Learning Pool’s top hints and tips for making your face-to-face event virtual in a few weeks or less

Each year, the staff here at Learning Pool put together eight local events to complement our larger Learning Pool Live event in London at the end of the year. These events are a great opportunity for our customers to get together, to share best practice and for us to reveal what we’ve been working on most recently.

This year, however, we encountered an unforeseeable problem – the global pandemic, COVID-19. With major events and gatherings worldwide being postponed or cancelled, it was only right for us to cancel our last two local events, transforming them into one online experience. Sounds easy, right?

With just two weeks to take our agenda and condense it down to three hours of learning, whilst making the experience as valuable as the face-to-face event, we encountered a few trials and tribulations. But for those of you wondering how we created our recent digital learning experience, here’s how we did it and what we learned from the process.

Things to contemplate when considering to host an online event: 

  • What do you want your delegates to get out of the experience?
  • How will you host the live event? (We used Stream LXP).
  • How long will the event be? (Our face-to-face events are typically six hours long but that’s far too long to spend sitting at a computer screen. We condensed this to just three).
  • What content will you include and who will your key speakers be? Will you have a host?
  • How will you achieve delegate interaction? (Many of our customers had already expressed the value they got from being able to connect with their peers).
  • What communications will you send out to make people aware of the event? How will you onboard them?

Communicating the change 

Firstly, we needed to notify everyone who’d already signed up that our remaining local events had been cancelled and would be replaced with one live online event. This took some time as we had to make sure that our customers were actually reading our emails. To help this, we sent the email and asked for confirmation of receipt and our terrific team of Learning Consultants followed up to ensure everyone was aware of the recent changes. For us, it was important this information did not go unnoticed as we didn’t want our customers travelling to the venue when we wouldn’t be there to meet them.

Onboarding users 

The next hurdle – onboarding our customers. Anyone who had booked onto one of the face-to-face events was automatically signed up to the online experience. We also sent an email to anyone who had previously shown an interest in our local events but either couldn’t make it or had to cancel last minute, as well as all the key contacts for the organizations we work with. Our main priority was to ensure everyone had the opportunity to join us online.

As more and more customers began to work from home, the Learning Pool Live online event became the perfect event for them and numbers rapidly increased.

Preparing the platform for the live event 

Being a tech company, we appreciate the task of putting together a live online event is perhaps a much easier feat for us than it would be for many other organizations. Having said that, there are lots of free tools available to help ensure a smooth online experience.

Our Learning Experience Platform, Stream was the backbone of the experience. Our attendees were onboarded onto the platform and the focus areas within Stream were used as the different elements of the event; for example, the introduction with host, David Meade, the keynote from Donald Clark and the masterclasses hosted by our Learning Consultants.

Vimeo embedded within Stream LXP was used to capture the live stream from our office in Derry – don’t worry, only our essential speakers were in the office and we adhered to the Government’s advice with social distancing measures in place. Our remote speakers were then filmed using Zoom and this was fed into the Vimeo live stream.

To ensure the seamless transition across video and sound feeds to remote people, we hired an external company (Switch New Media). A mini studio was set up in the office and this helped to manage the transition between live speakers in Derry and those broadcasting remotely via Zoom. If you’re not particularly tech savvy, we cannot recommend that last part enough!

Ensuring learning value was achieved 

With an agenda already in place for a six hour long, face-to-face event, we faced a significant challenge in either condensing the content down to just three hours or coming up with a new agenda altogether.

Realizing we were likely to host a larger audience than originally planned, we decided on an entirely new plan for the day. We also needed to account for the fact that of the customers attending not all of them would be using the same products from the Learning Pool ecosystem and therefore, might have different learning needs. So we aimed for an agenda that covered broader learning and current trend topics to make it relevant and worthwhile for all.

What did we learn?

On the content side of things, we’re fairly confident we got it pretty spot-on, covering a varying range of topics and feedback from our attendees has mostly confirmed that. Having said that, we are aware that some topics will have been more relevant for some than others so next time we think it would be a good idea to offer ‘breakout sessions’ so that customers can choose the talks they’re best suited to.

One of the main aspects of face-to-face conferences and events that customers value is the opportunity to network, to meet their peers and discuss the projects they’ve been working on. But encouraging people to participate and engage with one another when sat behind a computer screen poses a significant challenge. To overcome this, we held the ‘show us your workspace’ competition which invited attendees to share a photo of their work from home station with the most unique ones winning a prize.

However, in the future, we think there is more to be done and we believe a ‘networking’ focus area within the LXP might be the answer. This way, our customers can share their own views, asking questions and feel encouraged to think about the content in a different way. Kahoot quizzes, live polls and even having a live stream of questions from attendees that are fed back to the presenters to answer are a great way of improving the interaction within your virtual event.

Our final tips, tricks and things to remember

  • If you were paying attention during Donald Clark’s keynote session, you’ll have heard him mention that audio is more important than video. That is why we recommend you use headsets and external microphones as these are usually more reliable and have better sound quality than those built-in to your laptops.
  • If you’re a speaker of the event, remember to keep your microphone on mute when you’re not speaking (we learnt the hard way!), close all other apps or disable onscreen pop-ups to avoid messages and emails appearing onscreen mid-session. Equally, be aware when you are on mute and be sure to take yourself off when it’s your turn to speak.
  • Have a run-through of the event before you go live. Not only is this a great opportunity to ensure everyone’s following the same agenda but, if you have people broadcasting remotely, you’ll get an idea of how well each presenter’s home broadband performs and whether their remote environment works (i.e. no direct sun, no echoes etc).
  • Don’t be afraid to pre-record some sessions. We appreciate not everyone will be comfortable with public speaking and not everything is required to be live. (Just make sure the speaker is available during streaming to answer any questions that may arise from the session).
  • We believe there’s value in hiring a host for the event. Not only will they ensure the seamless running of the event and keep things on track, but we feel this is especially important if the event you’re hosting online should have been face-to-face.
  • Consider the bandwidth your online event will require (we were fortunate that the Derry office was empty so managing the bandwidth our live stream took was easy, however, this would have been a different story had it been a normal working day).
  • Consider sending out a follow-up event survey to see how your attendees felt it went (this can only help you improve next time around)!
  • Have a tech team ‘behind the scenes’ and make sure they have a way of communicating with the presenters. This will inevitably ensure the whole event runs smoothly and any issues that arise can be communicated easily and dealt with appropriately.

If you were unable to attend any of our face-to-face Learning Pool Live Locals or the live online event, you can access the recordings here. If you’re interested in any of our new remote working or COVID-19 related material, you can also access our free Coronavirus Essentials Library now.

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