Part 3 - Coffee Conversations with Your Friends, Brittany and Teri

Brittany Sourjohn and Teri Candelaria are back for Part 3 of Coffee Conversations with Your Friends. This is the final portion of this Coffee Conversations segment but more to come in the new year! Today they are discussing engagement, best practices and their thoughts on if virtual is here to stay.

 About Brittany

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.

 About Teri

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).

What do you think helps keep attendees engaged during virtual events?

Brittany: My personal opinion is that a dynamic speaker, presenter or emcee is key. People will want to stay engaged when the speaker can hold their own without an “audience” in front of them. I like when a speaker realizes what is happening with the virtual audience or in the chat and acknowledges it.

Teri: I said it before, I’ll say it again – FUN! An event needs to have elements of fun. I love when speakers or moderators give shout outs to attendees. I like when speakers look at the videos of their attendees and react to their audience. This is what makes a virtual event feel live. When there’s interaction between the person with the mic and the people in the seats. 

What are your best practices or top tips and tricks for planning virtual events?

Brittany: I believe Will Curran from Endless Events said it best..."start with the why”.

Why am I doing this event and why will people want to tune in virtually? Not every event transitions seamlessly into a virtual event. We all need to be mindful of that when planning. Just because it was on the calendar, doesn’t mean you have to try and make it make sense in the virtual space.

You know, "square hole, round peg" or whatever that saying is LOL. 

Teri: Haha good point!

What is most helpful in my mind is to recruit a team and practice ahead of time. If you are not confident in creating breakout rooms or launching a poll, invite your colleagues to a Zoom “playtime” where you can practice your skills and get all the kinks out. It is super helpful to have colleagues who will join your playtimes and give you feedback to what they experience as “attendees.

Brittany: That is beyond helpful, Teri! We still do Zoom playtime and honestly, it makes me feel so much more prepared. Not that things can't still go sideways, but I feel more at ease if they do because we practiced. 

Also, I think it is important that we all keep "the basics" in mind, the things that we all have heard 100x: 

  • natural lighting is best
  • solid backgrounds show better on camera
  • solid color shirts are better than patterns

What do you miss most about planning in-person events?

Teri: The food. I love food and I love trying new menus.

Brittany: Haha I'm with you, but my favorite thing EVER are those ASU cookies!!! I can't get enough!

Teri: I also miss the energy of being around others. I especially miss the monthly MECA meetings. I love seeing my friends across campus and meeting new people.

Brittany: ASU Cookies aside, I actually miss seeing an event come to life…I think back many years ago to when I was working for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Advising Office and I was asked to be on Fall Welcome planning committee. This was the first time we were planning Fall Welcome internally and our small group met weekly for months to plan the details of the day. I remember being so excited and nervous the night before, I couldn't sleep! It was so great to see all the hard work pay off, the details come to life, the students enjoying themselves and their parents thanking us for making it a special day.  

Do you think “virtual” is here to stay?

Teri: Without a doubt virtual is here to stay. Even when we are able to gather in larger groups I think the expectation will be that nearly every event has a hybrid option. I have a friend who works outside the university, planning conferences for a national organization. She told me that her constituents’ employers are cutting back their funding for education-related travel. Now that the events industry has demonstrated it can operate virtually, I think attendees won’t want to spend all the dollars on travel and accommodations when they can join a conference from their couch or office. I think this poses a challenge for us as event planners – we will need to plan events that accommodate both in-person and virtual attendees, which will certainly have an added cost, while keeping our budgets low.

Brittany: Teri, I completely agree. I see most events being hybrid in the sense that we should include a virtual option for attendees even when we can safely host in-person events. People are busy, things come up and it would be nice for them to have the virtual option and not miss out completely if there is a scheduling conflict. From the attendee perspective, I like the flexibility as I would not be comfortable attending a large in-person event or conference at this time. I also think it allows us as event planners to expand our reach which is a positive.