The Importance of Online Meetings and Conferences During a Pandemic
When COVID-19 first spread across the U.S., states initiated a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home mandate that required businesses to temporarily close their doors. Since many companies have been operating in office space for decades, the shift to virtual interactions required a bit of a learning curve. However, as we’ve seen, online meetings and conferences, both personal and business-related, have since skyrocketed. Companies that previously refused to allow their employees to work remotely are now championing for corporate-wide change after seeing the benefits of moving online. If you’re still wondering what all of the hypes is about, keep reading to learn about the importance of online meetings and conferences during a pandemic.
Benefits of Online Meetings and Conferences
Arguably, the number one benefit of online meetings and conferences during a pandemic is that they allow you to continue working towards your bottom line. Without remote work capabilities, companies would be at a stand-still—sitting around waiting to return to the office. With online work, businesses have been able to sustain the strict, but necessary, guidelines that followed the COVID-19 outbreak.
As businesses fell into online routines, many started seeing a rise in employee productivity, stronger work-life balances for their team, and even more creativity across the board. All of these things make strong contributions to a better, more successful company.
For online conferences, the presenters are seeing benefits in a sense of achieving a wider community, even global, reach. Previously, in-person conferences were limited to the attendees. Now, people from all of the world can tune in and listen or watch the presentation, which inadvertently helps to improve diversity. It also reduces the carbon footprint of meetings and conferences since nobody needs to travel to attend it.
Finally, online meetings and conferences protected employees, community members, and business owners from high transmission rates that are often found in office settings. Since many people are still in a limbo of uncertainty regarding COVID-19, the best thing to do is adapt and learn how to successfully host an online meeting or conference.
How to Successfully Host an Online Meeting or Conference
Before moving forward, it’s important to note that the biggest drawback to online meetings and conferences in response to a pandemic was the lack of preparation that companies had. No one could have expected this, and everything happened quickly—almost overnight. Businesses were scrambling to get themselves organized and learn how to move forward despite physical doors having to close. We needed to protect ourselves and the health of our employees, family members, and community, so meetings quickly became obsolete.
The first companies that started using online meetings and conferences had an uphill battle in regard to adapting to the new business model, however, after months of working this way, we’ve figured out the best ways to successfully host an online meeting or conference without incident.
Update Your Program Format
Many in-person conferences start out using a printed program so that attendees can follow along and make notes. With online conferences, it’s physically impossible to hand anything out. Instead, create a Google document that can be shared with all of the attendees. If you have someone who is taking notes throughout the meeting or conference, have them upload it to the Google doc with the program so that everyone can have a summary of what was discussed, any outcomes or action-items, and changes that need to be made. Not all companies or presenters have the same style, so try this out a few times and see how it goes. If you need to make any changes or want to use a different format, there are thousands of options available on the Internet that give you free support materials for video conferencing and meetings.
Use Professionals for A/V and Web-Streaming
While there are tons of free applications that you can use for streaming services, you tend to get what you pay for. If you’re currently without IT support and something happens, it’ll be extremely time-consuming to fix and could very likely ruin the conference altogether. Instead, we recommend having online IT support that helps run the online meeting or conference and actively participates so that any problems can be caught and understood immediately. Having professional support will also increase the security of your online meetings and conferences, which is crucial with the increasing number of successful hackers there are today. When COVID-19 first caused streaming services to grow in popularity, there were cases of people hacking into everything from meetings to school children’s feeds. Some of this was innocent while others caused a lot of distress. This can be avoided with professional help.
Professionals will also make sure that audio and video is working properly, lag times are minimal, and no one loses out on any information due to technical difficulties. Keep in mind that these sustainable options that ensure error-free delivery will cost more than using free services that are held from a personal computer. If you need to present an online conference to hundreds, maybe thousands of people, however, the costs are often well-worth it when considering the dangers of large gatherings with COVID-19 still affecting the country.
Always Initiate Test Runs Prior to Meetings or Conferences
This is one of the most important steps. Even if you think that everything is going to work perfectly and you’ve used the same set up in the past, you still need to perform a test run prior to the online meeting or conference. We recommend testing all of your equipment at least 24 hours in advanced to make sure that audio and video are connected and working properly without any delay problems. Nothing ruins an online presentation more than a video/audio lag that turns any interactions into a jumbled mess. Then, even though you tested it the day before, always get online and test it again 15 minutes before you’re set to hold the meeting or present. Things can happen overnight and while they’re unlikely if you’ve done a thorough check, you never know. The best thing to do is be prepared—just in case.
Plan for the Unexpected
Speaking of preparations, make sure that you always plan for the unexpected. Even if you tested your equipment regularly and have professionals standing by, anything is possible when working online. Have a backup plan, make sure that you’ve distribute the important material or provide links ahead of time, and consider working with your team to decide what to do in case of an emergency.
Give Detailed Instructions for Presentations
Finally, a lot of people are new to online meetings and conferences. While it might seem like it’s fairly straightforward, people can quickly get confused and even thrown off when they’re in an unfamiliar environment. There are plenty of general guidelines that come with different web-streaming platforms and services, but you need to go above and beyond that. Test out the platform you use enough so that you fully understand it and can explain what you know to any presenters. If you’re hosting an online meeting in your company with someone else in the lead, make sure they understand the style that you want the presentation or conference to progress in and when to address any questions. If you’re hosting a conference with multiple presentations, make sure that everyone is on the same page and uses the same format to make it easier for the people tuning in to follow along.
For long-lasting access that allows people to attend meetings or conferences that already happened, we always recommend recording them in their entirety. Start before anyone begins speaking and turn off the recording only after the last word has been said. This will give people a chance to revisit the information or tune in if they were busy during the live recording. To get more community involvement, use popular hashtags that are relevant to your industry and the details of the meeting or conference. Share discussions on public platforms like social media and try to capitalize on the exposure. There are so many ways that online meetings and conferences can help your business, as long as we take the time to do them right.
As more and more businesses start to realize the benefits of online meetings and conferences, employees are expecting this trend to continue well after the COVID-19 safety measures are disbanded. Instead of fighting the virtual workspace, the best thing to do is practice implementing it and start to get comfortable with this new style of communication. As we’ve seen, there are plenty of benefits and overall, it’s not as difficult as we once imagined. In fact, virtual meetings and conferences could end up helping your business more than you ever imagined possible with lower overhead costs, higher employee productivity, a wider reach, and more opportunity. We don’t know what the future has in store, but for now, online meetings and conferences are here to stay. If you’re interested in learning more about our company, or would like to schedule a consultation, give us a call today.