Author: Jacinda Hoehn

6 Tips to Make Your Next Virtual Event Stand Out

As companies large and small look for ways to facilitate strategic growth, virtual events have emerged as a way to foster connections, build community and share information, bringing remote attendees together to discuss, engage, learn and re-energize.

Virtual events have also become the de facto replacement for live events, leaving many companies to grapple with the challenges of making a virtual gathering look and feel like a live, branded experience.

Consult the following tips to help you discover ways to make your next virtual event more engaging, memorable and fun. Sure, virtual events come with some constraints, but they also enable some exciting opportunities, too — fewer barriers to attendance, for example, which means larger audiences.

How to Make Your Next Virtual Event Stand Out

Make a plan.

Let’s say you have experience hosting recurring live events like annual meetings or conferences. It can be tempting to want to “flip the switch,” or simply transfer your live programming into a virtual realm.

First, take a step back to understand your virtual format and what content will perform best in a technology-focused environment. For example, let’s say your company is in the process of transforming a live annual conference into a virtual event. And that conference is known for its depth of programming: multiple keynote speakers and presentations coupled with several concurrent breakout sessions in several time slots. That breadth of learning opportunities, while valuable for a live event, doesn’t necessarily translate to the digital confines of a virtual event.

The solution? Make the technology work for you. Consider a virtual event as your brand’s highlight reel. What messages and insight do you want to showcase? How can you effectively do that in a virtual environment? And how do you keep your attendees engaged in an environment that can be more prone to distractions?

Go beyond the platform.

If you’re hosting an event with multi-faceted programming and want to encourage several methods of attendee interaction, a comprehensive digital platform is an ideal solution. Platforms put a variety of resources at your fingertips: live streaming, chat rooms, message boards, file repositories, polls, online stores and more.

Yet don’t forget the other resources you’ll need for a successful virtual event, namely audio/visual. You could argue that A/V quality is even more important in a virtual environment, especially if your audience or colleagues have expressed reluctance about the efficacy of virtual events. Speakers should be coached individually or in small groups to confirm optimal presentation and equipment settings. If your event or meeting includes multiple segments, you’ll likely want to enlist the help of an emcee or facilitator to establish a smooth and up-beat pace. And you’ll want people on hand to communicate on the back-end to stay ahead of possible glitches or other challenges, manage multiple streams and maintain an uninterrupted flow.

Design an experience.

When attendees walk into a live event, they often develop an impression of the brand that’s solidified throughout their time on-site. You can create a similar impression with a virtual event, especially if you think of it as an experience. It’s easy to dismiss a virtual event as just a video call or just a webinar. Sure, those may be elements of your event, but keep your eye on a more holistic, 50,000-foot view of what’s happening.

Consider these questions:

  • What mood or tone do you want to establish?

  • What do you want attendees to feel as they start and end the event?

  • How can you encourage attendees to create and build relationships, both with each other and with you?

  • Why should attendees prioritize this event over other opportunities?

  • How can you deliver maximum value in a virtual environment?

Here’s our tried and tested magic formula: combine experience design and strategy, then bring it to life in the virtual environment. By embracing the unique features of the virtual format, you can introduce a refined event framework, welcome more attendees and capitalize on other technology-enabled benefits. The result is a lasting impression that’s just as powerful as the one created by a live event.

Define attendee takeaways.

With the rapid rise in virtual events, you may also notice increasing virtual fatigue. Attendees may lose energy and focus more quickly in a virtual environment, which means a successful virtual event includes efficient time management as part of the attendee experience.

Consider these questions as you build your event logistics and programming:

  • What information and emotions do you want attendees to take away from the virtual event?

  • Do you want them to take any action in the days and weeks following the experience?

  • How can you help keep attendees connected and continue to foster any community building momentum that happens organically during the event?

Identifying these strategic elements can then help you work backward to ensure your event programming, technology and format support your goals.

Have fun!

