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Tips for producing MULTI-DAY virtual events & workshops | Roger Courville, CSP + Rob McArthur

It’s one thing to manage the stage for a 1-hour webinar, but what about a MULTI-DAY seminar or conference that moves online?

The challenges are many, but the good news is that adapting multi-day seminars, conferences, and workshops for online delivery isn't's just different.

In this episode of #ThoughtLeaderConversations, V2's Head of Strategy Roger Courville, CSP joined by Rob McArthur, Founder of to bubble up many decades of wisdom around various topics including:

  • How do producers and live event moderators help attendees be successful?

  • How active or passive should a virtual event moderator be?

  • What are tips for being an active moderator?

  • How event objectives guide technical production planning

  • How do you approach preparing a group of presenters?

  • How do producers and live event moderators help ATTENDEES?

  • How dedicated event support creates value for all involved

  • What the live event producer should NOT be doing

  • What are best practices for a "run of show"

  • Tips and tricks with regard to use of breakout rooms a ton of stories and illustrations. Enjoy!


Series: #ThoughtLeaderConversations   Sponsor: V2, LLC, expert virtual and hybrid event production,   Host: Roger Courville, CSP,   


Unedited transcript

[00:00:00] Roger Courville, CSP: It's one thing to manage the stage for a one hour webinar, but what about a three-day seminar or workshop or conference?

Hello and welcome to Multi Day Virtual Workshops Tips for Producers. My name is Roger Courville and welcome to another episode of Thought Leader Conversations, sponsored by the crew here at Virtual Venues, where you can give yourself a promotion, instantly scaling your virtual and hybrid event production you can nail your own goals and your strategy and focus on the important things for you. But we're not here to talk about me or us per se, because

I've got with me a fellow industry old timer, Rob McArthur, and he and I go way, way back, Rob, uh, you may recall from previous times that we've chatted, Rob was in the physical events and trade show business before going virtual in 2004, he joined.

And what, I forget how early he was like employee number three or something like that at this company that I co founded when we left Microsoft called Corvent and went from startup to exit and he went on to manage the teams at Intercal, which is now, or was then Intrado and then Notified went on to manage one of the largest virtual event producer teams in the world.

Rob, welcome. And hey, before we get into this, any place you'd like to fill in some gaps? Tell me a little more about you, who you are and what you do. Yeah,

[00:01:24] Rob McArthur: no, you kind of, you kind of saved me from, uh, from a life at Microsoft. No disrespect to Microsoft, but I know that, uh, our paths didn't cross until after you left the Microsoft world.

And then you kind of reached in generously and pulled me out of that into the Corbett world. So it definitely set me on a trajectory. So I have always appreciated that.

[00:01:46] Roger Courville, CSP: So. What we're here to talk about today, you and I both work with clients who have moved in person three day seminars like Friday, Saturday, Sunday, online, right?

That's a full 24 hours of classes and interactions and all kinds of crazy. And that's, of course, a whole lot different than doing webinars for 45 minutes plus a little Q and a. So my question to you, maybe to kick things off. What's the first thing that comes to mind if you had someone wondering what it takes to pull off moving a three day workshop or seminar online?

[00:02:27] Rob McArthur: Yeah, it's, um, it's interesting. Let me back up just a second. So when, um, when COVID hit, everybody moved online. And so I think the prevailing wisdom was don't break anything. Just get the content as best you can out to the virtual audience. We have to continue our business. Um, and so when the three day, the, the 24 hours and three days, the 20, I think that we did one for 30 hours over three and a half days, at first it was triage and then as COVID started to settle down and things began to reopen, we really had to stop and think like, okay, people are used to this now.

This has been this part of our, um, Uh, event economy has now been fully developed. People are understanding the, the efficiencies from a cost perspective and from a logistics perspective to do things online. So how can we really build, uh, an approach that, um, That, that, that will be sustainable. That will still give both the presenters, the sponsoring companies, and most importantly, the attendees, the value that everybody deserves.

So, Roger, if you ask me where to start, um, I think it has to start at what the client is trying to accomplish. This is the most important thing. So a client comes to, comes to us, comes to me and says, Hey, We've got a message. We've got to get out. Um, and we think it's going to take this long and it's like timeout.

What's the result? What's the end result? Is it, is it a certification process? Is it a, um, a 10 on your NPS score? Is it positive survey comments? What, what is it that, what, what is it that would be successful for you at the end of the program and then work backwards from there? And then there's a whole bunch of work that you have to do and have to begin at that point.

That would be my, that'd be my very short answer.

[00:04:27] Roger Courville, CSP: No, I love, I love where you started with that though, because you just made a great point with regard to the context of how we even ended up here, right? I mean, we're staring down 2024 and, you know, it wasn't that long ago and actually we still run into it, but it wasn't that long ago when people were like, What?

Three day seminar online? No way, right? No way. And it just, it wasn't even given a second thought. Now, I mean, it was a lot of years ago. I remember doing like a five day event for IBM. This is actually when we were still at Microsoft. And this is 20 years ago. We were doing, did a five day event online. And to be fair, that was pretty awful.

But that was a long time. It was a long time ago. And you make a great point. And then COVID hits and people, whether they're running conferences or it is like seminar companies or educational companies going, Hey, we do these continuing medical education programs and we bring doctors to Boston or San Francisco for three days and do blah, blah, blah.

They literally were out of business overnight if they didn't figure out how to move this kind of stuff online. Oddly enough, some of them have really succeeded and I've seen more than one who have come back and went, Oh, you know what? Our clients actually kind of like this because they get to go home and sleep in their own bed and they can take their dog for a walk and, you know, at lunch breaks and, and, um, I'm not saying it's the.

