and coaching. For anybody anxious about using technology, it is the simplest to use – easy to navigate, interactive and with good audio and video quality. And it is secure – even too secure as a head of HR never made it into one of my sessions as I mistakenly left her in the waiting room!
What clients are saying
Claire’s eWorkshop was the perfect length, well structured and delivered clearly and compellingly. She kept me engaged throughout and it will help me in my work persuading stakeholders and presenting my ideas. Giulia Ragonesi, Associate Legal Officer, World Intellectual Property Organisation, Geneva
This was the most refreshing and positive e-learning experience that I have had in a long time. It was interesting and engaging with just the right amount of exercises. The sessions were well spaced out so we had enough time to prepare for the next tasks. Claire was totally amazing and her expertise and teaching style made this a very valuable workshop to attend. Zlata Prlenda-Kunstek, Human Resources Assistant, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Bonn
I learnt so much during the session. As well as tips, techniques and practical exercises, the way Claire delivered it was a learning experience in itself and on worth emulating! Diego Gutierrez, Head of Student Services, Graduate Institute, Geneva
The 90-minute session was extremely enriching, packed with takeaways that will help us moderate impactful virtual conferences. Nicole Martins-Maag, Head of Unit, Law and Policy Outreach, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva
Face to face training and coaching are often people’s preferred option, but eWorkshops are certainly a great alternative and can be an equally valuable way of learning and honing skills. And many believe that even once the pandemic is over, virtual learning will be here to stay!
Are you, like me, experiencing your own pandemic of webinars and meetings over various videoconference applications such as Zoom (my favourite), WebEx and Microsoft Team Meetings?
Are you that person who now turns off their camera citing connectivity issues so that you can focus on something else rather than actively take part in the videoconference? Or, as a friend related, that person who strategically places themselves with their back to the window or light so that all people see on the call is their silhouette?
It may be because the moderator is just failing to engage you and manage your limited attention span. That is not a criticism. We all have more limited attention spans when we are on these remote calls.
Here are some of my tips and techniques for moderating remotely so you captivate your audience. They are based on my experience as a former TV and radio journalist, panel moderator, public speaker and remote and in person trainer.
1. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. You need to be highly prepared when moderating a virtual meeting and know clearly the outcomes, structure and agenda, tailoring your content to your audience.
2. Know your technology. You have to master the technology – mute/unmute icons, sharing screens, videos, using polling and brainstorming applications and the chat box. If you are hosting a large meeting, I recommend hiring a professional virtual producer.
3. Frame your shot. Make sure your eyes are 1/3 the way down the screen. This means you avoid too much headroom, which will make you lose authority. Do look straight into your built-in webcam. If you look down, you will appear condescending. If you look up, you will lose authority.
4. Be more animated than you are normally. If you want to keep your audience engaged, you have to be more expressive with your facial gestures, hands and voice modulation.
5. Give visual cues. Encourage participants by giving visual cues, like nodding your head to encourage people while they are speaking. If they speak for too long, you move slightly forward and open your mouth to show them that you are going to interrupt.
6. Explain the purpose, agenda and rules of engagement. You have to be clearer and more structured than when you moderate in person. Remember to signpost throughout the session where you are going to reassure people that you are on track.
7. Frontload key points/messages. People remember best the first things they hear, so don’t bury your key messages in the middle when attention levels are at their lowest.
8. Actively listen. You need to think only about what the participant is saying, not your next question or anything else that is going on. Show you are doing this by picking up on what they say and making smooth transitions to your next point or participant.
9. Manage the time. You need to manage the length of your presenters’ interventions and allow enough time for questions and answers orally or through the chat box.
10. Bring closure. Recap main points and outline next steps.
If you are interested in improving your remote moderating skills, Claire runs a webinar on how to be engaging and manage your audience’s attention span.
She coaches and trains remotely in the art of presenting, talking to the media, speechwriting, storytelling and panel moderating.
Travel bans, remote working and social distancing are making us all think creatively on how we can continue to interact and get our messages across to as many people as possible.
On Thursday, I was involved in what the main newspaper in French-speaking Switzerland, Le Temps, called an ” unprecedented online press conference” on the pharmaceutical industry’s response to COVID-19.
Working with an excellent team from Acumen public affairs, we brought together the heads of 5 global pharmaceutical companies for a press briefing with media from around the world – with just a week’s notice.
Here are my tips and lessons learnt on how to moderate a live studio discussion and press briefing. We are in unprecedented times but the tips apply to any studio setting.
Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse
Technicians at Actua films in Geneva spent the day before testing the video link ups over the open source platforms with the pharmaceutical companies, who were joining us from the US and Europe.
Some companies had their own studios; others went into nearby studios while others were in their office or joining us from home due to strict confinement conditions. We also tested 30 minutes before recording with the speakers themselves to make sure we had the right camera angles and sound.
Have a back-up plan
If the link went down, we had a plan B: to use a phone line and put up a photo with the speaker’s name on it. In fact, we had to use this a couple of times when we briefly lost video connection. They all quickly reappeared thanks to the quick response of the technicians.
Set up your communications channels with the media clearly and in advance
We had numerous journalists from around the world joining us remotely. They could submit written questions by email before the transmission or when it started using the chat box in a link we sent. They also had the option to ask questions over Skype.
Clear instructions to the speakers
The speakers were highly accomplished. Many of them forget that even if they are not speaking, they can still be seen so that they need to be attentive throughout the discussion. Similarly they must not interrupt each other, as their mikes are open the whole time.
Signpost the process
At the beginning I told the media that I would lead 20 minutes of Q and A with the speakers online before we would take their questions. I also let the speakers know when we were going to wrap up.
Make sure the media questions are clearly visible and legible
It is not easy to read questions coming in on a screen and field them to the appropriate speaker. It helps if there is someone who can filter and redraft for clarity and accuracy. They can also be sent to the moderator’s Ipad with instructions on who should address which question.
Watch the screen for visual cues from the speakers
I told the speakers to give me a hand signal if they wanted to add to someone else’s answer or to take a specific media question.
Manage the time
It is important to have a clock in front of you, showing the exact time. This allows you to manage it, leaving enough at the end for final remarks
If you embargo the press briefing or discussion, technicians can edit out any glitches before posting online.
Here is the video that we posted without the need for any internal edits.
Constraints of social distancing
All of this was done at a time when Switzerland is in semi lockdown mode. There are different measures in different Cantons. But in Geneva most people are working remotely and those who come in from nearby France have to have the correct documentation.
We followed the social distancing rules for Geneva, so that we had only 5 people at any one time on set. Thomas Cueni and myself were seated at least 2 metres apart and so were the studio director and the support team from Acumen.
I even had a make up lesson (in French) from the make up artist so that we respected the rules. Daniela showed me the products and how to apply them and I tried to copy her. Let’s just say that she was very patient ….