It goes without saying that our event and professional development calendars are looking very different these days. All those in-person conferences, workshops, and classes are now taking place online, which means a tremendous shift in how they're delivered. Instructors and mediators are working hard to figure out how to create a community amongst remote participants - not to mention how to create a sense of hands-on immediacy in a virtual environment.
At StellaPop, we're no strangers to virtual events. Here are our tips for making your online creative workshop class or conference measure up to the real thing.
Know Your Why.
The fact that college students nationwide are demanding tuition refunds suggests that there's a gulf between IRL learning and virtual learning. But it's not the virtual that's to blame - it's how those in-person classes have been translated into the virtual sphere. When organizing your workshop, think about what you're actually trying to achieve. What do you want your students to get out of the class? Is it doable in a virtual format, or do you need to reconsider your purpose? Online workshops are great for working through concepts and theories, but they're not ideal for group work or highly practical endeavors. If you're teaching an art class, focus on the knowledge or ideas you want to impart, then send students off to do the creating in their own time.
Know Your Tech.
When all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. For many of us, Zoom is becoming that hammer. But we have plenty of tools at our disposal that we can use instead. Sure, Zoom is great for lectures and chats. But so are Instagram and Facebook Live. Google Slides is brilliant for highly visual presentations. YouTube is invaluable for linking related videos and how-tos. For creatives, there are loads of collaborative design tools like Figma, Mural, or Bubbl that are worth a look. Think about what your goals are for your workshop, presentation, or conference, then pick the right tool. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, either. Maybe Zoom is great for taking Q&As or for "breakout" chats, Instagram is where you go to do quick demonstrations, and Google Slides is where you keep your reading material. Whatever works for you.
Know Your Format.
This one complements the tech question. Your event doesn't have to be an all-day video session. Determine the purpose and context for your event, then plan out your delivery accordingly. (Remember, you want it to be cohesive and narrative-driven, not a cobbled-together series of webinars.) Maybe some sessions will be live lectures, others will be pre-recorded tutorials, and others again will be quick Q&As. Maybe you want to begin with an ice-breaker get-to-know-you session and end with a round of virtual drinks. Perhaps you want to mix things up a bit with pre-recorded (or live!) guest spots from other experts. Giveaways, contests, and polls are all great options to break up longer events, so consider working them in. Once you have your format down, write it up, and send it out to your participants, so they know what to expect from the workshop or conference.
Know Your Participants.
Last, but absolutely not least, make sure that your audience is made to feel welcome and included. Encourage people to wear name tags that are visible on camera, and ensure that they use "real" usernames to make it easier for other participants to know who's speaking. Take time to get to know your participants via ice-breakers, Q&A sessions, and feedback requests. Don't forget to prompt them to participate - people can be shy, even in a virtual environment! You can also extend the workshop experience by inviting them to join in on a hashtag, Slack channel, or discussion forum before or after the event. If people have been talking prior to your session, they'll be more likely to engage with each other.
Planning a virtual creative workshop or conference requires some new skills, some trial and error, and plenty of flexibility. But the end results can be great, especially if it means you're able to reach a broader, more diverse audience. Give yourself plenty of time to plan, pick your technology, and workshop your ideas, and you'll do just fine. Happy conferencing!