The Must-Have Facilitator’s Guide to Taking your Conference Virtual
by: Catherine Saar
Now that you have begun planning to transform your face to face conference into a virtual experience, there are a few key steps for a facilitation team to take to really deliver a truly excellent, seamless experience.
Having already reimagined the participant experience and determined what tools will foster engagement, you will want to do some background work to create ease for yourself, your team and your participants even before the big moment actually arrives. Here’s a guide to get you ready to deliver at your best, your first time and beyond:
BEFORE the event
- Get Participants involved. Consider how you can involve participants to assist with facilitation. This approach can get them more invested in the process, while also lightening the load for the facilitation team. For example, can you identify volunteers who can run break-out sessions, or participate as a panelist during a session?
- Assign Specific Roles. Take time to assign roles to each member of your facilitation team. Determine what specific tasks each person will play during each session. For example, who will monitor chat, who will run tech, and who will facilitate the conversation.
- Practice. Take time to run through the sequencing with the full facilitation team to get comfortable with the flow of the sessions and with any new technology tools you may be using. A complete practice run is recommended to iron out any rough spots and to help you to determine if you have the right people on your team to handle the load.
DURING the event
- Introduce tech features. Take time to help your audience adjust to any tech features you would like them to use during the event. Do they know how to annotate, or raise their hand? Help them to get comfortable with what is available to them.
- Create connection. Find ways to create opportunities for your participants to connect. Perhaps offer an icebreaker and also make time for a virtual networking event so participants can get to know each other as they would during an in-person meeting.
- Mix it up. Employ a variety of modalities during sessions to keep your virtual audience engaged. Talking heads get dull fast. This means not only using different technical tools and strategies, but might also mean giving people time to get up and move, go for a virtual “walk and talk” with other participants, or taking time to write, reflect, or otherwise step outside of the digital world for a bit.
- Create easy transitions. Send participants text and email notifications with links about what’s coming next. Help them to navigate between sessions and help get them back online after session breaks.
- Pivot as needed. No matter how great a plan you have, unforeseen circumstances can arise. Perhaps a technology snag or an unanticipated increase or decrease in your attendees could impact the what and the how of your delivery. Be ready to pivot. Have a back-up plan, a sense of humor, and be open to adapting to real time needs.
AFTER the event
- Get feedback. Be sure to find out what worked and what didn’t, so you can improve and learn every time you make an offering.
- Gather lessons learned. Consider appointing a member of the facilitation team to take notes on what worked well and what didn’t so you can review how it went.
- Debrief. Take time to meet as a team after the event and collaborate about what you learned. What went well? What could go better? What will you do more of, and what might you let go of? Gather as a team to decide what lessons you wish to take forward and in so doing, build your institutional knowledge to make your next event even better.
To learn more about delivering dynamic events at a distance, collaborating on-line and hosting engaging virtual meetings, check out our self-paced, online class, Leading Virtually.