If you feel like the year so far has been a giant ball of stress, you’re not alone! Yet as you plan your next virtual event, don’t forget to have fun. What sort of socializing and other activities would you include in a live event? And how can you modify those ideas for a virtual format?

Host a virtual wine tasting or happy hour, for example. Many wineries and distilleries are now offering drink packages (sometimes with food) that you can send attendees prior to the event. After a bit of education from the winery or distillery owner, give attendees a chance to kick back, sip and catch up with each other.

Other ideas include virtual live music performances, virtual tours of destinations near or far, a cooking demonstration or a creative project. Impromptu giveaways can keep attendees excited and engaged. Or consider opportunities to focus on health and wellness — a virtual yoga class or guided meditation session can provide welcome physical and mental relief.

Embrace these two attributes.

These two mindsets can make all the difference in gracefully navigating virtual event planning: be flexible and be creative. You try to be prepared for multiple scenarios during live events, right? You’ll want to adopt that same attitude for virtual gatherings. The reliance on technology to host a successful event can be nerve-wracking, so prepare to be flexible and change things on the fly, just as you would in a live scenario.

As you go into a virtual event, especially if it’s your first one, know that something may go awry. Do what you can to get the event back on track and don’t let it derail your momentum. We’re all forging a new path together, and showing yourself and your team leniency — especially in a time of high stress — can make a big difference.

In addition, don’t be afraid to experiment a little. It’s true: your live event likely can’t perfectly transition to a virtual environment. But how can you play on the strengths of a virtual gathering and technology? What elements can you add that were out-of-reach for your live event? With so much change in the air, now’s the time to step outside of the box and try something new. Just think: accumulating experience with both live and virtual events gives you valuable insight to guide your future event planning. Now that virtual events are more widely used, companies will increasingly have more options at their disposal. More than ever, the question boils down to the format and capabilities that will deliver the best attendee experience, which you can assess on a case-by-case basis.

We hope these tips have helped get the ideas flowing! If you want to chat through anything, or get more examples of how we’ve helped clients plan and launch successful virtual events, please reach out for a no-charge discovery session, good for both current and prospective clients. It’s a new frontier, but we’ll brave it together!

Applying Exposure Science to a COVID-19 World to Guide Our Return to Work and School

Take it from the experts: An interview between Wellington CEO Joan Wells and client ISES President Paloma Beamer.

We all want to get back to the way things used to be, but is that possible? And if returns to in-person environments are realistic, what does this look like?

We wanted to get the answers straight from the experts. Enter ISES, the International Society of Exposure Science. We’re proud to partner with a client whose mission is to “better our world, its ecosystems, and inhabitants.”

Returning to school and work safely is top of mind for many people right now. Only 1 in 10 Americans think schools should open this fall without restrictions, according to a recent poll. Parents and teachers are concerned about student safety and the potential rapid spread of COVID-19, should an outbreak at their school happen.

Workplace environments are facing similar challenges. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans who are working outside their homes are concerned about exposure to COVID-19. If employees do have to work–whether they’re essential workers or leaving their work from home status–they should feel safe and protected by their employers.

Colliding the mission of ISES and our day-to-day work of crafting authentic, safe experiences in spite of a pandemic, Wellington CEO, Joan Wells, sat down for a video interview with ISES President, Paloma Beamer, to discuss how we should all be addressing COVID-19 as we continue to work to find normalcy in school and work environments.

Q&A

Joan: What does exposure science mean to you and how would you describe the discipline to those not in this field?
Paloma: We’re the people who study the relationship between the source of the exposure and how people are actually exposed. And so, because of that, we also study how to stop those exposures. So, like one of our members said, “Until there’s a vaccine, exposure science is the only thing protecting us and our families.

