Many of us made some critical changes to how we did business this year. But then again, we weren’t really left much choice. “The universe” forced our hand and we all become overnight gurus on virtual meeting software.
Some of us did this a little too over-zealously and our audience burned out.
But with COVID numbers skyrocketing again, we’re likely to continue virtual meetings and virtual events for some time.
Before you lament the way things used to be, remember, virtual meetings can be a good thing.
10 Benefits of Virtual Meetings Over In-person Meetings
We’ve got a list of 10 benefits of hosting virtual meetings:
In virtual meetings, you:
- Don’t have to wear pants unless you plan on standing up. (There. It had to be said.)
- Get to know things about people you might not realize at an in-person meeting like the fact they collect Pez dispensers or love Star Trek. It’s amazing what you see in the backgrounds of a person’s home office.
- Have more efficient and engaging polling. Depending on the technology you’re using to host it, you may have very cool polling tech that can help you gauge sentiment much more efficiently. Using the polling feature can also help your audience feel more engaged earlier on.
- Have the option of changing things up. With your past chamber meetings or events, you may have been pigeon-holed into doing something a certain way because of imposed time or location constraints. With virtual meetings and events, you can change things up because you have more flexibility without factoring in travel, set-up, and other things that may have impacted your choices of time or location.
- Can cut costs. Virtual meetings and events will likely be less expensive than in-person events. While this is true, many chamber pros worry they can’t charge, or can’t charge as much, for a virtual event as they would an in-person event. As long as you are providing value and hosting something they can’t get elsewhere, the event should command a price. Discounting isn’t necessary. Some chambers have sought to refund some of the money if they aren’t providing food, while others have worked with the caterer to create pick up bags or boxes of food for attendees who wish to partake.
- Save time. Virtual meetings may make use of icebreakers and conversation starters but they are also easier to keep on track because you don’t have the same level of distraction in the room. You can condense more learning into a shorter period of time than if you were in-person and needed to set aside time for applause and breaks.
- Can review learning and comments. When something is said in-person, the best you can do if you want to hear it again is ask someone to repeat it or ask for the slides if it’s part of a presentation. With a virtual meeting or event, you can rewind or review the recording.
- Can connect with fewer problems with scheduling. Since virtual meetings don’t require travel time and you can take them on your phone from anywhere you have a signal, you might be able to connect people who normally have difficulty finding large blocks of time in their schedule. A virtual meeting or event requires only a few minutes before it starts to dial in. The block of time to participate is much smaller than an in-person event. For instance, people can participate in parking lots while running errands. Fewer problems with scheduling and less time required may mean that you get attendees at your meetings and events who have not attended a chamber event before.
- Needn’t worry about sanitizing stations and wiping everything down. This is the main reason we’re all holding on to virtual meetings right now. In order to make a room safe for others, masks, social distancing, and increased hygiene processes are required. This take s a lot of volunteers or employees to get the basics covered. Virtual meetings and events give you more flexibility and time to conduct your meeting. You can also accommodate a greater number of people virtually right now than you likely could at a venue. (Like the 22,000+ who recently attended one of Tony Robbins’ virtual events.)
- Use interactive components. There are a lot of interesting tools you can use with virtual events and meetings such as screen shares, discussion “tables,” on-screen participant commenting, and more. These interactive components may also result in greater interaction because people often feel more brazen online than they do in-person.
A Note About Polling
As mentioned above, polling is a great advantage of online meetings versus in-person ones. Many people are a lot more willing to make a selection by clicking on a radio button than they are to raise their hands in a crowded room so you may get greater (honest) participation.
But you also can take advantage of more dynamic ways to poll.
When you conduct an in-person poll, you might ask the group which item or service they prefer. Then you count the number of hands raised or the applause for each option and tabulate results.
With technology-driven polling you can test the nuances behind strong, moderate, and weak preferences by asking people “on a scale a 1-5, 5 being your favorite and 1 being something you might do with no other choices, how do you feel about our suggestion?”
This can help you isolate hesitation and find out from others if they strongly or loosely support the idea. Since polling can be anonymous, they won’t feel pressured to answer a certain way as they might with an in-person raise of the hand.
Polling can be very engaging but it’s also the most underutilized feature out there. That is to say “underutilized” in the most advantageous way.
Good hosts of events or webinars will use polling to find out:
- How well-versed the audience is on the topic at hand and customizes the presentation to their knowledge level.
- What your audience wants to know most.
- Favorite speakers/presenters.
- Who people want to meet at the event or what types of goals they have for the event.
- How people rank within an audience. People often want to know how they fit in or compare to others.
Don’t forget you can publish results as people answer or read them off as they’re occurring. Plus, some technology allows people to register their votes or post them anonymously, which may help yield more honest opinions.
Don’t ask a question just to ask one. Ensure that the types of things you ask your crowd benefit them in some way by entertaining, inspiring, or educating them. People often want to know where they stand among their peers as well.
One More Benefit
Virtual meetings have helped us remain connected when social distancing orders have made that difficult. But there’s also another benefit of these types of meetings to chambers.
For a long time, we have arranged our events and meetings so that “most” of our members can attend. But there will always be business professionals who can’t come to two-hour breakfasts, lunch and learns, or business after hours events.
With growing business, home, and other responsibilities eating into their time, attendance is quickly turning into a luxury of the past, like the 9-5 workday.
COVID and social distancing have forced us into embracing virtual events and meetings. But the pandemic has also provided the opportunity to allow members to be a part of the chamber functions on their schedule.
Sure, they may not be able to attend live, but if you record the meetings/events, they can still enjoy the content, comment during watching, and share what they’ve learned with others when they’re able.
I sign up for many webinars and virtual learning sessions that I know I’ll never be able to attend because I want the recording. It’s likely your members do the same.
Plus, if you add the recordings to your website with adequate descriptions of what was discussed/who spoke, you have now created the start of a content library with no additional work on your end.
An additional benefit to recording and posting is that prospective members can now “attend” one of your meetings or events when they are considering membership, not when you have the next one scheduled. For instance, let’s say a potential member goes onto your chamber website to look at upcoming events or wants more information about joining. If they’re looking at a time when your office is closed, they may have to wait a while for you to get back to them. Once you do, you may not have another event scheduled for a month. That could be a long wait to get to know you better.
If you have a library of virtual events, they can see what kind of things you offer even if it’s 5 a.m. when they’re considering membership.
Will virtual meetings replace in-person ones? It’s not likely but there definitely are some benefits worth exploring. While these days we may not have a choice with growing restrictions to in-person gatherings in many states, your chamber may want to consider the benefits in virtual gatherings. Even when restrictions let up there are reasons to keep them going well into the future.
By: Christina Metcalf