Virtual Team Building

Now that lots of offices are working remotely, co-workers are struggling to connect with each other (both because of all the other pressures in the home--kids, pets, stress, etc. but also because it's just not the same to have a water cooler conversation when the water cooler is your kitchen tap and you might not be wearing proper pants).

Strange times lead to a dearth of connection, and team building is a great boost to office morale--but how do you team build when everyone is in a different space? Here are a few ideas:

Online Competition: Many companies have dipped their toes in virtual competitions already. (Intel, for instance, does a widespread competition for retail salespeople.) Divide offices into teams and host online quizzes, competitions, scavenger hunts, etc. with weekly leaderboard results.

Virtual Trivia: Speaking of online quizzes; having a virtual trivia break at the end of a week is a great way to both review what has been happening that week--getting everyone on the same page even if they've been working remotely--and lighten the mood. Prizes may or may not be involved, but everyone plays along using virtual keypads (see for a great virtual (and classroom) game show resource.

Show your Talent: Virtual meetings are giving co-workers tiny glimpses into the personal lives of their peers. Capitalize on that by doing a bit of a talent show. Can someone play the guitar? Can they make up a parody song about virtual work? Do they have a cat that can meow on command? Time to find out!

Video Presentations: Co-workers (or management) can prepare short, entertaining videos, showcasing what's going on with their projects. One of our clients is sending out messages from their AniMated mascot--featured at their face-to-face events--to keep everyone updated in a fun, lighthearted way.

Hangout Happy Hour: My husband's company enacted a virtual happy hour--and combined this with a trivia/icebreaker game. It was a designated time to unwind a bit in a high-stress climate. Cocktails are optional, of course.
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Virtual Events: Making Do at a Distance

Virtual events have one big drawback: you are meeting in a space where people are inherently distracted. In these times, especially, audience members are faced with more distraction than usual (for instance, I'm writing this while my 16 month old takes a nap and I'm plying my 5 year old with her 50th viewing of Wizard of Oz while I'm supposed to be homeschooling her. That's her beside me busting in on a Zoom call I had earlier.)

You won't necessarily be able to control wandering children, but how do you make the best of some of the other challenges of meeting in a virtual space?

What do you do when virtual events are not ideal, but are a necessity? You make the best of it.

Challenge: Attention span in the online space drops from 5-7 minutes to 2-5 minutes.

Solution: Add interactive elements.

In a face-to-face presentation you lose the audiences' attention in 5-7 minutes if you don't change the way you're presenting. You can do this by adding video, telling a story, adding interaction, etc. In the virtual space, this time frame is even less generous, and changing the way you present is more challenging. The audience NEEDS to interact instead of being passive watchers, or they'll disengage faster than you can say "new browser tab".

Challenge: A lack of experiential "wow" or impact.

Solution: Provide an event experience.

Consider having a virtual event EXPERIENCE instead of slapping presentations together and hoping for the best. Consider having an emcee. Interject humor and connect your event elements together. Consider your environment--music, media, other elements. Break up presentations with networking questions. Make attendees part of their own learning experience by engaging their emotion and active participation. 
Consider turning your virtual event into a team building competition--put attendees on teams and ask game questions in between presentation points. 

Challenge: Virtual presentations can feel canned and not suit the needs of your audience.

Solution: Pare down your presentation and add dynamic elements.

Don't just put a presentation online--create a virtual experience (i.e. play in the space you're in). Brevity has always been the soul of wit, and in the virtual event space time is attention. Focus in on what is absolutely need-to-know and strip out extras. It's even more important to consider what your audience will actually be able to SEE in your presentation, and what will be an eye-chart (or is just your talking points on a PPT slide). Every visual should be clean and have impact. 

Challenge: Lack of accountability.

Solution: Make attendees part of the experience.

Videoconferencing has upped the ante for the webinar (attendees can no longer, for instance, leave the room to go to the bathroom on the call), and some platforms like Zoom let presenters know when their attendees have shifted their attention to other windows. However, a better way to make attendees accountable is to make them part of the experience. Have them craft pieces of a presentation, incorporate training techniques like roleplays, etc., within the event. You can also have quizzes/game questions throughout the virtual event that ensure that attendees are paying attention and accountable for knowing the content. 
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Events in the time of COVID-19: Revisiting the Virtual Event

In 2008-2010, the events industry went through a heck of a downturn (along with the rest of the country). Companies simply weren't hosting events anymore--whether their business was ailing, they needed to be economically shrewd, or they simply needed to maintain the appearance of austerity.

