The business of how we conduct business changed significantly in March with the shift to remote work for non-essential roles. Names like Zoom and GoToMeeting have now entered our daily vocabulary. During this significant pivot under social distancing orders, the virtual community became the only community many had to interact with outside of our homes, craving the socialization of the office water cooler or team huddle.
With this sizable shift, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by not only the technology, but with luring your audience to your corner of the internet. Some organizations in Edmond have taken this challenge head-on and are here to share their lessons learned from engaging their audience virtually.
Edmond’s chapter of Business Network International (BNI) hardly skipped a beat, citing their existing meeting format as the key to success, which allows members and professionals to network and refer business on a weekly basis.
Geoffrey Ludt of Ludt Payroll serves as the vice president of Edmond’s BNI Chapter, whose membership is structured to allow only one business representative from each professional specialty, in an effort to increase each member’s business deals.
Ludt says BNI has seen no dip in attendance or business passed during meetings since going virtual, in fact, some industries are even increasing.
“Recessions can be booms for these kinds of organizations,” said Ludt. “People are dislocated from their labor force and might be looking to start their own business.”
While networking is key right now, there’s definitely and right and wrong way to make it work.
BNI Edmond shared these lessons learned for success in participating in virtual networking events.
- Clean up your space. While virtual meetings can be seemingly less formal, the meeting attendees are getting a look into your personal environment. What does it say about who you are as a person and how you might conduct business?
- Change your cues. When you’re getting to know someone virtually, it may be harder to read them. If you’re a person who often gestures or shows their emotions through movement, make sure your words and facial expressions also match that same excitement.
- Clear distractions when you are able. While under other circumstances it might be considered rude or unprofessional to tend to your child or pet during a call, part of the universal response to this pandemic is that everyone is in the same boat and most of the time, are very understanding of distractions. Honestly, they might even be welcomed! As business owners, it can humanize you to your audience as they gain more personal access than ever before.
Other local membership organizations, like the Edmond Chamber of Commerce, chose to be a little more decisive on which content was shifted virtually. It saw the most robust interaction with their Edmond Young Professionals group, which typically meets for Leadership Latte once per month.
Brittany Willison, director of communications and marketing at the Edmond Chamber, said they strategically chose which events to move online to avoid member burnout with technology.
“Beginning in May, we were seeing that people were a little “Zoom-ed” out,” said Willison. “They were getting on calls, but not participating as much or turning video completely off. I think it’s a great option when needed, and I definitely see us using technology more, but I don’t think it will ever permanently replace face-to-face meetings.”
The Chamber, under the currently gathering limitations, is putting caps during in-person events and will make a real-time, virtual option available for some events.
As the Chamber can testify, all events are not created equal and are not best suited for the online space.
They share some lessons learned from their virtual offerings:
- Test the technology. Schedule a time with your hosts or panelists to test the platform and run a mock presentation so there are no surprises. Prepare more content than you think you’d typically need so the conversation can flow if there are natural pauses in the interaction between the attendees and the hosts.
- Is it worthwhile? In an online event, it typically isn’t enough to hold an audience’s attention with just speaking alone. Polls or open-ended questions throughout the presentation can help engage participation.
- Promote among your audience. Knowing your audience is key to understanding how you can provide value to them virtually. This means knowing where your audience prefers to hear information and how, emphasizing an incentive for attending, and then following up with attendees after the event.
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About Susan Hoover
By day, Susan Hoover is a bridgebuilder for students at Oklahoma Christian University, her alma mater, overseeing the Calling and Career Office: Day Six. In this role, Susan walks alongside prospective students, current students and alumni to help them discover their gifts, launch a career, and give them the tools to turn that dream into a reality. By night, she wrangles a toddler, watches too much tv, and tackles the occasional DIY project.
Previously, Susan worked in communications for a statewide nonprofit, a PR agency with cross-country clientele, and a Level I trauma hospital. After spending some time in the Dallas area, Susan and her native Edmondite husband, Taylor, returned to Edmond with their daughter, Avery. Though a native Kansan, Edmond has always felt like home.