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Brittany Sourjohn and Teri Candelaria are back for Part 2 of Coffee Conversations with Your Friends. Today they are discussing moderating events, tech issues and what “makes or breaks” virtual events.
The name Brittany Sourjohn might be new to you, but maybe Brittany Allcott rings a bell. Prior to joining the Office of University Events and Protocol, Brittany worked in the CLAS dean’s office and at Poly’s College of Technology and Innovation (2007-2013). She left ASU for seven years when she became the Events and Marketing Manager for the Ak-Chin Indian Community Tribal Government Office. In February of this year, she returned to her ASU roots and joined OUEP. In pre-COVID times, she loved to host game nights and college football Saturdays. She enjoys cooking, baking, and trying out new recipes. Check out her two sweet pups, Taz and Eddy on the #meca_pets Slack channel.
Teri is the friendly face that helps manage MECA. She has been part of the Office of University Events and Protocol since 2015. If you don’t know her from MECA, you may know her from ASU Open Door or Sparky’s Touchdown Tailgate. Prior to her role in OUEP, she was an academic adviser in one of the Fulton Schools of Engineering. She likes “mild” outdoor activities and taking lots of pictures of her dog, Dax (who can be seen on the #meca_pets Slack channel).
Have you moderated any virtual events? If so, what did you learn from the “speaker’s” point of view?
Teri: Brittany, I will let you answer this first since you have been moderating our University Events and Protocol webinar series since June.
Brittany: Oh yes, I was so nervous back in June, sitting in my home office and moderating the Marx Productions webinar. I have learned to always have a plan B and to know how I’m going to implement it. The plan B is useless if you aren’t prepared to act quickly.
Teri: Oh yes (laughing), good point! It’s one thing to have a plan B, it’s another thing to put it into action under pressure.
Brittany: As the moderator, have a plan ready, make sure support staff is aware of the plan and the speaker knows the plan, too. I was so nervous before the Marx Production webinar that I practiced by recording myself on Zoom over and over (probably 20 times) while reading my script. My husband thought I was crazy but honestly, it helped me out!
Teri: For me, I think speaking in front of a virtual audience is certainly different than speaking to a group physically in front of you. When I speak in person, I rely on the audience’s body language to gauge interest and understanding. If I make a joke, I want to see the audience smile or laugh. If I see confused looks on faces I know I need to rephrase what I said. During the virtual events that I moderate, not many of the participants have their video on so it is challenging to gauge how the event is going. Is the audience interested? Are they bored? Should we move on to the next topic? I think these aspects are more difficult to manage during a virtual event so I try to get attendees engaged and provide feedback by encouraging them to first, have their video on; second, use the reaction tools (thumbs up, applause); and third, utilize the chat feature or unmute themselves (when appropriate) to make comments or ask questions.
Brittany: I agree, it’s so different to be behind a computer screen and not have those reactions from the audience. Just last week when we presented to the ASU Alumni Chapter Leaders, you made a point to say something like, “if you feel comfortable turning on your camera, we’d love to see your face and interact with you.” And all the sudden, people started popping up on screen! It was great to see.
How do you plan for tech issues during a virtual event?
Brittany: Haha this is a great question… you don’t plan for tech issues, they just happen! Actually, let me say that again… you may have thought through every aspect of your virtual event but just like during an in-person event, something can go array. For example, we did an event and the live stream portion stopped working. We don’t know why, but it did. The only thing we could do is try to get it back up and running as quickly as possible. Try to learn from your mistakes – during your post-event debrief, ask if there was anything that could have been done differently so you know how to prevent it from happening in the future. In the case of our event, the server went down briefly which impacted the stream.
Teri, what are your thoughts here?
Teri: I say a prayer that nothing goes wrong! Ha! But in reality, I practice with my event team prior to the event – practice slides, music, introductions, transitions, etc. I also ask someone to be my backup, that way if I lose internet or if I freeze someone can step into my role and carry on with whatever I was managing.
Brittany: Absolutely! Practicing is so helpful and we still practice even after doing this for 6 months! In our last practice session, the video I was sharing froze and it helped me feel comfortable with what I was going to say to move on to the next part of the presentation. Luckily, during the actual presentation, my video worked but, you never know!
As an attendee of a virtual event, what things stand out to you or what would you consider “make or break” the event?
Teri: Oh man. So many things “break” the event for me. I think I’m fairly critical. A boring topic. An ill-prepared speaker. A pre-recorded video when the event was touted as “live.” Background noise coming from the speaker’s audio. A weird virtual background that makes the speaker look bald...
Brittany: Haha! That is precisely why I don’t like virtual backgrounds! I don’t want to look bald and I like to “talk with my hands” which I can’t do when I have those backgrounds turned on.
Teri: … Bad lighting. Bad camera angle. Looking up the speaker’s nose. I could go on… But honestly, a virtual event is going to lose me pretty fast if the planner tries to take an event that was in-person and deliver it exactly the same but in a virtual format. Events must be adjusted for the virtual platform. An event that was two hours in-person can’t be two hours virtually. The content, the flow, the engagement all need to be adjusted to accommodate virtual attendees. If not – I’m out.
Brittany: The first word that comes to my mind mind is… AUDIO!I know you touched on it, but for me it really is make or break! Poor audio, no audio with just mouths moving, audio that has an echo and audio that doesn’t work when shared… my stomach hurts just thinking about it. In my experience, bad audio leads to losing your audience quickly, they may be “logged in” but you certainly don’t have their attention. Also, three minutes without audio in a virtual event feels like 15. Don’t ask me how I know!
Stay tuned for more coffee conversations with your friends, Brittany and Teri. In the meantime, network with us!