Editor’s Note: This is part of a series reporting on FICP Chats about the future of meetings. You can read previous reports here, here and here.

While most meetings professionals agree there’s no replacement for an in-person meeting, our current circumstances find them delving into relatively unchartered waters and finding ways to take upcoming or rescheduled meetings virtual, in part or entirely, and pursuing new virtual options for planning future meetings and events. More than 250 participants in the May 21 Financial & Insurance Professionals (FICP) Chats agreed mastering virtual meeting tools will require new skills, flexibility and creativity from everyone involved–presenters and participants–and this education is just beginning.

In the fourth of FICP’s new virtual education series, focusing on virtual meetings, participants discussed how meetings professionals need to adapt practices to ensure successful virtual meetings and how hospitality partners can support virtual and hybrid meetings and events.

Virtual Platforms

Role clarity when selecting a virtual meeting platform was an area where participants noted an opportunity for improvement within their organizations. They believed information technology (IT) colleagues should be consulted on topics such as information security, home office bandwidth and the ability to download and use a platform, but meetings professionals should provide direction initially around meeting objectives and must-haves so that both partners and internal stakeholders could identify the right resources to achieve those objectives.

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Participants noted they had leveraged a range of platforms for early meetings, including Zoom, but security concerns persist at some companies about the use of that specific platform (although Zoom is consistently introducing new features addressing security concerns). Other platforms cited included On24 and Intrado.

Virtual Event Preparation

While some presenters or company executives may not see the need for a rehearsal, a rehearsal is critical to the success of a virtual event, according to participants. In fact, technical rehearsals and presenter rehearsals should be considered to help ensure all aspects work properly–lighting, sound and platform–and all participants know the flow of the event.

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For executive presentations, participants recommend recording those in advance and incorporating live elements around them. Executives could be provided lights, webcams and other materials to help ensure the recording looks and sounds high-quality.

A lead facilitator should be assigned, who knows the event flow, and can help transition between presenters and activities. As with a live event, having a contingency plan is important when you cannot control for every possible problem.

Engaging Virtual Participants

More than one-third of participants indicated that attendee engagement and collaboration was their biggest challenge when shifting from in-person to virtual meetings and events. Ideas for helping virtual meeting attendees engage not only with content but with each other included trivia or TV-style games, wine tastings, custom cocktails, entertainer cameos, interactive projects or lessons such as floral arranging or cooking, corporate social responsibility (CSR) components and icebreaker activities.

It was also suggested that wellness activities such as live yoga, breathing exercises or stretching could be used during scheduled breaks to help reinvigorate attendees. Many of those interactive activities allow for event sponsors or hosts to send kits to participants in advance. Those seeking to use music and other existing content were reminded of the need to ensure proper licensing was in place beforehand.

Planning with Hospitality Partners Virtually

With the traditional site visit or FAM trip off the table in the short term, hoteliers and other suppliers are turning to virtual options with their meetings professional clients, using tools like FaceTime or Zoom and a phone or tablet to walk through event spaces. More video recordings are being provided by supplier partners to help showcase venues and destinations as well. Those same partners are creating new resources to help meetings professionals calculate maximum capacities in light of distancing guidelines. Both parties should discuss how that same contracted space can be used differently to achieve objectives and get creative with “shifts” of general sessions, simulcasts, outdoor space and similar ideas.

Meetings Professionals Re-Education

Participants also acknowledged that planning a virtual experience or hybrid in-person/virtual meeting brings new considerations throughout planning and execution phases, including some outside of their areas of expertise, and felt the need for additional education on those topics. A handful of those in the chat were pursuing virtual event management or digital event strategist certifications to help better equip them for the future of meetings.

Jennifer Squeglia, CMP, is a member of FICP Board of Directors. In the next FICP Chats, our community will focus on virtual meetings. Learn more about upcoming FICP Chats, part of FICP Anytime.