Answer, the only answer, but I've seen massive transformation with regard to some people who thought no effing way

[00:06:14] Rob McArthur: to really giving it some consideration. I mean, there's no catering bill. I mean, there can be, you can actually bring in some lunch for your virtual audience. That's a whole thing, but we probably won't get into that level of detail today, but, but there's no catering bill.

There's no pipe and drape. There's no, uh, a V company. There's no facility to rent. There's, there's some huge. advantages, um, the most of which being it's easier for your presenters and easier for your attendees to attend online, but it puts a lot of responsibility on the host company and, and people that do the work that we do, Roger, because we have to make good on.

the promises of, of people being able to network, communicate, um, I'll use your word, uh, to maintain that connectedness that you get when you're face to face and how do we do that? How do we bring in those human elements to something that is, um, very in, is it, it's not inhuman, but it's, it's, um, uh, it's like, It can

[00:07:09] Roger Courville, CSP: be.

Well, you know, it can be, right? I mean, I have also, I've often said, talk with, not at. Right. And that was my part of my teaching virtual presenters, how to present and, and it's useful, I think, for us to remember that we're not connecting to, we're connecting through and, and it's a no brainer with the technology we grew up with, like talking on the telephone.

And yet somehow we move into, you know, zoom and And now everything we know about human connectedness and conversation and connecting, uh, has just gone out the door. Um, I love what you just said. Pipe and drape. I haven't heard that in quite a while, but then a while, it's been a while since I've been at a company that did a, an in person trade show.

[00:07:53] Rob McArthur: Roger, let me, let me, let me ask you a question. So, uh, cause you just brought it up and I, and I think it's, I think it's critical. Like how, how do you prepare, how do you prepare a group of presenters? Hopefully it's not just one presenter over three days. Hopefully it's a team of people that are going to collaborate and communicate amongst themselves and deliver the content over that long a period of time.

But what are, what are some things that, that you. Yeah. Let's kind of talk to your clients about, uh, from a, from a presentation perspective.

[00:08:24] Roger Courville, CSP: You just heard my language about connecting through versus connecting to, right? Talking with instead of talking at. So if that for me is the starting place. Because that's what we want in any conference, even in person, right? I mean, there, I can't tell you the last time I spoke at a conference, they said, Hey, it's just okay.

If you just step up, stand up and be a talking head. No, they want even big keynotes in person to be interactive and, and, and, and an experience. So to me, if the basic premise is talking with, not at. And how are we going to connect the first thing that I think we have to prepare presenters to do is to say, how is their platform, whatever you happen to be using zoom or Webex or whatever, how do you set that up so that it is a dashboard so that at a glance, and I literally call them at a glance tools so that at a glance, a presenter can see the proxy of what's going on in the audience.

Sometimes there's too much reliance on cameras, right? We can, you and I can have a camera. We can have 15 people on camera. We can have a whole bunch more than that on camera. But the minute I then go to share my desktop, now, all of a sudden my view changes and maybe I get this other little view and presenters go, Oh no.

And so they start talking at, instead of talking with, because what we haven't, what they haven't done is prepared this, prepared themselves by saying, ah, Once I move into that modality, how do I see chat? Do I need to see cameras or is there another way to do that? Here's one example, right? I mean, the default that I hear from presenters is, Hey, give me a show of hands, right?

And some, somehow they're trying to put their view. They're, they're conferencing their software view into something where they can see if people actually physically raised their hands, which still has a limit of 25 or 50 cameras at the max, right? Depending on what you're doing, as opposed to going, Ah, I've got this other little tool that tells me that.

83 of the 119 people here raised their hand. That is a whole lot more useful if you think about using your tools as a, as a, as a dashboard, like, like the dashboard in your car. And so I think for me, one of them is saying. What do you do? What do you do when you're in person? How do you connect and interact?

What do you do if there's a spontaneous question that someone shouts from the middle of the room? Where is the, where are those interactions formal versus informal? Formal meaning, I know when I get to this place in the program, I've planned to do this type of interaction, ask for a show of hands, pass out a handout, or, you know, turn to your neighbor and, and, and tell him a funny joke or something, right?

That's the formal. Informal is, stuff that just happens. And honestly, that's where the magic happens, right? When peer to peer connection happens and when we have a chance to, to, to facilitate that, and it's not hard online, but it is different and you got to take time to think through that. So, um, To me, when I work with a client that has multiple presenters, I usually ask for permission to do that on a one on one basis so that I can assess where they're at because the number one thing that people hate, that's why people hate public speaking, let alone doing it online.

Nobody wants to look stupid, right? And. Literally, this happened last weekend, somebody who I know, because I've worked with her many times, knows cold how to just move into sharing her screen, was using an extra monitor and PowerPoint was coming up with, you know, the presenter view instead of the full screen view and She knows it cold.

She's done it a thousand times. And for some reason it was coming up. And what happens when that kind of thing happens is your adrenaline starts pumping, your voice gets shallow, you forget stuff that you thought you knew really well.

[00:12:37] Rob McArthur: And

[00:12:38] Roger Courville, CSP: so I think working with each individual presenter and understanding where they're at, where they're comfortable, what their fears are and saying, how do I help you be better than you are?

Yeah. I'm here. I got your back,

[00:12:54] Rob McArthur: you know, Roger, just to, just to pick up on that point, um, big glitches happen, right? Things, things go wrong. A routers in Tallahassee, Florida go down and there's really nothing you can do about that, but it's how the presenters react to those things, whether it's a screen share or a garbled audio or whatever it might be, can either, I got your back.

Be a real human moment that can kind of propel the conference forward, or it can be a moment of fatigue. And what I mean by fatigue is that if if your presenter is poorly lit, or is it on a bad camera, or it's hard to hear them, or they react to issues that come up, real or perceived issues, if they react incorrectly or poorly to them, it causes the attendee to be tired.

