Virtual is the new default.
As COVID-19 continues to impact how we live, work and lead, the method of delivering trainings and programs will likely continue to be largely online.
Our organization recently held a statewide virtual conference and we are now in the process of planning a statewide virtual award ceremony. Until now, both programs have been long-standing in-person events.
As we shifted through the transition, here are five things we leaned into:
1) Ask the big questions.
“We have always done it this way” is a poor reason to design a training or program a certain way, and during this increasingly uncertain and new environment, it’s indefensible. Here are some questions to jumpstart alteration:
Why do we do this event? What is our desired outcome and priorities? Is this what our community and target audience need right now? How does this event help us fulfill our mission and strategic plan?
2) Row the collaborative boat.
Another good question to ask is: “What are organizations similar to us doing?” Trust me, you are not alone. The majority of us are in a similar boat -- navigating the turbulent waters of change, uncertainty, and the emotional toll of today’s world. Find your crew and talk about what is and isn’t working.
While planning for our annual Idaho Philanthropy Awards event, our team connected with organizations in and outside of Idaho who recently hosted similar online ceremonies. Our conversations fostered connection and led to positive outcomes. For example, by collaborating with the Girl Scouts of Silver Sage, we were introduced to our new live video streaming service (Streamyard).
3) Design from different shoes.
In our current climate, we’ve ditched our reliance on office shoes. Working from home requires a new sort of tenacity and creative thinking, and that is exactly the spirit we want to apply to our online events. Throughout the design process think deeply about how the content will be delivered and about the wants and needs of all parties – you the organizer, participants, volunteers, speakers, donors, etc. Walk the extra mile and ask them what they envision and need.
Our team selected Whova as the online platform for our annual statewide conference. We were pleasantly surprised and grateful for the level of engagement by participants on chat boards and other functions of the app. However, a prevalent piece of feedback was the need for more conversation-style sessions. The design of the platform limited the interaction between participants and speakers. There will never be a “silver bullet,” however, you should always explore which design will yield results that match your priorities and that of your stakeholders.
4) Prepare and practice.
Tech check! Our collective ability to effectively navigate technology during the past six-plus months has improved. However, tech divides still exist. Like with most new things, preparation and practice makes a great difference.
While coordinating the aforementioned statewide conference, our team held zoom and conference platform tutorials for participants and speakers. We also sent recorded videos of said tutorials along with detailed instructions to all participants. Additionally, we built staff manuals and blocked out substantial tech practice time to ensure everyone’s comfortability hosting sessions and navigating the platform. Be intentional about educating yourself, team and your participants ahead of time. Carve out time to create troubleshoot resources and backup plans to share during the event.
5) Acknowledge the bright side.
One mantra we continuously repeated during our virtual conference was: Online = Opportunity. During this pandemic, I’ve tried to make a point of asking my colleagues and friends what their COVID “silver linings” are. There has been a lot of hurt and frustration, but there has also been a lot of joy and gratitude. By being forced to change how we live and work, in many ways, we have also had the opportunity to pause and innovate.
What bright sides or COVID silver linings can you identify? For us – a connector and state serving organization – access continues to be a huge plus. This was the first year people did not have to travel from all over the state to one location for our conference. This will be the first year, state philanthropy honorees will be able to share a link to loved ones to watch the event from any time zone. Furthermore, virtual content can be recorded and stored for later viewing which allows for wider access. When presenting virtual information to your audience, acknowledge the positives that come with it. It’s all about perspective, design, and intentionality.
In closing, I’d like to focus on that last word: intentionality.
As we continue to reshape the narrative of working in the 21st century, I am hopeful that we will choose to remain intentional. I know that a lot of us are feeling the “zoom fatigue” associated with our new methods of working, but I am confident that intentional planning and connection allows us to reach our audiences and support our peers better.
Maybe, this all begins by asking the big questions, working collaboratively, honoring different viewpoints, preparing and practicing well, and finding the bright sides in this new world.
With time, platforms will change and improve. My hope is, regardless if a screen or cup of coffee separates us, that the way we design and connect improves too.
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