We discovered that the stopgap measure of virtual or hybrid events was better than nothing--but that no one was ready to give up large face-to-face events. As soon as the economy rebounded, people were meeting again (and more than ever).

There were a few reasons for this:
Face-to-face events provided superior engagement and networking experiences.
Video and virtual events didn't replace human connection.
In-person and destination events were highly motivating and produced a significant return on their investment.

But. Virtual events were better than nothing.

Now we find ourselves unable to physically get together to quell the spread of a pandemic. None of us really know how long or short-lived it will be, or when companies will go back to hosting face-to-face events again. (And it isn't an IF, it's a WHEN.)

In the meantime, we revisit virtual events. Videoconferencing. Virtual tradeshows.

The good thing is: we've learned a few things about best-practices for virtual engagement from the 2008-2010 years. In the next few blog posts we'll cover some of the problems you're likely to come across in the virtual event space--and some of the ways you can mitigate those problems.

Up in the Air about Virtual Meetings

I know, I've been writing a lot lately about virtual events (both pros and cons). The topic seems timely and has captivated certainly the training world as well as the event world--so it makes sense that I keep coming across it on a day-to-day basis.

This weekend, I watched the recent blockbuster "Up in the Air", and I couldn't help but revisit the topic.

Putting all romantic and personal growth plot lines aside, at the heart of the movie is a company considering switching its face-to-face business into the virtual conferencing space. They're doing it for the reasons that I see a lot of companies eschewing in-person meetings for online conferences:

• It saves significant money on travel costs
• It saves time/energy on traveling
• It's new technology and therefore appealing
• It theoretically provides the information needed

BUT this company fires people--that's their product. George Clooney's character argues that this simply can't be done any way but face to face. By the end of the movie, the company has transitioned back to sending people on the road for in-person meetings instead of continuing to use the virtual solution.

Interesting to note here that this seems like a prime example of where virtual meetings would be most useful. All the numbers add up, the technology is there, etc. But at the heart of the movie we find that there are just some messages that have to be delivered face to face. People were insulted that they were told such life-changing news as a layoff, and there wasn't even the courtesy of having a person in the room with them. They were stuck staring at a video screen. How cold.

Companies utilizing virtual technology are, in some instances, doing so in reaction to economic hardship of some sorts. It's a cost-saving measure like anything else. But when they're not meeting in person, and are delivering OTHER economically sensitive news, what message is that sending to employees? That they don't care enough to look them in the eye and tell them that the annual yearly report isn't looking so great?

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to be harsh. I understand perfectly the constraints of budget. However, one cannot ignore the human factor in the virtual world. And that, so far, is missing to me.

Virtual Events and The Popcorn Principle

Recently, we attended an event promoting virtual conferences and the technology surrounding virtual events. (Interestingly enough, we attended this event live and in-person instead of virtually. Hmm...)

The buzz in the event industry is, of course, that companies are either supplementing in-person events with some virtual meetings, or are replacing in-person events all together. At the very least, a lot of companies are exploring the virtual space and seeing how they can use it to cut costs or just to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

The event was incredibly educational and opened our minds to a lot of possibilities within virtual events; virtual interactions and networking, streaming media on-demand, even virtual spaces that were set up to look like "real" life.

Then, as we wandered from vendor spaces to streaming cafes to educational presentations, our senses were overwhelmed. There was...a scent. A delicious scent... Our mouths watered... Wait, it was.... Freshly-popped popcorn!

Where was it coming from?

We quickly sought out the source of enticement. One of the workshop providers had rented a popcorn machine and was handing out free snacks. As we took our tantalizing bags of buttery goodness, we wandered around their space, looking at their information and sitting down to watch their pitch. It was a great way to enhance our experience and draw us into their show.

But what is the virtual equivalent of popcorn?

The fact that it was a scent and food wasn't important. The point is this: a lot of elements go into an event. Some of these can be replicated in the virtual space, certainly; the PowerPoints/handouts, the speeches, even a bit of the networking.

Some of them are irreplaceable. Would you rather submit questions through a chat forum, or have the opportunity to network with your CEO/VP/Etc. firsthand? Would you rather video-conference about a new product, or get the chance to see it and touch it? Is a picture worth a thousand handshakes?

While we dive headlong into the world of virtual events, it's important to remember how valuable face-to-face contact and face-to-face events really can be. While the virtual world may save a bit (or a lot) of money, there's still a need for in-person events.
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