They've got to spend. Calories going like, Oh, what's wrong here? Is it my audio? Is it this? Uh, and it's just harder to hear. So, so in when those little glitches happen, it can be a real human moment. Or it can be a moment of fatigue. And I think some one on one coaching and some training and some, just some time and attention to your presentation team can do a lot for your conference where it might be something that's just like, Oh, well they've been on zoom before.

So we're just going to run for three days now that that's common. Um, but taking a little, you know what I mean? Taking a little extra time. Nailed it. Yes. Yeah. So. Cause what one, uh, one thing is

[00:14:17] Roger Courville, CSP: not like the other. Well, I mean, attendees have that same thing too, right? They show up going, Oh, this is just like zoom.

I've been on lots of zooms or go to, or pick your platform, right? Oh, I've done this a thousand times and they, but they, what they've never really experienced is what it means to go into a breakout and to use maybe some tools of interaction or collaboration. Um, are you asking them to use a whiteboard or to mute and unmute or to handle their video in a different way?

Or, you know, and. And it's amazing how many of those little things sometimes even trip up attendees. So let's talk for a second about, not about how do we support the event, the company putting on the event. Let's talk about supporting that end attendee to help them have a great experience. How do producers, well, I'll just ask you this, how do producers and live event moderators help attendees?

[00:15:16] Rob McArthur: Yeah. Um, it's, it's great. And, and, and often overlooked that a lot, a lot of, I just speak from like graying hair, lots of years of experience of producing events and the attendees so often overlooked. It's, it's, it's a focus on, okay, let's get the registration sign up. Okay. What, what is the messaging out to the attendee?

Okay. Okay. Then we've got our block of people. Now we can just write our runner show and, and, uh, hopefully practice a little bit and then jump on and we're good to go. Um, the attendee needs to be brought along with that process too. And I think, I think one of the things that that is challenging is that sense of community and a lot of what a lot of Roger, what you talk about is building.

We talked about a little bit a minute ago about building that, that, that connectedness. I just, I just love that term of yours. Um, and that can start before the event. Familiarize your attendees with, um, with what the platform is. And even if they've done a thousand of them, you can, you can spend a little bit of time.

It can be asynchronous, it can be live, whatever, whatever you have the time or the, the, uh, The ability to do is get them familiar with what their experience is going to be ahead of the conference. And then once you get them to the conference, um, it starts in the waiting room and, and you go through, um. a live conference, right?

You go through some conversation, some icebreakers, um, break up the monotony with, with different things for them to do. And that can be different things for them to look at, different things for them to type, different things for them to listen to, whether it's sound effects or music or whatever the case may be.

But give, give your, give your attendees a fighting chance by creating a real dynamic, um, Uh, initial experience just as they get into the meeting. Um, and you'll, you'll see that come through with, with their level of satisfaction. Um, I don't know, just my initial thoughts, thoughts there, Roger. Let me, let me get, let me have the same question right back to you.

[00:17:29] Roger Courville, CSP: You know, well, here's some historical context. I remember eons back and you know, we were acquired by place where in the place where it was acquired by Microsoft. And so we're the virtual event production team at Microsoft, right? And I'm and. I remember, I remember the day or the essentially the week Microsoft decided that frontline or first touch event support didn't make any sense, right?

Oh, that's just, that's too expensive to provide, right? Meaning Rob's invited to event. For some reason, Rob's having trouble with the whatever. And therefore, and Rob, the phone number that Rob calls to say as a, as an event attendee, the phone number that Rob calls. is, was, would come directly to a team that was part of our team that knew exactly, here are the events that we're producing, here are the details needed for each and every event, and is it a logistical issue, is it a technical issue, is it a Rob just doesn't know how to use a computer issue, whatever that, right, that was where we were at, and then they went like, no, no, we just need everybody to call the regular tech support call number.

And I just remember a whole division of people who's who were crestfallen because they're like, no, that's not how we take care of people in events, right? This isn't just a piece of software. And one of the things that we know from new back then, and it's still true today, is that most attendee challenges aren't a tech support issue, not, not in a direct, here's a technical problem.

issue. Most of the time it's, it's pretty solvable. You know what, most of the time it's pretty solvable. If you just reinstall the software or restart

[00:19:21] Rob McArthur: your computer,

[00:19:23] Roger Courville, CSP: you're just done. You know, I mean, I've had people and I'm talking literally this year, 2023 here, we're, as we record this, it's November. Uh, I've had people this year who I give out my personal number and personal contact info when, with one of the clients that I support with these three day things.

So they can contact me directly. Okay. And somebody's like, calls me and goes, uh, I can still hear, but zoom just disappeared. What, what zoom just disappeared? Well, I can still hear. Okay. So zoom is still connected. What, what had happened is they had clicked on a browser and a browser window was on top of their zoom player.

And I didn't even realize at the most basic level what it might mean to have two applications open on their, on their computer. And this person was a doctor, right? So not stupid, different realm of experience and where their day to day, right? So I think it's really useful when we think about how to, to answer that question.

How do we help attendees be successful? One is if you're the company producing the event, is to think through what your commitment is to, because you know, more support versus less support is more expensive versus less expensive. And is the company you're working with have you know, do you have you?

Dedicated event support would be one thing. Um, then at the next level is, well then during the live event, what is the nature of how we, as the backstage people troubleshoot or participate or, or, or see how, you know, do we, do we notice somebody having an issue? and actively or proactively pursue them. For instance, um, and I'll use zoom as an example because it literally happened to me this last weekend, somebody's camera was on, but it in zoom, it showed the little X that showed that it recognized that they had a camera, but it wasn't connecting.

Meaning the camera was probably in use by another application or something. And. What do you do? Ah, I see. I could send this person a private chat going. Hey, here's what I see is going on for you. And here's what you can do about it. We got a break coming up in 10 minutes when you can like restart your computer and just being proactive like that was huge.

