During these crazy days of Covid-19, I have attempted to attend – with varying degrees of success - a virtual Wedding, Graduation, Trade Show, Anniversary Dance Party, Concert, and Religious baptism. I have still never seen the wedding. The Trade show was superbly executed – until my internet went down for all of day 2. The baptism I forgot about and missed the time. The graduation – I cheered my little heart out in the comments for my niece, but I don’t think she was watching comments.
The most recent was my parent’s 49th Wedding Anniversary Dance party. My mother, in her 69th year, has been one of the more aggressive experimenters in hosting virtual parties – perhaps it is the science teacher in her that isn’t afraid to try, ask questions, and make mistakes… But it is clear, the conventions, techniques, and best practices are still evolving.
Here are the things that I’ve seen work and help to navigate the challenges:
1. As an attendee - Remember its not about you! This was my mantra as I waded through disappointment and technical difficulties on a few of these events. For the wedding, I was a friend of the groom’s mother. There was NO way, I was going to let the technical difficulties I was experiencing in watching the event detract from the experience the Parents of the Bride or Groom or their family were having. I stuck around for a while left a quick note of goodwill on the Facebook event page and moved along with my evening. Stopping only to sigh with empathy – and to consider the value of the next tip.
2. Select a “Virtual moderator” to manage the remote aspects of the event. During my parent’s 49th Anniversary Dance Party, my mom had set up a Zoom call, welcomed her family virtually, then put the phone down to share a dance with my dad. From there everything should have been smooth sailing – except my baby knocked a setting on my phone and the only way I could think of to reset was to log out and come get back in. Oh, the problem – there was a “waiting room” on the call and she had to give me permission to enter. I found myself repeating my Mantra again, “This is not about you. This is not about you…” I didn’t want to interrupt the anniversary dance but I also knew that my absence would be noticed and felt eventually. I waited a few minutes and then went old school and called on the landline to let her know. My mom shouldn’t need to sacrifice her Anniversary dance any more than the sweet mother of the bride should be robbing herself of the moment her daughter got married to worry about who could watch the event virtually.
One of our vendors hosts weekly Q&A Calls. They always have a moderator to field the questions so the CEO can focus on the question and her responses. I believe this is a key learning to handle all virtual events. Find a person who doesn’t need to live in that moment. A supportive friend, a sister, niece, or neighbor – just don’t make the star of the show – or the main supporting characters for that matter, be the one running the tech. Your virtual moderator should be trusted, understand the intent of the event, and be savvy enough with the platform to enable it to perform.
3. Bonus points if your Virtual Moderator has enough bandwidth to enhance the experience for your digital audience. Just because our lead characters don’t want to be robbed of their special moments attending to a virtual audience, doesn’t mean they don’t care about them. They genuinely want to share these moments with others in a positive way – and in nearly all cases they will -eventually- check in on the responses given from their virtual audience. If the virtual moderator can enhance the engagement of the audience, it makes it more fun for everyone. Think – the fun neighbor in the sitcom that shows up does something goofy and then let’s the main characters continue. Here are some ideas the moderator might be able to use to spice up the audience experience:
- Take a poll
- Suggest a comment… “everyone throw a rose icon as the bride walks by,” “Type ‘Yay’ if you agree,” “Give a like.”
- Suggest everyone post a picture of a funny face, their pet, etc.
4. Find the right platform for the job. Here are some examples of options:
- Facebook Live – great when you want to retain most of the control, and then save and repost later for additional viewing, but be sure to consider your privacy settings.
- Facebook Rooms- Doesn’t work with Safari, based on FB Messenger platform, so must have Messenger installed. It allows you to see those invited and each share in a meeting type setting.
- Zoom – conference call. Can see everybody; allows for equal participation works best for meeting type setting. Can display many people’s cameras at the same time. Free 40 minute meetings. Has been criticized for security vulnerabilities. Its an app that must be downloaded but is an easy download and an easy link share for entry.
- Office 365 Teams – Has a file sharing and deep integration with Microsoft Office. Free for now, included with Office 365 subscriptions. Built on the security protocols of Microsoft tools. Must have a Microsoft ID.
- Google Meet/Hangouts – This is the one our school district opted for – they were able to set up parameters so the students couldn’t create their own sessions but were able to join chats set up by the teacher.
In truth, the right platform is probably the one you are most familiar with, but audience reach is an important consideration too. If you’re trying to reach an audience of 12-year-olds who don’t have Facebook accounts then FB is probably not your best option. (For our 8-year-old birthday party – we actually opted to host our virtual party in a Minecraft Realm – more on that later.)
5. A typed comment is an engagement, not an interruption. Whenever I read a news article online, I always continue on and read some of the comments. Sure, you get some crazy stuff, but some people have unique insights or an alternate political point of view. Similarly, I generally check reviews before buying a product or selecting a book. Sitting politely and waiting until a speaker has finished before asking questions or sharing comments is an etiquette only for verbal interruptions. In a virtual world, a typed comment is the equivalent of a head nod, eye contact, and applause. It lets the presenter get some sort of feedback on how well their content is being understood and received.
6. A verbal interjection is an interruption. Utilize the mute features. It is polite to put yourself on mute unless you have somethings specific to say – you just never know what is going to happen. If you’re hosting an event be quick on the Mute All trigger. If someone is doing something that is causing audio feedback, broadcasting a conversation with someone outside of the event, or somehow making listening difficult for others. The host or virtual moderator needs to take charge to protect the experience for the others participating.
7. Evaluate and communicate the purpose of the event. Are you trying to have an intimate or informal discussion with a small group? Perhaps you’re wanting to share some of your favorite songs. Maybe you’re going to be sharing some information. Make sure people know what to expect, what they may need to prepare, etc.
8. Respect the time and be clear about enter/exit expectations. If it is a drop in/drop out event let people know. If there is a hard stop time, let them know that too.
So, there are my 8 experiential hints and tips. I would love to hear what you have learned.
Kudos to those of you out there who are trying to bring our socially distanced world a little closer. I applaud you for trying and making mistakes – we need those mistakes to happen so we can learn. In conclusion, I wanted to share a quick anecdote of our imperfect virtual birthday party in Minecraft. We set up a server and invited the friends that we could find that played Minecraft and were willing to participate. The good: we were able to invite some friends and cousins that live out of state and normally could never attend a birthday party. They got involved, helped us prep, and we strengthened relationships in unexpected ways. It was also one of the least stressful birthday parties I’ve ever planned. The bad: Okay, there were some tears, a couple of turf misunderstandings, and occasionally the characters were defeated losing some valuable loot, but those mistakes are what opened the door to the best outcome. The best: Later we were able to provide some hints and tips to one of our guests on how to host their own virtual Minecraft party – like you can download a backup of your realm so if somebody really messes something up, you can revert back – and bring your guests in as a “visitor” before the party and then when the party starts you can change them to active. At the end of the day, having a happy birthday, a wonderful anniversary, and a wedding to remember are what is important.
Office Smith LLC helps Phoenix-based Architectural, Construction and Engineering Firms avoid downtime and cyber threats by executing an IT strategy that ensures their business is protected, productive, and competitive.