Top Takeaways from 18 Months of Virtual Speeches

After one year, four months and 19 days of pandemic-induced virtual presenting, I finally had the opportunity to speak in front of a live audience last month.

As you might notice from the above photo, I could barely contain my excitement of wearing my favorite suit, drinking a coffee cart iced coffee and walking into an office building to speak to people who were directly in front of me, making human eye contact and occasionally audibly laughing at my jokes.

While I can’t wait for my next in-person presentation, it’s clear that Zoom isn’t going to disappear in the post-pandemic world. And, as much as I love face-to-face presenting, there’s a lot to like about online events. 

If you’re in the process of planning conferences and trainings for the fall and winter, here are my top six takeaways:

1. Online events support inclusivity and belonging. 

From captioning to real-time language translation to the fact that there is no front row or VIP table, virtual events can help organizations with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts. 

Event planners must be attentive to who is on event planning committees, who is invited to attend an event and, of course, how diverse their slate of speakers is, but Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms make it easier to broaden opportunities and give more people access to participate in training and conference events.

2. Chat is additive. 

While it took some getting used to feeling like an air traffic controller — simultaneously watching audience members’ faces, my slides and the Chat stream — I’ve come to love the immediate feedback, camaraderie and energy of people’s real-time comments. 

Chat gives a speaker ongoing feedback about what content people are engaging with, chat gives more introverted audience members the opportunity to be more vocal in their opinions and chat ensures that every audience member who wants to comment can do so.

3. The Q&A is more authentic. 

As with the Chat feature, virtual Q&A has been a revelation. It takes guts to ask a question out loud in front of one’s professional colleagues, which means that many people stay quiet at live events. 

Online, especially through private questions sent directly to the speaker, even potentially uncomfortable or awkward questions can be asked and answered. I’ve always found that people ask the meatiest questions after a speech when they come up to speak to me privately and wished I could have addressed them in front of the entire group. Now I can.

4. Online events can be more global. 

Many people work for global organizations, but rarely interact with colleagues outside their own countries. Zoom changed that. 

Although time zones can be tricky, it’s easier to engage in a virtual breakout room with people from multiple countries than to fly everyone to a conference and create randomized meetings. Many clients have commented that they’ve met more global colleagues during the past 18 months than ever before.

5. Online events can be shorter. 

While I love a day-long, in-depth, all-day training as much as the next ENFJ, not everyone feels the same way. Sometimes workshops, speeches and training sessions are just too long. Most event planners are sensitive to Zoom fatigue and have planned their online training sessions to be shorter — sometimes much shorter — than in-person. 

Pre-Covid, I had never done a 30-minute “bite-sized” training, and now I do them quite frequently. Moving forward, I think event planners will do well to consider a wider variety of presentation lengths to match the variety of content and audience needs.

6. Online events can be sliced, diced and repurposed. 

I’ve long sung the praises of the COPE approach to content: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. With online presentations, it’s incredibly easy to click “record” and then use that recording in a wide variety of ways, from creating a transcript, to turning the audio into a podcast, to editing the content into a collection of shorter training videos. 

What has been your experience with virtual events and what learnings would you like event planners to apply moving forward? Please share in the comments!

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