Sometimes depending on the platform you as the producer can tell if tell what somebody's bandwidth. is like, and if somebody's really struggling with bandwidth, um, helping them through that. And of course, the same has to do with audio or you see them routinely exiting and coming back in. Oftentimes they're disconnecting, not because they're disconnecting, but because they're getting disconnected because they're on a, you know, they're on a really crappy Uh, internet connection or something.

I guess the question then is how can we help be help them be successful. The first to me is, are you aware? Are you proactive? And to me, uh, if you're an end client thinking about how to produce or whether or not to work with somebody like Rob's company or V2. Are you willing to make an investment in your attendees having a great experience?

Because the problem isn't the 98 percent of them that all had a great experience just by logging in. The problem is you've got another few percent who can't find their browser or who just are on a crummy internet connection and there's nothing they can do about it. or they don't know what they can do about it and are we going to help them have a great

[00:23:17] Rob McArthur: experience.

[00:23:18] Roger Courville, CSP: And, um, it's amazing how much you can do for people. It doesn't have to be rocket

[00:23:23] Rob McArthur: science. And a huge differentiator, just doing the things that you just talked about there. If you can, an attendee might not, or a presenter, I'm going to switch over to the presenter group. They might not be aware that their audio is garbled.

They might not know. And so having somebody that can very, very efficiently troubleshoot without interrupting the flow of the conference can be. A huge difference maker in the success of a

[00:23:52] Roger Courville, CSP: program. Well, and I'll, I'll add this. It's wrong to assume that you solve that problem. The very first, the early first part of the conference, and it's all, it's all done and figured out.

We'll use one example that you and I are both familiar with working with a client who does three day. continuing medical education programs, right? So these doctors are showing up. They're not dumb. In fact, they're radically smart. Right? But they have differing levels of experience and, depending on where they're joining from, they have all of these things, issues that we were just talking about.

And, then, when we, that happens on Friday, And then on Saturday morning, what happens? Oh, most of the time they go from joining from the office to joining from home. And sometimes we're repeating that same, same kind of thing. And they're like, Oh, you know, it works okay when we stream Netflix, not quite. I don't have any idea why it's taken so dang long to use, do the zoom breakout.

And that's when you can be part of their, their guiding their experience.

[00:24:53] Rob McArthur: Totally. And, and, and the, the benefit to them is, is, is one problems can get fixed. I'm gonna do a little plug here, Roger, but they can just focus on delivering a great event and consuming a great event. Um, a good event producer can handle, um, I'm gonna steal another one of your lines, can get the technology out of the way so that the learning can happen.

And, um. And I think it's a really valuable and people what I've what I've found is that that people that. use production. I'm going to, I'm going to stop the shameless plug in just a second. People that

[00:25:26] Roger Courville, CSP: use production tend

[00:25:27] Rob McArthur: to reuse production. Um, that they see, they see that value. Um, and it can, it can be really helpful if, again, going back to the very first thing that I said, if your mission is to have a great outcome, you know, and we've established that, then, then these little things can either be human moments or they can be tragic moments for your event to be a little dramatic there.

Roger, did I cut you off? Go for it. Okay. All right. So,

We just were talking about the technical role of an event producer. Um, I kind of want to put you on the spot to talk about the dynamic role of an event producer, that extra voice that comes in, um, that can be something different than the sort of the rote presentations of the, the four or five people, hopefully a team of four or five, if you're talking about a three day conference.

Um, I think, I think any less than that, it's a little abusive on your presenters, but that's another, another opinion there. But, but what's the, Thank you. How can the, how can event producer be part of the team? What are some things that you've seen, uh, work where, where the producers and active

[00:26:40] Roger Courville, CSP: Well, I'm going to ask you the same question here momentarily, uh, particularly since I know we've, we've often worked together, worked together on complex programs, and we've worked with, uh, clients that do similar kinds of, you know, like

[00:26:54] Rob McArthur: three day, long thing, long, complex

[00:26:57] Roger Courville, CSP: programs. To me, if there

[00:26:59] Rob McArthur: is, is a. a

[00:27:03] Roger Courville, CSP: beginning for answering the question of how active is

[00:27:08] Rob McArthur: that moderator, producer, backstage person.

[00:27:12] Roger Courville, CSP: The beginning is trust. The great events that happen in the world of learning and, uh, conferences are not broadly publicly seen. So the paradigm that people show up with Is the typical crappy webinar. Hello and welcome to today's webinar. And if you have any, we're going to do Q& A at the end. And, uh, uh, and if you answer, ask a question in the middle, we're going to ignore you for 45 minutes.

And, uh, Thank you for attending. Right. Shoot me. Shoot me. Shoot me. So, here's the thing. We do stuff online that is, suffers from Uncle Joe Syndrome, right? Which is... That's what I call it. Uncle Joe knows how to play golf. I don't know how to play golf. I learned to golf with Uncle Joe, but what I don't realize is Uncle Joe is a hack.

So I learned to hack too. And so we see this perpetuation of really crummy stuff in virtual events that comes from seeing lots of really crappy webinars that talk at you for 45 minutes and do things that we would never do in an in person thing. in an in person event, right? I mean, if you showed up to an in person event and they said, Oh, we're going to run this video for 45 minutes, and then we'll take your questions at the end, you'd think you got ripped off.

Why, why do we do that online? Well, I don't know, but that's another thing. So, active versus passive participation on the part of the MC or the virtual, the moderator or producer, whatever language you want to use, begins with understanding what that person's role is, which is to make the presenter better than they are.

