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Claire Doole is a former BBC correspondent and international spokeswoman who is passionate about helping people communicate with confidence. Since 2006, she has successfully trained hundreds of professionals in the art of presenting and public speaking, talking to the media, managing communications in a crisis, and writing for the web. In addition, she has coached C-level executives and public figures to give powerful TEDx and TED style talks in Europe and the Middle East. A Swiss and UK national, Claire trains and coaches in French and English.

Claire is also a highly experienced moderator having facilitated panel discussions with government ministers, NGO activists, humanitarians and human rights specialists at major events.

www.doolecommunications.com

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Claire good Stell and Luxembourg Minister and IFRC SG copy

By Claire Doole, Doole Communications

What is the biggest challenge when organising a virtual event? Technical glitches are high up on the list when I ask this question in my workshop on organising engaging virtual events.

A year on since the pandemic first hit, we are still challenged and aggravated by poor video and sound quality, speakers that fail to connect and lack of time management. At one event I moderated, so many outside lines went down I ended up talking at length to the one guest I fortunately had in the studio. If he hadn’t been with me, we would have just had to go on a break and come back once we reconnected with our speakers.

So, how do you organise a technically glitch free event?

Pre-recordings

I recently moderated the Global Vaccine Immunization and Research Forum (GVIRF) – an event spanning three days over two continents – where all the speakers were pre-recorded. They or proxies were brought back live to answer audience and moderator questions.

If you do pre-record, speakers must keep to time. If you are pre-recording a panel discussion or interview, it must be done “as live” so that it is kept to time. If you go over, you will have to cut something else later in the programme.

Broadcasters give themselves flexibility, editing short and longer versions.

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By Claire Doole, Doole Communications

This week the powerful icons of business, finance and a spattering of civil society will not meet in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum’s flagship meeting. Instead, they will meet virtually for a meeting billed as the Davos Agenda which will focus on rebuilding trust and shape the principles, policies and partnerships needed for 2021.

I am hoping the virtual meeting will also showcase and shape best practice in terms of organising virtual events. Many companies and organisations have made the shift from physical to digital events – recognising that producing a successful event is like producing a TV programme. As I wrote in my September blog, they must be shorter, more varied, more creative, better moderated and rigorously rehearsed.

But since then, it has become even more obvious that organisers are going to have to up their game if they are to counter the increasing challenges of high attrition rates.

Let me share some anecdotal evidence. Organisers are not getting the numbers as “zoom fatigue” sets in and attendees zoom out. In some instances, there are just too many virtual events. One communications director from an international organisation told me they organised 67 webinars last year – sometimes up to three a week– and had to make sure staff took part to ensure strong numbers.

This year, faced with budget cuts, international organisations and NGOs are scrambling for relevance with donors, which means the pandemic of virtual events shows no sign of slowing. However, they systematically risk forgetting the well-known saying in communications that less is more.

ERS International Congress

photo courtesy of ERS

By Claire Doole, www.doolecommunications.com

Many of you are moderating events and panel discussions in the virtual world. If you are an in-house moderator, you have an advantage over someone like myself in that you automatically know the subject area. However, that doesn’t mean that you can “rock up and just have a conversation” in the words of someone I coached recently in how to moderate at a virtual event!

Professional moderators may make it look effortless as they seamlessly transition from one speaker, subject area or segment to another, but it takes a lot of preparation to work out the editorial narrative of an event and the flow of a specific panel discussion.

In many respects in the virtual world, it is even harder for two main reasons:

1) It is more challenging to capture and hold the audience’s attention and;
2) Organizers are packing their events with too many speakers.

If you want to overcome these challenges and be a dynamic virtual moderator, have a look at some of my tips below:

Work with the organisers on event design

I run workshops and act as a consultant to organisations and companies on how to design an entertaining, participatory and insightful event. As an in-house moderator, however, you are well placed to influence the narrative and flow of the event from the start.

  • Make sure they have made the shift from the real to virtual world and apply the principles of a TV news programme, namely short, varied and creative.
  • Advise on the format. Blocks of speakers who present one after each other is overwhelming and potentially tedious for the audience. I have seen programmes where nine speakers make keynote speeches, presentations or remarks with no audience or moderator intervention for the first hour. Even two keynote speeches of 20 minutes each back to back before the audience Q&A is asking a lot of the audience.
  • Limit the number of speakers in a panel discussion to no more than four. I have turned down panel discussions where there are seven speakers as it is impossible to generate a lively discussion of views. It goes without saying that it is frustrating for the panelists to be given so little time to get their points across and can certainly lead to information overload for the audience.

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By Claire Doole, www.doolecommunications.com

"It ain't so much the things that people don't know that makes trouble in this world, as it is the things that people know that ain't so." This is one of the many quotes attributed to 19th Century American writer Mark Twain and it definitely applies to presenting.

Many people think they are good presenters – mostly because people are too polite to tell them they are not, or in the case of senior people because no one dares tell them!

Presenters themselves also have a blind spot. This month I was asked to train a number of speakers taking part in virtual conferences. I blocked time in my diary and waited for the Doodle calendar to fill up. Two things happened – some people were too busy, others left it to the last moment.

This only confirmed to me another great quote about public speaking. This time by the American comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, who said, “According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” People who don’t like public speaking tend to put off preparing their presentation until the last minute.

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By Claire Doole, www.doolecommunications.com

Are you getting bored of virtual events which go on for hours, with one speaker after another or one panel after another? Often the most gripping moment is seeing how the moderator copes with the technical glitches or closes down the speakers who go over time!

Far too many event organisers have not understood the difference between what goes into a virtual one as opposed to face-to-face. They try to replicate their usual half-day, full-day or two-day event online without thinking about the audience experience.

Having moderated many virtual events in the past 7 months, I firmly believe that organisers will need to work harder as the pandemic continues to retain audience share. Audiences are going to be more selective, only tuning in to events that are well produced, informative and insightful.