Today’s jobs, today’s tools: How to digitize events, from conferences to team meetings
By Robin Hadac
March 21, 2020
One of the grandfathers of communications, Marshall McLuhan, once said, “Our age of anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.”
That’s a bold statement from a man who lived through the Spanish Flu and two world wars. Weathering a pandemic, understandably, comes with a lot of big feelings. One of those feelings is frustration, as many organizations scramble to find alternatives for live events planned for this spring and summer. Could it be that we’re trying to achieve today’s goals without thoroughly exploring today’s toolbelt? For those of us fortunate to live in a tech-enabled world, we’ve gathered some resources to make the task of going digital less daunting.
Here are the best services, tools and tactics to bring your event to life online. By the end of all this, you’ll enjoy digital events so much that they will become a regular part of your communications strategy.
Video calling is a great way to connect with others during social distancing. Our team has done Daily Briefs via video calling, and separately we have checked in with friends and family and even hosted dance parties.
- Pros: Facetime (iPhone), Whatsapp, Google Hangouts, Zoom and others all allow free or low-cost ways to connect.
- Challenges: Your coworker Jeff hasn’t figured out how to mute his laptop and his kids are screaming “I’m a dinosaur!” during your meeting.
Recommended for: announcements, conference calls, group calls, sales pitches
Social Media Live
Live streaming services via Facebook, Instagram and Youtube are underrated tools in the business realm. Take advantage of live streaming technology to make an announcement and reach a wide audience.
- Pro: This is an easy way to build your social media following in addition to spreading your message.
- Challenge: Viewers will need to have a social media account, and some sensitive information cannot be shared via social.
Recommended for: announcements, press conferences, Q&A sessions, concerts
Webinars are already popular and there are many online tools that can help, ranging from free to premium pricing. Sites like Livestorm offer free basic plans. You can find comprehensive lists comparing webinars on Adam Enfroy’s site and on Code In WP.
- Pro: Many are already familiar with a webinar format and this is an easy way to transition to digital on a pinch.
- Challenge: Many people multitask while “attending” a webinar. Harvard Business Review has some great tips on how to get people to actually participate in virtual meetings.
Recommended for: workshops, presentations, classes
Public or Private Live-Stream:
We’ve seen this format used successfully in fields from politics to arts and crafts. Youtube and Vimeo are already a go-to source for live-streams, and there are many sites that allow you to host private live-streams for premium content. Look for platforms with integrated chats to engage viewers or use Twitter and hashtags to field questions. You can also include polls to gather live feedback on a certain topic.
- Pro: A lot of live-stream services allow tips/donations from viewers, which could generate extra revenue.
- Challenge: If your in-person event reserved time for a hands-on component, you will need to have a strategy for video content during this time or remove these sessions.
Recommended for: Q&As, panels, interviews, fireside chats
Don’t overlook traditional media if you have a story to share about helping a neighbour during COVID-19, providing free services in times of need or giving advice on best practices.
- Pro: Media is a great way to get your brand out to a wide audience, and reporters are looking for COVID-19 stories.
- Challenge: Media doesn’t allow for two-way engagement, so ask viewers to share via social or use a designated hashtag to measure engagement.
Recommended for: sharing stories, announcements related to COVID-19
We understand how heartbreaking it is to pour hours of work into a conference, only to have it cancelled. The prospect of digitizing a conference might seem complicated and you don’t want to miss the networking aspect.
Fortunately, sites like HeySummit are prepared to host your digital conference and they even have a handy guide on how to do so. We recommend you give the guide a read—it walks you through some of the key decisions you’ll make when moving to digital.
Having an airtight agenda and high-quality video equipment will make your digital conference look like Plan-A rather than Plan-B. Freeman Audio Visual provides a robust tool for managing online participants, including a digital green room for briefing speakers. You also minimize technical difficulties by having an A/V team to host and manage videos on their end.
Keeping participants engaged throughout the conference by giving attendees tools to communicate with one another. You can create a Slack workspace for your conference and create channels based on topic or interest. You can also create an event app using Pathable or Guidebook for community forums, private meeting scheduling, personalized agendas, live polling and attendee profiles. These tools allow you to keep breakout sessions and streamline communication even during in-person conferences.
As a thank you, work with your sponsors to prepare a digital goodie-bag to “give out” after the conference. These can include paywall articles, gift cards, lesson plans, or coupons for future events.
Things to keep in mind
- Know your audience: A younger audience might be more inclined to social networking tools. An audience that is less tech-savvy will need an easy setup without logins, like a webinar.
- Brief anyone that is on camera so they know what visual pitfalls to watch out for, such as poor lighting, fidgeting, looking away from the camera, distracting backgrounds and unflattering camera angles.
- Test any software to ensure there are no technical difficulties
You’re now one step closer to going digital! For any small to medium-sized businesses out there feeling a bit overwhelmed, Switchboard is offering one hour of pro-bono support for issues management, internal & external communications and digitizing events. If you need support during COVID-19, drop us a note at [email protected] and our team will reach out. Clean hands, open hearts – we’re happy to help.
Note: We will update this section with more resources as we find them.