Right? It's to keep the momentum going. Um, here's one example. If you run a poll, how long do you keep a poll up? For me, I never want to sit around and wait for that last vote to come in. I call it, I think about it like microwave popcorn. If you wait till the last piece of popcorn is popped, everything else is

[00:29:16] Rob McArthur: burnt, right?

[00:29:18] Roger Courville, CSP: It's the microwave popcorn principle. So you're running a poll and it's, it's, it's, it's running and, and two things are always true. One, for the presenter, that amount of time that passes feels really long, right? So do you step in and go, yep. All right. Little thinking going on. A couple more seconds. All right, here we go.

Okay, here are your results and then you share out the results, right? So you can kind of guide the process Filling in what you know is going on in the hearts and minds of both the presenting team But also then the attendees and you're given just give them a verbal cue All right If you're thinking about which vote to play put in you better put it in now, right?

The second is I wait I usually close them up at about 80% So there's one example, right? So whether it's how things get kicked off in the beginning, it's how things transition into or out of a breakout room, how you get into or out of a poll, how you transition between presenters, how you manage breaks and DJing music, whatever that kind of thing is, to me, the, at the end of the day, The presenters should go, Ah, you just made my life easier and I look better because of what you do, right?

So if you are ever interjecting in a way that gets in the way The MC is not the star of the show. The presenter is the star of the show. So the MC or the moderator should never be the center of attention. They should only be moving things forward. It's probably a long winded way of putting that, but I have a few opinions.

[00:31:01] Rob McArthur: Yeah. No, that, that's great. Um, I concur, especially about the polls. The silence is deadly unless it's planned and specifically stated by the presenter that we're going to be quiet for a minute and then give me a ding when it's over. So I know, but if, if I'm an attendee and it's go, if things go silent, automatically start thinking that something's wrong, that's going to create fatigue.

So, uh, yeah, and I totally agree guys, just a little, little, I'm going to, you said Uncle Joe, I'm going to give you a little Uncle Rob. Polling is just to get a flavor of where your attendees are right then. If you really need to learn something from them, that's a survey. Talk about that probably in another, another podcast, but, but, but the, the, when Roger said roll up to 80%, that that's, you're going to get the information that you need.

Yeah. for, for a well thought out poll question, uh, at that level, you're going to get a flavor of where the audience is and then you, then your presenters can work off that. Um, I think that was great. Um, yeah, Roger, uh, uh, Roger taught me early on that, um, try and mimic the in person event. with the virtual events.

What, what happens at the beginning of a program? Um, you know, we've all been on the conference, like Roger just mocked, you know, like, Hi, my name is Rob. I'll be your event producer today. You know, don't exit the meeting, blah, blah, blah, blah, and then turn it over to the presenter. Um, the way we start these conferences now is, yeah.

Um, it's, we start to build a community right from the beginning. We're communicating with people in the, in the pre conference we're, we're asking them questions. Hey, where are you from? What, why are you here? What's your favorite color? You know, whatever. Um, we're asking them for, for input on music. There's a few things that you want to bring in.

You can be creative. A good MC will be creative with the music. Like if you go through something that's really. Really tough subject matter or a long subject matter. You want to bring in some energy with the music, but you can also help the attendees feel connected by taking their requests. And so you kind of start to build that right at the beginning of the meeting.

And I don't even in a long conference. I don't I don't really open the meeting. The presenters, like Roger said, the star of the meeting, um, they, they should get that. They should open and close the program. Uh, that's what the attendees are there, but I'll come in in that opening sequence and give the attendees like some visuals, like here I am.

I'm here. Here's my role. And, you know, some fun stuff and some technical stuff, and then turn it right back over to the stars of the program, um, throughout the event. Yeah. Um, I'll often just pop onto the audio if there's a spot, again, I don't want to take the spotlight away from the presenter. Um, but I'll come in if there's a lull, if there's a little spot and say, Hey guys, this is what we're going to do now and I think we're going with Jenny.

And that can help to sort of cover maybe a little bit of glitch in the, in the run of show or cover maybe a little bit of a technical issue. You can bring some personality and another sort of layer to the event. Yeah.

[00:34:11] Roger Courville, CSP: And you know, one of the things that I know you've seen and I've seen, but I know a lot of potential people listening to this may not have seen because, because you don't sit on lots and lots, hundreds or thousands of events with lots of different clients.

One of the things that we've seen is how, how people meaning at end attendees transform over the course of that time when they realize two things. One, You're there to help them. And two, that, that this isn't going to be a passive stare at a screen while somebody info barfs over PowerPoint kind of experience, right?

And I, you know, I, I actually have people thank me as the producer at the end or ask me for my Spotify playlist or, you know, the, the, the tunes that we played during the breaks or whatever. And. They realize that you're part of the show, even though you're not one of the presenters or faculty, you're the team members.

And to me, the point isn't about me getting the recognition. It's about them realizing that you just put in a whole lot of work to do something very different. then just talk over PowerPoint and they've been part of an experience that would not be true if your virtual communication was the equivalent of a YouTube video.

We don't have an experience with a YouTube video like that.

[00:35:50] Rob McArthur: Right. And I think you hit it right on the head. It's creating an experience, not, not, um, producing an event. It's creating an experience. And it's both the attendees, the sponsoring companies, and the presenters, presenters themselves, you know, um, that's, that's what we want at the end of the day.

That's what the attendees really paying for. That's what the attendee or. Paying in money or paying in their time. Um, and, and that's what they're going to remember. They're going to remember, um, a, a, a, a,

[00:36:21] Roger Courville, CSP: a free

[00:36:21] Rob McArthur: flowing. Well, you want this stuff pretty planned out. Let me just say that, but, but you want to be able to kind of free flow and be human within a very detailed plan.

Is that a fair way to say that Roger? If we could just jump into the, the run of show end of things.