Joan: That is so interesting. What made you choose this field and career? What areas are you most interested in and passionate about?
Paloma: I came to this field as an engineer. My Ph.D. is in engineering, as well as my bachelor’s and my master’s. As an engineer, we’re very goal-oriented and very focused on solving problems. But I wasn’t sure if the problems we were designing interventions for, were addressing the most important issues for protecting people’s health from the environment. I didn’t have the language yet, but I knew I wanted to understand how contaminants went through the environment. More so, how that led to people coming into contact with them, how that differs across different communities and cultures, and by your occupation. One of our Emeritus faculty members at the University of Arizona says it best, “I can be in a room with a giant piece of chocolate cake, but it’s not gonna make me fat until I decide to eat that piece of chocolate cake.” And that is the difference between there being an environmental concentration or something in the environment and somebody actually being exposed, is through our own behaviors and actions and things that we do.

Joan: Tell me about the International Society of Exposure Science and why it was important for you to be involved and hold such a prominent leadership role.
Paloma: I was recruited to do my graduate studies at Stanford and worked with an amazing research group there that focused on farmworkers and exposure. A couple of members of this group were already involved with ISES and laid some of the initial groundwork for the Society and wrote some of those first definitions of exposure. When I attended my first ISES conference, I felt like I was finally around people who cared about the same things that I did! It just made sense to me to be a part of an organization like ISES.

Joan: It sounds like exposure science can really help us understand COVID-19. How would you describe the connection between exposure science and the pandemic?
Paloma: In the beginning of the pandemic, we took our time to get our role right because we know how hard it is to deliver health communication and we didn’t want to cloud the messaging that was coming out from government agencies. However, we are a group of scientists that are accustomed to looking at different scenarios, both at work and in the community, and thinking about how people are exposed and how those exposures can be reduced. We also understand that there may be risk associated with most scenarios, but that risk can be minimized by some sort of control or ideally, multiple controls working together.

Joan: What is the importance of wearing a mask and how does that relate specifically to exposure science?
Paloma: You can control things at the source, you can control the person or you control things along the path and the best way to control something is at the source. Right now, the source of coronavirus is infectious people. So, the mask basically puts a barrier over those infectious people. However, one big problem is that you are infectious before you have symptoms and we don’t even know we’re sick before we’re sick. This makes everything a bit confusing, which is why it is always important to where a mask when around others or in public

Joan: Wellington recently moved into a new office space and we are continuing to understand the procedures required for a proper return-to-work plan. What are the top things Wellington and other businesses can do to keep their employees safe?
Paloma: There is a hierarchy of controls that we use that is published on NIOSH’s website and other government websites and is actually written into federal code. The hierarchy details the different controls in which you should consider, the order of the controls and those that you should overlay. So, the first step is to eliminate the hazard. Obviously, we can’t get rid of Coronavirus, but we can eliminate how close people are to each other, how many people are in the space, and controlling who is within your 6 feet bubble. You also want to try to reduce the number of people you have in the workplace. You can ask questions like:

  • Do they really need to be here and be in person with each other to get the work done effectively?

  • If people are going to be in the space, what can you do to minimize the number of people who are within six feet of each other?

  • Can you do different work rotations?

  • Can you sit people in different places?

You will want to make sure your ventilation is as good as possible. If there are doors and windows that can be opened, try to keep them open. Have your HVAC system set to as much fresh outdoor air as possible. You also have administrative controls that you should be implementing in the workplace. That would be the use of surface disinfectants, hand hygiene, and guidelines for how you enter and leave the workspace. It’s important to make these habitual tasks for employees: use hand sanitizer, wipe down your work station when you arrive and leave, clean shared work areas like conference rooms. The more you post and repeat this throughout your office, employees are more likely to take part in this on a regular basis. You can also consider having people work staggered schedules to minimize the total number of people in the workplace at one time.

Joan: As a mom and scientist, what are some of the things that are fore-front on your mind as it relates to returning your children to school?
Paloma: I think we are all trying to understand the different alert levels at both a University and public school level. So an example of this could be the number of new cases in your state. A potential alert could be if there was a spike recently. Personally, I was in the mindset that maybe if there were 14 days of decreasing case counts in the state, I would take my child back to daycare. We got to 10 days before the number spiked, so I haven’t taken him back yet. I do think there are ways to get kids back to school in a safe way, we just have to get all of the other controls in place first.

