More and more of us find ourselves working remotely and connecting online rather than (or in addition to) face-to-face. Our colleagues at the IBP Network share how they successfully convened a regional virtual meeting when the COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen an increased emphasis on virtual meetings. Whether due to efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, the desire to engage a global audience, or more recently, finding ourselves homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings are becoming more common. We’ve compiled our most practical tips for planning a successful virtual meeting or webinar.
Make sure meeting organizers and participants are clear on the objectives of the meeting. Different goals and objectives will require different platforms and tools.
There are many virtual meeting applications available with varying functionalities. Some work better for more complex needs and others might work better for engaging participants from a wider range of countries. Availability in multiple countries, cost, and ability for multiple hosts should be considered. Most have similar basic features, so just choose one that works for you.
One of the hard things about virtual meetings is engaging participants in real time and keeping them engaged after the meeting. Ensure that your presenters represent diverse audiences and allow enough time for questions and discussion. Remember, if you must cancel an in-person meeting, a virtual option is a great way to keep the momentum going and continue the conversation with your participants!
As with in-person meetings, practicing a presentation can make a big difference. And, as always, even with lots of practice, problems will arise, so make sure to be as prepared as possible.
It is tempting to get caught up in the technology and try many features at once (livestreaming, polling, sharing screens, playing videos, etc.). However, keeping the format simple will avoid technical issues and be easier for participants to follow. Remember, your participants are there for the content and the information, not the technology. Invite no more than 4-5 presenters per webinar, including the moderator/facilitator.
Finally, remember to stay positive and have fun! While virtual meetings may not fully replace in-person, face-to-face interactions, they can still be a great way to learn and exchange ideas in an interactive and informative way. A well-run webinar is a great opportunity to connect, engage, and share knowledge!
In March 2020, we made the difficult decision to postpone our in-person Regional Partner Meeting to be held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire due to concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak. Key regional partners had worked with us for months in advance to develop sessions and presentations, and there was a lot of excitement about the meeting. Rather than cancelling entirely and leaving our partners behind, we hosted an interactive webinar series to keep the momentum going. This is how we put our tips into action.
The objective of the interactive webinar series was to reinforce regional partnerships and build consensus to expand family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) priorities beyond 2020. We used GoToWebinar, which we had used previously with partners in West Africa, so we knew it worked well and was relatively simple to use. We also made sure all organizers and panelists were familiar with the software by conducting a dry run and asking them to join ahead of the scheduled start time.
The series included preformed panel presentations where presenters shared field-based experiences from implementing FP/RH programs. Each webinar had a clear topic with 4-5 panelists. The panelists represented a range of speakers from various global organizations, regional networks, and local NGO or CSOs from multiple countries in the region. Each panelist responded to questions and facilitated discussions to build consensus on collaborative activities in the region (including the need for another WAHO Good Practice Forum) with partners from West African Health Organization (WAHO), Ouagadougou Partnership (OP), and other stakeholders.
After the webinar series, we shared the presentations with the wider IBP community, so others could benefit from the sessions. A week after the webinars, we had over 150 views from those who couldn’t participate in the live event. This allowed participants to connect with presenters as needed and sparked interest from potential new member organizations who requested to be added to the IBP global community of practice.
Inevitably, we faced some technology and connection challenges including unstable internet connections of presenters leading to some delays. However, due to advance preparation and quick thinking, we avoided any interruptions as colleagues stepped in to present or moderate as needed.
View the interactive webinar series at the WHO/HRP Media Channel.