[00:36:38] Roger Courville, CSP: Yeah. So Rob, let's talk about run of show and, uh, some people might think of it as, as an agenda, but since we're here talking about longer programs, like a three day workshop, that's entirely online with interactions and breakouts and all that kind of stuff, let's talk about planning in advance with the run of show.

What are the best practices for the run of show for a virtual event or workshop? Yeah,

[00:37:05] Rob McArthur: I'd say my. Yeah, it's a tough one and it's a very, very important one. Um, I've done events without a run of show and it's not so great. And then I've done events on the other side of the spectrum where every moment is planned and there's people with, I could just, they're virtual, right?

But I see them. They got the clipboard and the stopwatch and you can, you can over plan. You can make the, the event very dry and very, um,

I think the best practices are, um, take plenty of time with the run of show, right? Your subject matter experts, they know their content. Hopefully they have the materials, right? We, there's a whole bunch of talk about our materials. It's probably another, another, uh, podcast all by itself. Um, they. Then they're subject matter experts.

Um, your producer knows the technology. So how do you, how do you bring those two together? And that's what the detail during the show. And, um, you, you want every single piece planned out, but you want some room in there for people to be able to kind of freestyle a little bit. And what we'll Commonly do, especially on a long format program, a two day, a three day program, is we'll use the buffer of all the breaks.

So we might, we might instead of a 10 minute schedule break, that might turn into eight minutes if somebody freestyled a little bit too long, because that's where the content was going. That's where the questions were rich. And so, Okay. You want it to be detailed and planned out, but flexible, and it's a little bit of a challenge and it takes a little bit of practice to do that.

Um, but as we, as we work with clients more and more, um, there are, there are clients that are, that are getting very, very good at, at, at detailed, but flexible runs a show.

[00:39:02] Roger Courville, CSP: Yeah, well, here's a, here's maybe a. A simplified example that will illustrate what I think, uh, what the point that you just made, if you're a, if you're a speaker or a trainer and you are one person and you're going to do a breakout and you know, you're going to talk for 45 or 50 minutes, you know, you need to get people from point A to point B and you, let's say you go in and you're going to talk about the seven ways to

[00:39:31] Rob McArthur: make your lawn

[00:39:32] Roger Courville, CSP: greener, Right.

So you've got seven points in your presentation that you're going to cover plus whatever, however, you're going to handle Q and a, um, if you're really awesome in a live training environment, you're probably not saving all the Q and a you're talking at people and saving all the Q and a up for the end.

What you do is you facilitate along the way, but what is the skill in facilitation? You've got to, you know, you still got to get from point a to point B, you know what your time limit is. And you know, you got your seven points for how to make your lawn greener. Right. And you have to develop the skill of knowing when to give a little, when to take a little, when to let somebody run, when to maybe even cut somebody off when they're talking too much.

You know, you've got the soft skill as the, as the guide to, to, to, to make that happen. Well, in like, um, you know, some of the three day events that you and I do for in the, in the continuing medical education space, there One of their faculty has, they deem a course master, and that person owns that responsibility over the course of the three days.

So it's both, what does this person do within their segment, and they've got a, you know, a 75 minute segment that's going to have a certain amount of teaching and breakouts and role plays and dialogue and interaction, and then you take a break and you do the next segment or whatever, but somebody at the course master level Also has that same kind of facilitation.

We got to get people from point A to point B and we know what pieces we got to get in, in the middle there. Now, the question is, how do we, how do we work with that? And sometimes the presenter goes too long because they get, they get excited and they start talking about stuff they know and love and next thing, you know, their 40 minute segment turned into 50 minutes and now you've got to make up that 10 minutes somewhere that's just part of the game.

Right? Yeah. Start on time. End on time. Everything in the middle. You got a little flexibility, but to your point and all of this being about the run of show, you need to understand what, what the elements are and at least have an, a guesstimate of what the impact of that's going to be. Right. A poll could be done in 20 seconds or a poll could have some significant discussion after that and be four minutes.

So what's your plan? You don't just put in poll and depending on the nature of what how you're doing it, you might. Put in that level so that you understand what your, what your expectation is, uh, that poll, we're going to have a significant amount of discussion about the results of what people put in that poll, because I'm going to have them go type stuff into chat about why they answered the way they answered or whatever that is and realize that, you know, I can't just put in the word poll when one of them is going to be 30 seconds and one of them could be five minutes.


[00:42:21] Rob McArthur: right. Another good element of the of a good runner show is a debrief after each day. If you're doing multiple days, um, what'd we do? Right? Um, what, what can we improve on? Um, and those, those, those quick meetings after the event, after say day one can really help to propel the content and the energy for day two and the confidence of the speakers as well.

[00:42:45] Roger Courville, CSP: Yeah, that's a, that's a great point. What have you seen with regard to. maybe offering more than one run of show for a given event. And I say that in having seen a couple different ways. One, there's a different run of show for the production team versus the presentation team. Um, one, uh, other angle that I've seen is there's the, there's the detailed run where we have all of those things.

Okay. This poll is going to be 30 seconds versus this one's going to be five minutes. versus, uh, maybe a skinny version of that that just kind of gives you the top level overview. So you kind of kept just the bigger picture.

[00:43:31] Rob McArthur: Yeah. Any thoughts or questions there? Yeah. I always have, I always have two printouts.

I like paper and I have, I have the highlighted version, the, uh, the. the cliff notes, if you will, over here, and I've got all the details and everything I need over here. And in, in there, I've got, I've got contact information for every presenter, every attendee. If there's a team may help me produce the event.

Obviously, we've got some communication that's outside the meeting. Um, yeah, there's a lot, there's, there's a lot that goes into that, but, but I think it's a great point. Get yourself a CliffsNote version and then have your, your big version there available so you can get the details of things like specifically how long are we planning on talking about this poll question?

I think a great example.