Joan: Should schools be doing the same types of things that we’re asking businesses to do?
Paloma: I spoke with my son’s principal about this recently and we actually discussed practicing certain things at home. Encouraging kids to wear face masks at home and washing hands every hour are a couple of the things parents can do to prepare for their children’s return to the classroom. The principal also encouraged parents to try to minimize trips and other non-socially distanced activities.

Joan: Thank you for sitting down with me today, we’re so thrilled to have ISES as a partner!

Are you interested in learning more about ISES and how they contribute to the world around us? Visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter for updates as they continue to navigate an ever-changing environment.

Make Your Goals a Reality with Virtual Discovery Sessions

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier this year, many companies opted to delay not just events, but also strategic business initiatives and efforts to bolster internal progress.

Yet now that we’re months into the pandemic, how much longer can companies keep their future initiatives on hold? Progress is especially important in areas like company culture and community building. Engaged, active employees strengthen a business from the inside, creating a solid foundation that can weather times of crisis and support lasting success.

Even though we can’t yet safely gather in person, you can pivot your strategic planning and discovery efforts just as you do with events and meetings. The key is to take this work virtual!

As you consider your own virtual strategic planning, here are a few of our top tips to make this process as effective and enjoyable as possible.

4 Tips on Hosting Effective Virtual Discovery Sessions

1. Gather your team on video.

You and your team might be feeling a little virtual fatigue, but face-to-face interactions are especially important for strategic planning and discovery. You’ll be having and facilitating deep conversations, which are much easier when you can see and gauge the reactions of others.
Plus, let’s be honest — it’s easier to reduce the risk of multitasking when everyone’s visible! Accountability, right?

2. Invite an outside facilitator.

Remember that virtual fatigue we just mentioned? It’s a sneaky culprit that can cause people to lose energy more quickly in a virtual space.

And that means the pressure’s on to do more in less time. Rather than saddling yourself or your company’s leadership with that responsibility, call in an expert. You know your business and what you want to accomplish. By working with a facilitator, you’ll be able to do just that while also sending a clear signal to your employees that you value their feedback and well-being.

3. Take your favorite tools virtual.

Anyone else love the smooth, clean space of a whiteboard when you’re planning and brainstorming? Look for virtual alternatives to your preferred strategic planning tools.

We’re big fans of MURAL and MIRO, technology platforms that enable digital collaboration anywhere. Zoom includes a number of helpful built-in tools too, including chats, messages, file sharing and the ability to create collaboration-enabled conference rooms.

One tip? Once you’ve decided on the digital tools you’ll use during your virtual design session, send your employees some advanced communication so that they can make the necessary installations or have time to explore the chosen resources. That will also help you maximize the discussion time by giving participants a chance to feel more comfortable with this new format and all of the ways that they can be involved.

4. Maximize your virtual capabilities.

Just as you’d put in the work to make a strategic plan for your event or meeting, you should do the same thing for your discovery session.

For example, what outcomes do you want to achieve? What are your discussion topics? How do you want attendees to participate? What happens after the session?

When you answer those questions, you can pick the most effective virtual platform. And once you do, put all of its capabilities to work. Some of our favorite examples include hosting breakout groups, introducing polling and enabling live chat. You might find that not all participants need to be part of every conversation. Put your virtual conferencing platform to work in a way that keeps participants engaged and also helps ensure you collect the raw data and feedback that will guide your next steps.

Of course, you don’t want to bombard your attendees with messages and requests in all directions. That’s why it’s so critical to create a plan for your discovery session, then decide what virtual capabilities will be the best fit for each programmatic element. The more strategically you can put your virtual resources to work, the less likely you’ll risk missing out on important answers and insight.

If you’re feeling intimidated by shifting your strategic planning and community building to a virtual format, you’re not alone!

