Posted on 2/3/2021

Coming Together Separately: Three Lessons Learned from a Year of Virtual Events

Rebecca Thibault

Automation Alley is no stranger to the events game. From small networking events, to lunch & learns, to galas, golf outings, conferences and expos, we have presented a wide range of gatherings and experiences throughout the years. The one thread that tied all these event experiences together was that they were in-person. Whether it be in our auditorium, TCF Center, or at one of your wonderful facilities, we would be in the same room, looking at each other’s faces, sitting at the same table, side by side. It sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?

In March of 2020, like many of you, we were pushed into the virtual world. It was important for us that, through all this uncertainty, we remain here for you by continuing to provide the Industry 4.0 content you were used to. So, we took our events virtual. In doing so, we have learned many lessons along the way that we thought would be valuable to share with our readers as we continue to navigate this new frontier together.

Rehearsals are not a good to have. They are a MUST.

We have found that rehearsals are the most important thing to do before a virtual event. This does not need to be a full dry run, but you want to go through the agenda and let each speaker know what they are doing and when. Make sure that everyone is logging on in the same place and are using the same devices that they will be on game day. Here are a few things at the top of our rehearsal list:

  • Check backgrounds. Make sure that it is clean and clear of clutter or anything distracting behind the speaker. If they are using a virtual background, check that it is high quality and does not glitch as they move.
  • Go over the tech. By now, we are all Zoom experts. However, it’s still important to check that everyone who is sharing their screen knows how to do it and checks that little box if they need to share their sound as well. This will instill the speaker’s confidence and keep them from fumbling when you are live.
  • Agree on a dress code. Quarantine has redefined business casual for many of us. You do not want three of your speakers to show up in suits and one in a t-shirt. Make sure all your speakers understand the level they should be dressing to so that, even though they are in different places with different backgrounds, they look like they go together.

Presenting virtually is not the same as presenting in-person.

And your slide deck should reflect that. During an in-person event, you can get a sense of how engaged the audience is by looking around the room. In a virtual environment, you do not always have the luxury of seeing the entire audience. Your slides need to be engaging, thoughtful, and to the point. Remember, you are competing with emails, IMs, and everything else on their device. Do not give them a reason to look away.

Tech issues happen.

But it is not the end of the world. When a mic gets turned on/off at the wrong time, or a dog barks, or a video cuts out, the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. Do not stress or add to the stress of the situation. Keep moving and continue on with the event like it did not even happen. Forget about it and your audience will forget about it, too. When you get to the end of the event, do not draw unnecessary attention to technical difficulties in your closing. You want the audience to remember the good, not the bad. Leave them with a reminder of the content, not the glitches.

2020 was quite the bumpy ride. But, by keeping these lessons top of mind, your 2021 event season can be much smoother. See you on Zoom! What’s that? I didn’t hear you. You’re on mute.

About the Author

Rebecca Thibault | Automation Alley

Rebecca Thibault is Automation Alley’s Multimedia Producer and IT Manager. In this role, Thibault is responsible for producing and managing digital events and developing and executing digital strategy. As the IT manager, Thibault oversees IT strategy and is the liaison to our vendor IT companies. Thibault graduated with honors from Baker College with an associate's degree in digital media design.


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