[00:44:12] Roger Courville, CSP: Um, have fun,

[00:44:13] Rob McArthur: man. I mean, there's nothing that will help energy more than, than presenters laughing on camera and, um, just, just there. Everybody, it's everybody's time. And Roger's referencing, uh, one of our clients that does some pretty heavy duty. Uh, stuff really important work, but man, it's heavy topics, um, and being able to, uh, to go in there and give it the seriousness that it needs and then be able to pop back out and, and breathe some energy back into, uh, to your audience.

Um, it's really critical. I just kind of jumped there, Roger, but you got me thinking about, about that company and I'm thinking, yeah, it's really important to put that energy back in because it comes out quick.

[00:45:01] Roger Courville, CSP: Yeah, managing energy over time is true in any presentation context, but I think it's yeah, particularly useful in that three day or multi day.

It can be one full day, but anything we're not talking about an hour and we're talking about a whole day, let alone three days or I've seen five days. I did a five day gig last year managing that energy. Where does it come up? Where does it sag? Where do we need to maybe recognize what's going on in the virtual room and, and adjust accordingly is, uh, is important.

Um, online, just like it is offline. Okay, here's a quick question for you. Managing communication outside of the platform. So when we were talking about run of show and how we plan that, let's talk about use of instant messaging or other tools. to chat behind the scenes with the backstage crew and presenters and all of that.

Do you have a preference in terms of how that goes down? It

[00:46:04] Rob McArthur: really all depends on what you're up against, right? So, I'm thinking back to some of our friends in New York. We did some events for them. Very, uh, these were very high level events. Ambassador level type. Yeah,

[00:46:19] Roger Courville, CSP: high production.

[00:46:21] Rob McArthur: high production value.

Um, and I, and I got a little, I got a little dampness on my palm just thinking about how much work we put into those. They, they all went great. But one of the tools that we use is we, we had basically like, I, I'm even forgetting the name right now, Roger, I'm sorry, but it's a walkie talkie on your phone.

Yeah. Unify, where we all had a private channel and I could just reach over and hit my phone and go, uh, Roger. We don't have the video up yet. And then Roger would immediately launch into some sort of masterful delay tactic while I, you know, got the video going and everything like that, just to keep the thing flowing.

So, so yeah, there's a unify kind of at the high end. It's a really handy tool. Um, definitely, um, anything like a WhatsApp or messenger, um, always have, I think a good, uh, a good. Best practices. No matter if your show is 45 minutes or four days, um, get a text group together, get that established in your pre conference so that you can text behind the scenes completely outside of the platform.

You can communicate in the platform just fine. Some are stronger platforms with that type of technology. Some aren't so great, but having something outside to be able to get the critical communication, um, is, is a really, really important, uh, best practice. I'm glad you brought that up, Roger.

[00:47:40] Roger Courville, CSP: Yeah. I mean, to me, there's probably two things.

One thing we don't see as much now as when, you

[00:47:46] Rob McArthur: know, when we were in the business 20 years ago,

[00:47:52] Roger Courville, CSP: um, we used to have like use, use instant messaging, say just messaging on your phone. Because if the platform went down, you now had everybody connected in a way that, that allowed you to, to, to respond on the spot or on the fly. But you, but you said something I don't want to pass by too quickly. Different platforms handle private messaging differently.

And we can do a group oversay.

And I won't name the platform, but if I can only do a private message to Rob and I can't simultaneously private message the other presenters or the other backstage team, um, I'm minus a capability, right? Never mind the fact that if I'm private message Rob and now 73 other messages hit the chat. Box, it may scroll up and Rob might never see that.

So, you know, uh, using a, an instant messaging platform, WhatsApp. Your phone, whatever, definitely a step forward, uh, with regard to, to, to having that communication be really clear, if not immediate, but let's go back to unify for a moment because I want to make sure that people I, I have found most people don't realize what we're talking about when we're talking about something like that.

So whether it's unify, I forget if it was unify square or something like that, essentially, Turned your mobile phone into a walkie talkie. So you're listening to a channel or you actually had multiple channels and, and now you're listening on a channel where, where like a walkie talkie, Rob or anybody else on the, on the production team can say something.

Now, yes, that seems a little weird when you're listening to the event out of one set of speakers and you got a walkie talkie on your phone, but it's to Rob's point, we were doing high production stuff where we were timing things like, like camera switches and running a video or, you know, spotlighting somebody like with television type precision.

So we'd be running a video. And for instance, our nomenclature or our, our, our sort of looking for our standard operating procedure was like, okay. 10 seconds, radio silence, 5, 4, 3, 2, silence, bam, that switch happens, right? And so we're doing that on walkie talkie, like a television production crew behind the scenes.

And there's no way to do that in pick your, you know, you can't do that in Webex or Zoom or GoTo or something like that. But there's a level of production there that's possible. And there's something kind of cool that happens when you have that level of coordination.

[00:50:48] Rob McArthur: Yeah, you're creating some magic there.

And, uh, it's good. But hey, um, again, you don't have to go to the walkie talkie for your standard events. But if you're having, you have a 20 minute event, get a little text message group together and make sure that you guys can communicate and, and name the numbers that they're not people in your, in your phone and your book.

So you know exactly who's saying what, uh, regard, regardless of the length or complexity of your program. It's a good tip, I think.

[00:51:16] Roger Courville, CSP: All right, last question. Thank you. Last question for our time together. What are tips or tricks that you've seen or used with regard to breakout rooms?

[00:51:30] Rob McArthur: So the breakout room, I, I think is, is, is a challenge because, um, it's really important to get people into a smaller cohort so that they can, they can really kind of Practice or learn the content at a more manageable level.

