horse-wearing-people-costumeVirtual meetings are all the rage. They claim cost savings, convenience and value to anyone who will listen. But when it comes to virtual meetings, the people who generally sell virtual meetings put the cart before the horse. They want to sell you the technology and then let you figure out how to build your process around it.

We call shenanigans on that.

If you’re going to spend thousands of dollars on a virtual meeting in the name of saving tens of thousands of dollars, you can’t just add the word “virtual” to your meeting and call it a day. If we return the cart to its rightful place behind the horse, we start to examine the purpose and value of the meeting itself. The thinking should be less of “How do we make this meeting virtual?” (tech-first thinking) and more “How do we have a virtual event that has a live meeting feel?” (purpose-first thinking).

Your attendees probably have gotten used to a live event. They know what it feels like. You can’t slip one by them by like that. If you’re expecting a horse, you won’t get the same feeling when they bring out two guys in a horse costume.

Let’s play that out. A horse is cool, majestic and strong. It can carry a person or things long distances at a fairly high speed. But two guys in a horse costume are cool, too. They have thumbs. They can learn to open stable doors that vex standard horses. They can vote and file taxes. They can work and make money and buy a car to carry people and things great distances at high speed. Different is not worse. Different is different.

So your goal as an event organizer is to build an event in which the two guys in a horse costume are actually more useful than a real horse.

The purported value of a virtual meeting is cost savings, but really, the value is  elsewhere when you stop letting technology dictate terms.

  • Virtual meetings are recorded, so they can be shared and distributed with thousands of people at almost no extra cost.

  • Chat rooms allow multiple people to engage with more people, not just who they are sitting next to.

  • Questions aren’t from whomever gets the courage to stand up to the mic, but from all of the audience. You can have everyone vote on the most interesting questions to be answered.

  • Rather than pretend that attendees won’t be on their phones or using Twitter, build a social channel within the meeting itself.

  • With less travel time, there’s more time to complete evaluations and quizes, time to write up notes and share them with each attendee’s respective teams, time to talk about how an attendee can use what they’ve learned.

The secret of virtual meetings is to place technology second: look to the purpose of the meeting and ask technology how it can support and even augment it.