Let's change the terms, definitions and expectations around virtual meetings

Do you prejudge virtual meetings? Are you trying to replace physical face-to-face meetings with a poor substitute? Is a virtual meeting somehow inferior? 

It's been almost a year since we were forced into the new normal of "virtual" meetings and events. I get the feeling the feeling that plenty of people are still adapting, questioning the validity of virtual meetings and even probing for weakness. 

Before 2020, when we look back with the benefit of hindsight, we really didn't have anything like enough virtual meetings and virtual events. The business community as a whole was missing a trick. Some forward-thinking companies were progressing, for example, with video in customer success settings, but it was nearly all one-way with an audience or viewers, and not participatory. 

Can we please change these words?

What do you think about the meanings of these words, like virtual events and virtual meetings? I think they are loaded terms. We need to alter our perceptions, perhaps get over our preconceptions, or at least explore different terms.

We know future business will continue to blend real and virtual meetings and events. But "hybrid" meetings or "hybrid" workshops! Does this hybrid term really have any meaning to anyone? I think it's a turn off.

Any ideas: what can we call these wonderful things, instead of virtual and hybrid?

It’s one reason I like what Helsinki Marketing have done. “Virtual encounters” is an interesting term. On one hand, for Helsinki City, it means inclusivity. Perhaps events suggest some kind of hierarchy, some kind of control. Encounters are broader, all kinds of actors can be involved and there is an openness. An encounter can be accidental (even serendipitous - Ed), planned or prompted.


Get the Ghost newslatter 

Low expectations might be a good thing but...

There's a strong case for being bold. When we work with smart organisations like Startup Estonia, it's a given that, if possible, all collaboration and workshop opportunities are accessible face-to-face and remotely. We have the right methods and tools to make it happen with minimal resource overhead. More importantly, our virtual remote participants have not been disadvantaged or marginalised. 

I have helped organise many virtual encounters in the last year: meetings, workshops, training, programmes, events and conference. Usually I am a host or facilitator.

My expectations are very high now. I think yours should be, too!

I have experienced incredible emotional connections, individual contributions and teamwork. I've been shocked by how our (typically) Zoom-based sessions have lead to such fast bonding and such volume and quality of individual contributions. We now come away from virtual sessions with more and better organised insight and ideation data than real-world sessions! Howspace has been a game-changer in that.

Team dynamics are very different. The Zoom-Howspace combination that we use is so effective because it has a democratising effect. Previously disjointed team members contribute and engagement rockets, even in adversity or around difficult topics. It's like we've stumbled on the best way to unite fractured teams. It's a great time for HR and strategy leaders to get people sharing, aligned and committed.

So, let's copy the offline to online

No. Just don't do it. We get over this quickly with new clients. Companies hire Ghost because of our expertise and experience. We break down the barriers to participation, we don't run events with an audience, everyone is involved. We make planning and sessions as transparent as possible to support that trust you need to keep people attentive and giving.

Static or one-way content in virtual events, especially if it’s not something new or inspiring, does not get people on board anything like as effectively as collaboration.  

It's better to forget how many people are present, how many are following, and focus on the quality of engagement. Quality doesn't mean complexity. Some of the simplest quick online workshop exercises are the most effective at inspiring experienced leaders.

I think we are forgetting a little about some things that we should have considered more as virtual events. For a while there's been televised sport and game shows, like American Idol, that have had physical and virtual interaction. I wonder if we learnt anything from them when it came to how we've been running business meetings. Of course, there's a lot of water under the bridge here.

If you are a business leader, then you have been dealing with a new modes of control and ownership this past year. In my experienced, fixed content and one-way virtual presentations and launches do not put you in control. In my experience, it's the opposite. With a remote group of staff, partners or customers, you need to get them engaged and contributing, otherwise they are easily alienated in virtual settings.

The keynote question

Now that it’s so easy to record and share content, does the seminar keynote add any value compared to watching something back on-demand? Are keynotes really unique? As an organiser, yes, you are showing how much you appreciate the audience. However, without any interaction, what is the value? How can you measure the impact? It feels like we are continuing with the same offline paradigm. We have an audience, we tell them something, we hope they listen – is that what we want?

Less resources and more possibilities

Of course, we can’t compare the feeling of attending a play compared to seeing it on TV. But the possibilities, the risk, the threats have changed, and the level of resources required to get deeper engagement has certainly changed. This is a gem: you can have more productive, more engaging sessions, without the cost of travel. You can still have a big stage if you want, but you have a lot more budget flexibility when you participants are not all in the room.

In future, when the pandemic is no longer in control of our behaviour, and especially our travel itineraries, this is going to be interesting. There is going to be a tension as more and more people experience amazing virtual encounters and some colleagues want to get back on the road and return to their comfort zone - and the old ways where the meeting room was not recorded and participation was not measured. There are going to be some fun times ahead!


In the meantime, if you haven't come away from a virtual encounter with your team energised and your heart racing, let me know. We can fix that for you.



PS Get a feel for how we run things in our regular free taster workshops on community building...



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