Reflections from Hosting Five Live Digital Events

A month or so ago, when COVID-19 first hit and everything began to shut down, I was unsure if I should cancel a South Australian network event that was previously planned. Everyone had the date & time in their diaries so I decided to try and test new ways to use our EngagementHQ platform and ran it as a live digital event. It was the first time I had done something like this. I was nervous and I made a few mistakes. However, I learned quite a lot by just giving it a go. Having a clear agenda and being prepared were the standout lessons from my first event. You can read more about that first event here.

How things have changed since that first digital event in March this year. Everyone has had to adapt, pivot, and respond to the global pandemic and new working conditions. Zoom meetings are the new norm and using technology and digital platforms to engage and communicate with clients, customers, and colleagues has never been more important than now.

Change is a funny thing, it forces us out of our comfort zones and into uncharted territory. However, on the flip side, it offers a unique opportunity to innovate and rethink the way we do things.

So, leading the charge (with a touch of nervousness), the ANZ team held a series of five live digital events across Australia and New Zealand, to trial and showcase new and creative ways to use EngagementHQ and our famous digital tools. 

The events were held completely online and replicated some of the more traditional approaches and engagement methods you might often use in a face-to-face environment. 

While we have curated each of the five events here, I’ve included an overview of each event and some of the key success factors I discovered along the way. By doing this I hope you can see how you could easily replicate or adapt my approaches/events to meet your own organizational needs. 

Event 1: Live Q&A 

Q&A Virtual EventSimilar to an ‘information session’ or a ‘stakeholder briefing’, we held an online event to showcase how our ‘Q&A’ tool can be used in a live environment. With the one-hour event promoted and our experts at hand, we invited live questions from our participants and responded to them in ‘real-time’. It was a simple and effective way to demonstrate that we were listening. Our responses were published live, helping to build trust and transparency. Using EngagementHQ, this is a simple and easy way to replicate a traditional Q&A style event.

You can learn more about the event here and see how the tool was used to run a live digital event.

Event 2: Live Forum 

Similar to a face-to-face workshop or a ‘world cafe’ event, our next digital event used four tools to replicate a more complex engagement process. Using a well-crafted agenda (allocating times and online tasks), participants were guided through a series of engagement activities. We used our ‘Quick Poll’ tool as our ice-breaker activity, which also allowed some time for our late arrivals to join us. Then, using our discussion ‘Forum’ tool, we set the scene for the event and provided facilitator instructions for the next steps. Participants were invited to then join one of five breakout discussions forums, each facilitated by a staff member.

Forum Virtual Event

After 20 minutes, participants were then invited to leave their current forum, and join one (or more) of the other forum topics. Here, they could read what people had been saying, and then comment and build on the previous discussions — very similar to a ‘world cafe’ activity. At the end, everyone re-grouped back into a central forum, while our 5 facilitators quickly posted a summary of each forum using our ‘Newsfeed’ tool. Within the hour, we had over 285 comments in the forums, contributing to a very robust discussion among participants on five different topics. To conclude the event, participants were invited to leave a final comment or reflection using our ‘Guestbook’ tool. It was refreshing to receive immediate feedback from the live digital event, and you can read all their comments here.

Event 3: Live Ideation

Ideas Virtual EventOur next event showcased our ‘Ideas’ tool and we guided people through an ideation process. However, for something slightly different, this event was held in two stages, over three days. 

For the first stage of our digital event, we invited people to submit their best tips and ideas for ‘working from home’, something many of us are currently experiencing. It was great to see the ideas being posted in such a short timeframe (within one hour) and also watching people comment live on the ideas of others and collectively sharing our knowledge and experiences. We received 20 great ideas and had over 100 total contributions (comments and likes).

Two days later, we invited everyone who had contributed an idea, to come back and vote on their favorite tip. This demonstrated a more robust ideation process where not only did we crowdsource great ideas, but collectively we voted on the best one. We also embedded short videos into the project page to provide instructions and to report back the results, to show how easy and effective they can be – and no, you don’t need to be a tech guru to do this yourself. Take a look at this event here in more detail and watch the short videos we made.