Our Wellington team is ready to facilitate your design and discovery sessions to help you strategize on the adjustments you need to make to accomplish your goals and objectives. We simply want to strategize with you and help you plan for the future. Then, when we’re on the other side of the pandemic, your business will be ideally positioned for further growth and success ahead of the industry curve. Reach out to us any time and we’ll start moving forward with you.

Need to Pivot? Three Questions to Help You Gain Value When Going Virtual

Networking, relationship and community building, strengthening your brand — these are just a few of the many strategic benefits that come from live events like trade shows and conferences.

So what do you do if, like so many businesses and organizations, current circumstances have encouraged pivots to virtual events? Converting a live event to a virtual format is so much more than setting up a Zoom meeting or selecting and customizing a web platform.

The trick is to approach your virtual event with a similar mindset that you would have with a live event. You have to get the most value out of the event as possible while also delivering a meaningful, memorable attendee experience.

Start your virtual event planning process by answering the following three questions. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of existing assets and what sort of virtual presence makes the most sense for you and your audience.

1. What assets do you have (or are you planning to have) that you can leverage in a virtual format?

There’s a good chance you’re already creating content and other marketing assets, both for general use and for specific events. Take a quick assessment of your content library. With that information, you can decide on a virtual strategy that makes the most sense.

Here’s an example. Let’s say webinars are valuable learning tools for your company and/or audience. Instead of sending people elsewhere for webinars, can you create your own virtual home base, then regularly host your own webinars? You’ll help build your brand while also making it easy for people to find information they need to stay up-to-date with their industry and peers.

If you have a library of content like articles, white papers and testimonials, consider starting a blog (if you don’t already have one) and adding digital resources like an e-newsletter.

The goal isn’t to exponentially increase your workload, which is why it’s important to assess what you’ve already created — and what’s in the pipeline. You may spot some gaps to fill while you leverage your content and other resources to support and enrich your virtual presence.

2. How do you maximize your brand exposure in the virtual space?

As if the virtual landscape wasn’t crowded enough, we’re all dealing with a pandemic that’s driving our next move when it comes to event planning and hosting.

It’s more important than ever to stand out as much as you can. Consider this important factor: interacting and engaging in a virtual space helps level the playing field between small organizations and associations and global brands.

“Right now, everyone’s trying to figure out how to do the same thing,” says Kevin Cobb, Director of Marketing, Wellington.

So how do you stand out? Lean on your brand’s personality and voice for ideas. What special elements can you add to your virtual experience that will keep attendees buzzing long after the event concludes? Does a virtual format give you capabilities to try a programming or experiential element that may have been previously not feasible during a live event?

A virtual swag shop can be a fun way for attendees to grab some mementos of the event, for example. In lieu of in-person networking and team-building, consider adding some sort of immersive experience — a virtual wine tasting and winery tour, or a live cooking demonstration — that gives attendees a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company in a virtual hangout.

Another tip? Virtual events make it more cost-effective to literally increase your brand exposure by welcoming more attendees. One Wellington client transitioned an annual live conference to a virtual event and accommodated more than twice the number of attendees than the live counterpart. You could also look at hosting a series of niche virtual events targeted toward a specific audience, then bringing those groups together at a later date for a more comprehensive virtual gathering.

One final consideration: don’t feel like you need to come out of the gate with the biggest, baddest digital presence in history. Consider your brand, your goals, your audience. Where can you help others the most? How can you have the greatest impact? Create a solid digital foundation or hub, then steadily build on it as new ideas come to life.

3. How can you offer the best user experience in a virtual environment?

We mentioned some ways you could add memorable elements to your virtual event, but it’s equally important to take a holistic view of your intended experience. Consider the same questions that help drive strategic planning for a live event:

  • What do you want attendees to feel and experience during the event?

  • What do you want attendees to take away once the event concludes?

  • What challenges can your event help solve?

  • How do you keep attendees connected and engaged before, during and after the event?

Although your attendees are experiencing your virtual event through a screen, there’s no reason they can’t feel as excited, energized, informed and connected as they would during a live event. Those emotions are more important than ever, especially as so many of us may be feeling more isolated outside of the typical office environment and with a calendar lacking in events.

