Five Lessons From Transitioning to Virtual Town Hall Meetings
Town hall meetings, like so many other events, were quickly changed from in-person to virtual this past year.
For many of us, that meant taking on new roles and new tasks that we had not done before. Now that we have had multiple virtual town hall meetings and gone through the ups and downs of planning and hosting these events, we thought it would be a good time to share our thoughts, as well as a few things that worked well and some things we would change in the future.
We chatted with a few members from the Local Wisdom team who had previously planned and worked in-person events, and about how they transitioned into the world of virtual town hall meetings.
Here are five of our best tips to make your virtual events run smoothly:
Define roles and responsibilities clearly
Let’s take ourselves back in time to early 2020. We’re all working from home, but there is still an event to be had. The only difference is: our normally in-person event is virtual for the first time. One of the best tips we learned is to define everyone’s roles and responsibilities clearly and early on. Roles may look a bit, or a lot, different than what they used to. Defining roles early on will help the team get in sync and determine the best course of action to plan the event. It’s important to be flexible, a team player and help out where needed. Also, remember that it is never too early to start planning. Virtual events require extreme attention to detail, and thinking about things you’ve never had to consider before. Having an ample amount of time to plan is of utmost importance.
Communication is key
In a world that has turned virtual, communication becomes more important than ever. From a planning perspective, everything must be written down and recorded carefully. A great tip is to create a central space, like a Google folder, where everything is kept and everyone can access it. There should also be a team member designated to keeping that folder organized so the team can access files and information with ease. Another great tip is to have team members who are in charge of moving projects and tasks along. When an entire company is working virtually, it can be easy for small tasks to be left undone or unfinished. Put together a task list and designate a team member to be in charge of checking in on the status of each task and taking the necessary actions to ensure those tasks are completed on time. Another tip on communication is to have efficient phone calls or virtual meetings. When there is an issue at hand, emailing back and forth can be tedious and take more time than necessary. Hop on a quick phone call, hash out the details, and of course, write down everything you discussed and keep it for your notes.
Dress rehearsals are important
As with any event, either in-person or virtually, it’s important to practice. Our team found this to be even more of a necessity this year. You might assume that everyone knows how to use Zoom or other virtual meeting software, but that is simply not the case. There should be clear directions for attendees to sign up for meetings and directions on HOW to attend them. Put yourself in the mindset that this will be the first time someone attends a virtual meeting, and write directions based off of that. Aside from the human aspect of virtual meetings, you should prepare for the technology side of the event as well. Test all links in advance and make sure they bring attendees to the right place. Make sure speakers have all the equipment they need ahead of time. Ensure that everyone knows how to “mute” and un-mute” themselves. For those team members who will be working the live events, run through all slides, videos and music to make sure it is ready to go, and you know when to switch slides, turn on music or play videos. Speakers should also practice their transitions for the live event. It is easier to become distracted when speakers are in their own homes or offices instead of sitting on stage in front of an audience. Take the time to practice how speakers will transition to the next conversation point so they are not caught off guard during the live event.
Stay on task
For team members who will be working the live virtual event, make sure you’re well rested and prepared! Working an event is already hard work, but adding the factor of looking at a screen while working a live event is an entirely different situation! Have slide decks ready to go, make sure the Q&A portal is working, and be ready to pose questions to speakers. One comment that came from the Local Wisdom team was that virtual events, while less polished, have a more personal aspect to them. You may hear a dog barking, or a baby crying once in a while, but those are things that make the event seem more personal. There will be some mistakes made, but you can’t fault your team members. A key tip that we can give is to fix the problem quickly and move on. Don’t sweat the small stuff and, instead, focus on the task at hand.
Follow up with attendees
Now that the live event is over you might think it’s done. But that’s not the case! Create a survey to see how the attendees felt the event went. You may be surprised by some answers. Most importantly, you will find things that you can improve on for the next event. Some examples from the Local Wisdom team were that some attendees did not feel that their voice was heard because there were so many questions in the Q&A portion of the event, and not all of them were answered. A great idea that came out of this is to send a follow up FAQ answering the important questions that were not addressed live. It’s also important to meet with your team after the event to collect thoughts from those who worked on the event. Piecing together suggestions from the audience and from your own team members will make your virtual events stronger each time.
So what’s next?
This is the question on many of our minds as companies transition back to in-person work. Whether employees are returning to the office five days a week or are adopting a hybrid in-office and work-from-home policy, communications teams will again be tasked with finding the most effective ways to reach large groups of people.
For global companies, is this an opportunity to do a presentation once instead of traveling around the world to speak with employees at different office locations as they had in the past? Will employees at an in-person conference feel more connected than those attending virtually (or vice-versa)? While restrictions are being lifted, if there are capacity limitations in effect, how will we decide who is in the room vs. watching on Zoom? These are all important questions that will need to be answered as we move into the next “new normal.”
On top of that, what are some of the nuts-and-bolts technological issues we need to start thinking about sooner rather than later? From making sure a live microphone in a conference space is properly connected to audio feeds and doesn’t echo for virtual attendees, to ensuring someone is available to pan and refocus the camera if there’s an on-stage panel with multiple speakers alternating turns, we have a brand new set of obstacles to consider.
With all this being said, remember that most of us were new to total virtual events last year and will be new to the hybrid event model in 2021.
The last 12 months have involved a lot of learning and adapting to new roles that we weren’t accustomed to. Do you think that virtual events and blended events are here to stay? We think they just might be. Make sure to use our top tips when planning your next virtual event!
Special thanks to Saylee Bhatte, Marisa Dixon, Marissa Reale, Madison Pfeiffer, and Eric Ryan from the Local Wisdom team for your valuable input!