We know that face to face events are a great way of bringing people together. Lots of knowledge and experience will get shared at these events. But for many people that attend a face to face event, it stops there. And this was our topic in our latest online chat in the Online Facilitators Community on the Knowledge Hub where we discussed How do you maintain momentum after a face-to-face event?
My quick summary
Watching the discussion and reading a bit between the lines, most face to face events are not built to continue the discussion. They are stand-alone, which for me is a big opportunity to waste.
If you want to create further engagement, build in elements where people can have conversations and work out what activities will continue the discussion online. But the planning of the event is only half of the key to success. A big part that is often overlooked is the facilitation of the event. Are you just going to be the host who keeps it all on time or can you do more? My answer is yes. But you don’t need to do it alone. Get involved, listen to what people are saying, capture those discussions, highlight what others are saying. This can provide ideas and content for months for your community. An opportunity not to be wasted.
The questions we discussed.
A big thank you to Joscelyn, Andy, Dimple, Glyn, Ed, Rhondda, Fiona, Mike and Nigel who shared some amazing insights and thoughts on the topic and I have summarised the responses for each question below.
Q1. Quiet, often the expectation of the people delivering the event and those attending the event are slightly different. If you were looking to design and build an event that was all about continuing the conversation after, how would you go about it?
- Build in opportunities to network and exchange contact details for all attendees and presenters.
- End an event on a topic which needs more discussion, if people have more to contribute and feel strongly about a subject they are likely to comment further in an online forum.
- Share content from the event immediately after or as the event is happening to facilitate further conversation. This could include presentations, discussion notes, key questions asked, interviews etc.
- Build in elements of the event for those that cannot attend face to face can participate in. such as changing a presentation to a webinar to allow those face to face and online to join and participate. Also means that you can have remote presenters.
- Encourage members of the community to post questions in advance, asking members to share their thoughts before and after the event, using the community to follow up on ideas, connections and what they want to happen next.
- Include some questions on the feedback form for the event that includes wants/expectations of the attendees. Utilising these opportunities to see what your audience wants.
- Post-event focus on the delegates' 'take-aways'. Ask the question “What one (or more) things did they take away from their day which has changed their practice, their thinking or their strategic planning”.
- Be upfront in the planning stage that not everything can be done or continued to be done face to face due to the resources required for this. And advise how other collaboration tools will be used to encourage discussions.
- Decide on what type of communication will work best. Ensuring that people are listened to, ideas are shared, and feeding back on these also helps groups to remain engaged. This can lead to greater visibility before and following an event.
- Build sessions into the event that are built to continue the conversation. Such as Wants and Offers, Anecdote Circles, Barcamps etc
- Let your community self-organise a session where attendees can 'book' a time slot in a conversation group at the face-to-face in advance
Q2. What are the typical things that everyone wants to do at a face to face event but you run out of time and how can you use these to continue the conversation?
- When you have an excellent presenter. You have 100’s of questions that you would like to ask. But there's no time. Wouldn't it be great if you could get them back in some way to answer questions from all of the community? And if you have recorded the session you could maybe run a hotseat at a later date. When you members can watch the presentation then have the ability to ask questions via a forum for your guest to answer. Then everyone gets to see the answers rather than the one to one conversation via email.
- Alternative it could fall to the event organiser to collate any leftover questions and share the responses from the presenter on a forum to facilitate discussion. This would mean that the presenter only has to answer the email of the organiser who can then share the answers with the entire audience and hopefully kick off a discussion
- Usually sessions that involve feedback for improvements or when someone has got lots of good questions there’s the parking lot flip chart approach – when there is not enough time for and the host writes them down and adds them to the parking lot for future discussions.
- We have used 'hot seats' in the past, which have been very popular and generated discussion and increased engagement. We invite an expert (or even a non-expert e.g. someone on our programme discussing the challenges they've faced and how they overcame them) to answer questions over a week on a particular topic / theme.
Q3. What activities can the community support you in creating and rolling out the event?
- The community can be used to help create a buzz around the event for activities such as building the agenda, identifying relevant event themes for sessions and guest speakers/presenters, promoting the event and who is attending, and calling out for those who may be able to help be involved in planning it.
- There is value in holding polls, asking what topics to cover in an event. This could be used to plan a face to face event too. Equally, when an event is advertised on the Events tab then member feedback can be really useful, even just a question asking if a certain topic will be covered.
- The planning, marketing etc of the event for me is the main part but there is one bit that gets overlooked and that is the facilitation of the event. I have a feeling that they will make the biggest impact on the event as they will be listening to conversations, asking questions and can capture and share some of the key thoughts that happen through the event. Most of the time there is a host that just does the timekeeping for the event and introduces these sessions. Having people fully involved will make a huge difference.
- Introduce ideas for the event such as the “Social Reporter” a role in community groups where an individual serve to attend face-to-face events and report back to the online community
Q4. With face to face events. There are always those that can attend and those that cannot. This could be down to cost, seniority, location and multiple other factors. What issues could you foresee if your community always has the split of the same attendees and those that could not make it?
- I think if people are repeatedly unable to attend then I would imagine their activity will drop significantly. Unless they are happy with only online contribution and accepting of the distanced participation then this may lead to them becoming unmotivated.
- If the same people keep attending then the risk is the events will focus solely on these people's wants/needs and risk excluding everyone else further. In this case there should a large focus on online contribution following events where all materials are shared so no one can miss out by not attending.
- Risks are that people may go off and do their own things, especially those that do not attend the f2f events, your message become diluted, no results for the amount of investment / no benefits realised, time / cost / quality is compromised.
- A big concern would be around decision making. For some people, decisions get made face to face and this could lead to decisions being made without the full community behind it.
How do you maintain momentum after a face-to-face event for your online communities and how have engaged your community to help design and roll out events?