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How to Make an Engaging, Easy, and Effective Online Event

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Author: Marek Demcak     Source: IPMA
A lot of work has been moved online, so don’t miss the chance and become present online as well!

It is not the time to find the best possible way to do an online event now or to find the best tools or advice for working from home. It is time to do it. The improvements will come later. Once you gather many lessons learned, you may decide which tool to buy.


Here is an easy “guideline” on how to prepare an online event, how to make it engaging for participants, useful for organizers, and with the use of available, free tools.


I have one theory. It can be called “a theory of constraints,” but this name was already taken by Mr Goldratt. Anyway, my theory is that constraints can make us more creative and productive at the same time. I will explain it together with a description of free tools that can be used to prepare an online event. As all free tools, they inevitably come with some restrictions.


Every online event consists of three parts. They require different activities with the use of particular tools as well. The three parts of an online event are the preparation phase, the event itself, and the follow-up.


The tools I want to describe here are only my suggestions. I tried to choose those available around the world; however, in some countries, they may be some restrictions . You may easily find better tools yourself, so feel free to use them. From my point of view, more important than a tool itself is a system (the way you work) of connecting all your tools. So let’s have a look at the three parts of the online event – from a perspective of a system.


Before the event – the preparation phase
This “guideline” is not about the content that you may put online. It is up to you. It might be either the presentation about the Young Crew organization or the introduction of online certification, any training – on how to make efficient online sessions itself, or even virtual meeting as a replacement of your F2F meetings. It is more how to prepare and manage the event once you know the content you want to share with the world – put it in the social media, that is nothing new for you, I guess. In the IPMA world, I would suggest publishing the info about your session in our Young Crew event calendar or IPMA website as well.


The critical part of your communication or direct invitation by email has to be a solid registration form.


The registration form is essential for two reasons. The first one is to collect all email addresses for further communication. The second reason is to ask participants about their expectations in order to modify the event accordingly to their needs. I always prefer to use Google forms, but in fact, any forms or online services are useful – if they fulfil the above needs.


After the registration part, the best practice is to send them all event details – directly to their calendars.


 I always prefer to use ZOOM for any online sessions; it can be project status, training, webinar, or even a simple call. The main reason why I use ZOOM is the smooth scheduling of all my calls and meetings. It also allows me to send the invitation to the meeting directly to the participants’ calendar. It can be a Goggle calendar or even Outlook. The second reason why I prefer ZOOM is that I can send the link to the session in the invitation as well. It is easier for the participant to join the meeting. It is not necessary to call them or to ask them for their nicknames (as it is always requested by Skype). The session is also accessible by the ZOOM app from the mobile phone, just by using the password included in the invitation that goes directly to the calendar.


The main purposes all preparation phase activities are: to work systemically, publish the event, gather the emails for future communication, gather the expectations to make your event more useful for participants, and send the session details directly to the calendar of the participants.

The event itself
ZOOM is free to use the tool, only with a few constraints. The constraint that differs a free version from paid one is that your online “free” meeting can last only 40 minutes. But guess what. To have 40 minutes for an online session is more than enough. You just have to spend some time to plan the meeting. Honestly, there are too many webinars and online courses these days. People spend a lot of time connected to virtual meetings or calls, and they think twice whether to connect to an online session that is not strictly related to their work. There are just too many online events today. And many of them are just a simple waste of time (or at least some parts of those events are a pure waste). Don’t be like those people who waste their time online. Be smart, productive, and funny. And by the way, if your event duration is less than an hour, you have a higher chance that people will participate. Try it if you don’t believe me.

 
As we have only 40 minutes, let’s have a look at how we can manage that. The first thing first – so please start with a warm welcome and a solid agenda. Just one tip: join the meeting at least 15 minutes before the start, because there will be some people that will need your support for sure, no matter how user friendly the tool you are using is.


It is good to engage participants with some ice-breaking questionnaire immediately after the agenda. You can use Google forms to build the survey with a few funny questions or questions related to the main topic of the event. Create a QR code for the questionnaire and display it on the slide of your presentation. Many people usually join an online event with their computers, so they have their phones close to them. They may just scan the QR code from the screens of their computer and fill the questionnaires directly on their phones. If people are on their phones already, just post the link to the survey in the chat section. Use funny questions and immediately display the results on the screen. You definitely get the participants’ attraction.


One of my favourite tools for online sessions, but also suitable for public events, is Slido. It is a fabulous tool to get people engagement during the presentation. I use Slido for creating polls and managing questions during the performance.


Of course, participants may also ask questions by voice or in the chat window, but when using Slido, the management of questions is far more comfortable. You never miss a question, and you can create pools that you might use later on, after the session. Most of all, to integrate a Slido into your presentation will make you look very professional.


Focus on the Q&A section. Make sure you answer all the questions. If you have more questions and no time to answer them, send the rest of the answers via “thank you for your participation” email after the event.


The two parts that you have to include in each of your events are the feedback and “what’s next” session. The feedback part is crucial for your own improvement. The “what’s next” part is critical for sustaining the numbers of your followers.


The primary purposes of the event part are: to deliver your message, engage participants and collect questions or questionnaire results – so you can use them in the follow-up part (after the event) – for further communication with the participants of your event (or as content for publishing on your social media).

After the event – the follow-up phase
The event is not over the minute you are leaving a virtual meeting room. There needs to be a closing part of each project. In our case is the after-event part – the follow-up phase.

Lessons learned are mandatory. Don’t even think of skipping it. Always have an insight on what had happened during the session, what worked well and what did not.


I will tell you the secret now. People don’t learn from experience, they learn from the reflection of their experience. Write down your lessons learned and store them on the cloud – also available for your teammates (and yourself) – for the sake of preparation of the next online event.


The last thing you should do is to post the summary of your event on social media. Be proud of your work and let those who did not participate in the event know that they missed a perfect session.


Conclusion: Sudden threats like coronavirus are creating disruption. Disruption, on the other hand, creates opportunities. To respond effectively and continue to deliver against our plans, we have to think about how we work or how all our activities are connected. It is not only about the tools that we are using. It never was. It is about how we interline all that we do. To manage an online session successfully, we need to know to whom we are presenting and what they can expect. Therefore, the preparation phase is very important. To engage the participants means not just to make the session interesting. It gives us an input needed for communication with participants, even after the event, and sustains their interest.


Use this uncertain time to explore new ways of working and revise old assumptions. That will likely benefit you in the long run. Be more present online – simply because it seems to be the future of collaboration.

Useful tools:

Zoom: https://zoom.us/
do: https://www.sli.do/
Google forms: https://www.google.com/forms/about/
QR Code generator: https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/
Sketches: https://tayasui.com/sketches/
Link Management: https://bitly.com/pages/why-bitly/bitly-101
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