We can go on meeting like this

Lady Using Virtual Screen | Axiom Communications

How to repurpose, not postpone, your planned conferences, events and meetings to move forward, while the world is on pause

With so many people now forced to work from home, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a clear temptation to postpone or even cancel your planned employee engagement activities.

But with a little creativity, a ‘can do’ spirit and a bit of technology, you can still achieve your communication goals and meet that most basic of human needs, to connect with other people.

We’ve been facilitating meetings like this for years, often due to budgetary constraints, weather issues, or environmental concerns. But the most recent example came last week. A two-day off-site meeting for leaders in a global pharmaceutical company, scheduled to take place face-to-face in Cambridge USA, was put at risk by a total travel ban, introduced in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis.

At home in England, I found out about the ban on the Saturday, the day I was due to travel. With the importance and urgency of the meeting remaining unchanged, by Monday morning we had engaged all of the participants, using virtual means. By Tuesday night we were ‘high fiving’ a very successful event – albeit our social distancing was in excess of 3,000 miles, not three paces.

In this blog I share some insights on how to achieve high levels of employee engagement and help participants feel they are ‘virtually there’, despite not meeting in person. You see, we can go on meeting… like this…

Facilitating success – using in-house meeting technology

Most organisations already have in-house, or can easily access, basic virtual or collaborative meeting technology. Examples include, MS Teams, Skype for Business, Workplace and WebEx. With a little imagination this technology can be harnessed to create highly interactive virtual events.

In the example above, we quickly spun up a WebEx; and with so little prep time available, simply reframed the existing highly interactive agenda items.

As facilitator, I was welcomed into the kitchens, dining rooms and home offices of participants throughout Massachusetts. The first thing we did was to get everyone to switch their cameras on. OK not, face-to-face, but perhaps the next best thing. We tweaked a ‘getting to know you’ icebreaker, played in PowerPoint in the usual best practice way, and used the ‘chat facility’ as virtual flipcharts to brainstorm and capture content.

To help participants stay engaged I drew on over 20 years of experience and shifted my facilitation style to that of a ‘radio talk show host’, continuously cuing up participants to contribute to the discussion and share their reflections, following more frequent breaks than usual. And just when that pattern was becoming a little predictable, I asked participants to call upon one another.

The result was very positive with our client saying ‘On behalf of [The Function], I would like to thank you for a very successful 2-day virtual meeting. This is truly a great achievement, thanks to you.’  It’s always nice to get positive feedback, especially against such a negative backdrop as the current crisis.

Harnessing world-class collaborative meeting technology

With the luxury of just a little more time to prepare, you can quickly take full advantage of bespoke interactive meeting technology to make your virtual events even more engaging and productive.

Working with our long-term partners, Crystal Interactive, we’ve been successfully designing and facilitating highly interactive conferences for more years than I want to admit to.

Their technology enables you to navigate the agenda, facilitate Q&A, brainstorm and prioritise contributions from participants, conduct live polls and quizzes and even create individual action plans.

Combined with the functionality of ‘Zoom’ meeting technology to create a world-class virtual conference platform, Crystal can help you validate who is in your virtual meeting and the extent to which they are participating.

In designing the participant experience for these virtual events best practice suggests a blend of activities over time:

  • Pre-read, video, research and warm up activities
  • The live interactive event itself, delivered in a burst of around two hours and focusing on the topics that will deliver the biggest return on investment
  • Post event activities including a concrete set of next actions, driven by the event.

Adding immediacy and intimacy in the virtual world

Live streaming has come a long way in recent years and can now be called upon even where all but the slowest internet connections prevail.

This technology enables you to ‘cut live’ to senior leaders, pretty much wherever they want to broadcast from. They can then beam their up-to-the-minute and heartfelt messages directly into the offices or homes of colleagues globally, conceivably the entire workforce, via computers and internet enabled mobile devices.

At Axiom we’re increasingly being asked to provide turn key solutions of this nature and help leaders strike the right balance between broadcasting to the world and appealing directly to needs and concerns of individual participants, wherever they are watching from.

Of course you can then blend this live streaming approach with some of the other techniques outlined earlier to create a truly interactive, engaging and action-oriented experience for all concerned. You can even repeat the process, as live – or live where time zones dictate.

Bringing your whole world together

Whether you’re a boss of a global player, or a leader of a small team, perhaps now more than ever in our recent past, we all crave human contact. And I’m sure like all of us, I look forward to a time soon where meeting face-to-face, embracing a colleague or simply shaking hands is an option once more.

But now is not the time to postpone or hit ‘stop’ on your planned conferences, events or meetings. The world may feel like it is on ‘pause’ but now is the time to hit ‘play’.  Play in some cost-effective, environmentally friendly, weatherproof, futureproof, but above all else proven ways of engaging your employees – just when the people in your world need it most.

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