Event 4: Live Storytelling 

Stories Virtual EventTo be honest, from the outset we were not sure how successful this event would be. But in the current climate where everyone is adapting and trying new things, we thought we would too. We held our fourth digital event and first used the ‘Quick Poll’ tool to see how many people had joined us live.

To our dismay only eight people responded, ouch! …. and this got us thinking. Perhaps we had not promoted this event well enough? Perhaps we had been engaging too much and people reached engagement fatigue; or perhaps there was just no interest in using this tool in a live event. Nevertheless, we continued and at the end of the hour event, four people had shared their stories. Whilst we didn’t receive a large number of stories, the ones we did collect were quite powerful. See for yourself how we set up and ran this event, and you can decide if storytelling would be suitable to use for your live event.

Event 5: Webinar showcasing SMS engagement 

Our final event was a partnership webinar hosted by consultants Anna Kelderman and Max Hardy

They were running a series of webinars about ‘Engaging in a time of Physical Distancing’ and so, of course, we wanted to get involved and chat about our latest tool – ‘SMS Engagement’. The webinar was hosted on Zoom. Registering participants provided their mobile phone numbers so we could demonstrate first hand how SMS can be used in community engagement. 15 mins prior to the webinar, our first SMS message was sent out to everyone to “remind them they had registered and to get ready to join us”. 

SMS Virtual EventOver 60 people joined us on Zoom, and after initial introductions and general housekeeping, we kicked things off by discussing the first SMS sent, and how this can be used as a one-way information tool. For the second activity, we sent a text message asking people to respond to a multiple-choice question, with three predetermined answers. Their responses linked directly with our ‘Quick Poll’ tool and we could see the results streaming in live. For the third activity, we asked an open-ended question and invited a longer text response. Their replies were linked with our ‘Guestbook’ tool and once again we could see their responses being posted live via a SMS text.

We then broke into smaller Zoom chat rooms and had deeper discussions about SMS and how it might be used in engagement activities. You can read the results and responses here.

man jumping outside

Live Event Success Tips

As you can read, it’s been a busy few weeks and like many others who have been trialing and testing new tools and approaches, we have learned quite a lot along the way. To wrap things up, here are some of the key success factors and tips that you should consider when running live digital engagement events:

  • Be prepared – Test (and test again) new and unfamiliar digital tools/platforms. Ensure ‘co-presenters’ or forum facilitators are briefed about their role prior. Have a back-up plan, just in case something goes wrong. Have pre-written text/instructions ready to ‘cut and paste’ into your online conversations.
  • Have a clear agenda – Provide a well-structured agenda and order your engagement steps. Ensure you have a good introductory text and clear instructions on your site/project to easily guide people along your live digital engagement process.
  • Book it in – Ask your participants to book out the ‘digital meeting’ time in their diaries. This commits them to the event, provides event details and gets everyone on the site at the same time to allow real-time collaboration and engagement.
  • Facilitate using a ‘Facilitators forum’ – Use a forum to welcome people at the start. Use this forum to facilitate and provide instructions throughout the event and to answer questions. Pro-tip, cut and paste written tasks/instructions into the ‘forum intro heading’ so that they stay at the top of the page and can easily be seen – update as needed.
  • Refresh your screen – when using EngagementHQ tools in a real-time event, you will need to remind participants to ‘refresh’ their screens to ensure they can see the most recent posts/contributions from others.
  • Have some fun – use the ‘Quick Poll’ tool as your first icebreaker activity. This way you will know how many people have joined live. Get creative and have some fun with the quick poll questions you ask. 
  • Keep it simple –  remember that this process is new to many, so don’t try to use all the EngagementHQ tools in one session. Keep it simple and as easy as possible to participate. Allow time for tech questions, late arrivals and the real-time online facilitation you will deliver.
  • Close the loop – plan in advance how you will conclude and wrap up the live event. We suggest posting a few concluding and ‘thank you’ sentences into the facilitator’s forum or perhaps a short post using the ‘Newsfeed’ tool before you end. Don’t forget to follow up with a final summary/outcomes and use the EngagementHQ ‘Newsfeed’ or ‘Email’ tool to close the loop on your event.

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