Let's say you have, you know, 75 people in the room. 75 people can't really have a discussion. But five can't, you know, six, seven can't. And so the breakout room, I think, can be a really important, um, uh, tool to use and use pretty frequently in a longer, uh, it helps to bring a real nice dynamic, uh, aspect to the program.

Uh, the challenge is it. are that it does break the flow. So you want to, you want to put your breakouts in strategically. I'm not sure if that's where you were wanting to go with this, Roger, but if you, if you're, if you have a plan to go into a breakout room, you need to have a plan coming out of that breakout room.

And how do you bring that larger, uh, all the individual cohorts, how do you bring that family back together? Uh, and there, there are definitely some tips and tricks that you can use to sort of Facilitate bringing the group back together and going, okay, now we're back guys. Let's, let's go ahead and, and go to this thing, but I think you have to be very.

Discipline and deliberate about how

[00:52:48] Roger Courville, CSP: you do that. Yeah, no, you just made a killer point because, uh, let's just use that exact, that exact thing. You're facilitating momentum. You're bringing people back from a breakout. Now what? Uh, I've seen it where it's like, all right, everybody's back, go to a break. And then we'll come back.

I've seen it where you come back. And if there's four groups now we can like unmute people and get on there and talk about. What they talked about in terms of a debrief. Do that, can you do that with 10 groups? Yeah, probably not, without spending a whole lot of time. In which case you might say, Hey, go type your key idea into chat, or something like that.

But to your point, thinking through how do we keep momentum going is, is, is critical. Uh, one thing that I've. Found, uh, particularly when people are just in the process of moving online is they don't allow enough time because they don't yet recognize the power of that peer to peer connection, right? So when I started working with one particular client, I'm like, I counseled them right up front.

Hey, you got to put a breakout. real early on the very first of your three days breaking breakouts because people's expectation is like passive, like a webinar. So you need to get them talking. So they realize they need to be on camera. They're going to be muting and unmuting themselves. Right. And you can talk about anything.

What's your favorite ice cream. Doesn't make any difference. The point, you know, and funny events is always a great one, right? What's the funniest thing that ever happened to you on a date? Or, well some, and you, it's crazy because people love those funny stories. Oh, one time Rob went on a date and, you know, lost his, you know, came out of the bathroom with some toilet paper stuck in his pants.

Whatever that is, right? Interestingly, the very first time they ever did, it was like, okay, five minutes, five minutes, throw people in back out, you know, because they didn't want to lose momentum and their brain was still around. How are we going to do a bunch of content now? That same breakout is 15 minutes and we're less than 10 minutes into a three day event.

And they break people out for 15 minutes to get to know each other. Why? Because they just figured out that participant A and participant B getting to know each other is as powerful a part of the program as whoever on stage is doing the talking. And it's amazing that relationship begins to form over the course of three days.

Yeah, that,

[00:55:19] Rob McArthur: that, that's, that's the most critical thing right there, Roger, but, but just to talk about, I think in terms of practice, right, so you break them out and you do the little icebreaker, and then they've done it. Now they know exactly what to expect. And as a producer, Ah, I see it. It worked.

Everybody's logged in properly. Everybody's version is up to date. I can pick out, Yep. The one or two people that maybe I had an issue getting transitioned into that and then troubleshoot for them before the real content comes in the piece that they're going to miss if they don't break out then so I think there's some there's some real practical reasons to do that and then obviously some real good cultural family type event stuff reasons to do as well.

[00:56:00] Roger Courville, CSP: Good point. Uh, that actually is a killer point, Rob. Um, yes, because, um, at least in Zoom, I'll just use Zoom as an example, but, uh, other platforms are similar. The most bandwidth intensive thing that you're ever going to do is send somebody into a breakout because Zoom is simultaneously trying to Maintain a connection with that end user.

Right. So they know Rob is still in the conference and at the same time he's breaking Rob out and taking Rob's audio and video and putting that into another sub conference that is going to, of course, be discreet with the other five people that to go into the breakout room with Rob. Right.

[00:56:36] Rob McArthur: It's a brand, brand new connection.

Right. Right. And

[00:56:39] Roger Courville, CSP: that. That process right there is the heavy, heaviest, dutiest thing that Zoom does. And oftentimes that's where people break down because they're like, Oh, I've been using this for telehealth for years, you know, since COVID started. I've never had this kind of problems because you've never done breakouts.

[00:56:57] Rob McArthur: You don't use breakout rooms in,

[00:56:59] Roger Courville, CSP: in, in your typical telehealth visit or something like that. So that's a great point about just using that as a time to assess how things are, um, Working or not working for individual attendees so that you can anticipate how you need to help them. Rob, any questions that I should have asked you that I haven't asked you?

No, I think we covered

[00:57:20] Rob McArthur: it. I, I, I think, um, there's, there's so many things, so many moving parts when you're talking about a conference of, of, of this length. Um, but I, but I think, I think we did, I think we covered. Sort of the big rocks, if you will. So I think it's good, Roger. It's always

[00:57:36] Roger Courville, CSP: great to talk with you.

Well, Mutual, and I really appreciate you taking some time to, to spend a little time for whoever happens to be in, to be in the beneficiary of something like this. But, uh, one of the things that I know that, uh, at least is our heart here at Virtual Venues, and I've known you for so many years that I know it's your heart too.

We love to do good. by doing, helping others do good and that's not Roger's line, that's Rob's line. And so if there's something that you would love to hear, you can connect with Rob at virtualeventteam. com and of course he does lots of work on his own for various clients as well as doing stuff for for clients with and through virtual venues and you know what, shoot us a note.

Because one of the things that we love to do is help people because, you know, the business part works out if and when it makes sense for you to, to engage us as part of your team. And as you figured out, there's plenty of times when Rob and I are on the same team, working for the same client, doing some higher touch, higher level of engagement kind of thing, because it's just that important to pull something off in a way that's really different.


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