On Wednesday, I co-facilitated a birds of a feather session with several grantees for csv,conf,v6 focused on measuring the impact of data science...
Sara Kobilka and Emily Lescak
Sara Kobilka is the owner and principal consultant at Renaissance Woman Consulting and has a background in education and journalism. Below, she shares her tips for organizing and running a successful event:
Tip 1: Recruit a team of organizers and assign each individual specific responsibilities
For example, a team of three could have the following roles:
- share screen
- present slides
- lead discussion
- answer questions
- monitor breakout rooms
- keep the session moving on schedule
- tell attendees who they can contact with questions about technology and resources
- welcome and admit attendees
- create breakout rooms and explain how they work
- run polls
- provide assistance in breakout rooms
- mute / remove attendees
- provide individual help via private chat messages
- enter welcome message in chat at the beginning and when new attendees arrive
- add relevant links to the chat
- monitor questions and either ask them out loud or answer them
- mute / remove attendees
Tip 2: Plan in advance!
Prior to the event, create a chart of responsibilities for the organizers, a schedule for the session, and instructions for breakout rooms. Create a plan for communicating with organizers if technical problems arise that prevent an organizer from logging into the session (e.g., through text messages, Slack, email). If someone will be giving a presentation, make sure the other organizers also have access so that they can share it if necessary.
For example, during Sara’s session, her computer froze! This could have been a tragedy, but turned into a valuable teachable moment. Luckily, Emily had her presentation and could take over screen sharing and Sara could rejoin on her phone while her computer was rebooting. The attendees had an opportunity to take a breather and contribute questions and notes to the shared doc.
Tip 3: Troubleshoot as a team
Use the responsibilities chart so everyone knows their role when problems arise. During breakout sessions, provide individual support in the main room to those struggling. Create one (or more) extra breakout rooms that attendees can be sent to for private conversations with the host. This is a good way to deal with attendees who are not following the code of conduct. The rooms can also be used for private conversations between team members.
Tip 4: Extend grace
Bear in mind that attendees, presenters, and co-organizers may not be in an ideal situation for attending the session. They may be connecting using unreliable internet or an unfamiliar device, there may be background noise, or they may be dividing their attention between the session and home responsibilities. Give people the benefit of the doubt and offer support with kindness. You can ask attendees in advance about the types of challenges they may face so that you can be prepared and offer extra support in advance. For example, when attendees register you can ask them how familiar they are with the platform, what type of device they will be using, how familiar they are with the device, if any accommodations are requested, or if they experience regular issues with internet connectivity.
Organizing a virtual event can be an overwhelming experience, but you can prepare yourself by recruiting a team of co-organizers, clearly defining roles and responsibilities, and developing a schedule for the session. Assume that technical challenges will arise and have a plan for resolving them!