Thinking through the experience and how to deliver it can also help you make important logistical decisions, too. Keeping attendees conversing and connected is a common goal, so consider incorporating digital features like live chat, forums and in-platform messaging to help facilitate the discourse.

Don’t forget your production resources, too. Connect with speakers individually to ensure they have an optimal set-up and are comfortable with the technology. Be sure you have a team that can manage multiple streams and other programming elements. Sure, technology can surprise us with glitches, but the goal is to deliver a polished and seamless experience.

Lastly, forget about moving everything from a live event over to a digital format. Instead, use a virtual event to embrace your strengths.

“This is where you should rely on your best-of content,” Cobb says. “Virtual events will never truly take the place of what it means to be together in a room, so instead, pick your highlights.”

We hope these questions help guide your strategic planning and give you and your team a boost of confidence as you navigate your new digital frontier. All of us at Wellington are in the midst of helping clients successfully make the live-to-virtual transition. Reach out any time if we can do the same for you.

Community Building During a Crisis

It’s no surprise that engaged employees are proven to be more focused, to work harder, and to enjoy their jobs more than those who aren’t stimulated by their day-to-day work. In fact, highly engaged teams show a 21% increase in profitability.

Employee retention and engagement should always be top of mind for employers, but it’s even more important now that we’re in a COVID-19 world. The way a company treats its employees during “trying times” can pave the way for how the organization is viewed not only by employees, but also by potential and current clients.

It’s not only large brands that are vulnerable to this increased visibility. COVID-19 forced layoffs, furloughs, and reduced salaries around the world that few businesses were able to remain immune from. Customers and potential new hires are watching brands during this time to see how difficult situations are handled. “How did you handle the crisis?” is likely to become a frequently asked question from customers and potential employees.

Virtual fatigue is a real and pressing issue that many employees are facing as they have transitioned into a work from home structure. More than ever, employees are questioning the “why” behind their work as they feel increasingly more drained by video conference-packed days.

COVID-19 aside, employee retention and engagement aren’t new issues. A poll by Gallup that was taken pre-COVID-19 revealed that only 33% of American workers felt energized by their jobs. 52% said they’re “just showing up,” and 17% described themselves as “actively disengaged.”

How can you begin to fix what was already broken and is increasingly becoming more difficult in a pandemic-ridden world? 

Enter Wellington’s Community Building experts. How does community building address your HR challenges? We’ll tell you.

Community Building: 

  • Increases retention and engagement by creating stronger connections and a sense of belonging. Employees who are connected and feel like they’re being heard are 4.6 times more likely to perform their best work. Build up employees by making them feel like they have a place and their voice is warranted.

  • Creates connections among stakeholders, customers, and community members. Connectivity is at the center of employee satisfaction and brand loyalty. Employees who are satisfied work harder and customers who feel a strong sense of loyalty to your brand are more likely to continue using your product or service. Bring all of these players together by thinking about how they fit into your community.

  • Accelerates communication and makes it more effective. Don’t allow your employees to feel out of the loop. Community building provides a communication plan that brings everyone together, up to speed, and puts them on the same page for progress while also fostering dialogue and discourse.

  • Creates a sense of ownership among employees resulting in deeper loyalty and commitment. Employees who feel in control of their work AND recognize their importance within it are going to feel proud and encouraged to do their best and stay focused.

Built on over 25 years of working to build community within companies and organizations, Wellington’s strategic approach starts with discovering the specific goals and objectives for your unique community. We create custom solutions to provide your stakeholders with a stronger sense of belonging by connecting those goals and objectives to members’ shared values. This allows us to create and leverage networks that encourage collaboration and use the power of small group connections to create long-term impact within your organization.

Let us start designing solutions and tactics that will strengthen your communities today with an in-depth discovery session. By the end of our session, we’ll have defined real and actionable objectives for your business. Contact us today!