Staying Connected During COVID-19: How to Run a Successful Virtual Workshop and What That Means for the Future

Many agencies and organizations are adapting to a decentralized workforce during the coronavirus pandemic, making virtual collaboration an essential part of daily life. As we prepare to enter the next normal, not necessarily the new normal, it’s important to be equipped with the tools, resources, and information needed to keep business operations running.

With that said, different operations that had traditionally been conducted in-person may remain on virtual platforms beyond 2020. Instead of waiting to see what the future of our workplace holds, we are proactively uncovering exciting new ways to communicate and conduct business virtually. One of the leading conversations in the world of digital marketing and communications is how to effectively plan for and conduct a virtual event.

We have previously discussed the value of virtual workshops and how they can strengthen your brand while helping remote teams build connections with their audience. But the goal is now to implement different strategies that will last beyond the pandemic.

So, today we’re going to (virtually) sit down with Beyond Defintion’s Director of Brand Strategy, Alex Blair, who is going to answer some questions about successfully conducting a virtual workshop and why he thinks virtual workshops may be here to stay.

Let’s get started.

Q: How much preparation goes into a virtual workshop?

A: We customize each workshop to the client. The specific exercises and discussions are designed to solve problems and reach consensus around the themes that have emerged after most of our discovery has been completed. All of our research and data up to that point feed into the topics we want to dive deeper into once we have key stakeholders together. We have a toolkit of exercises that we know work really well after having done dozens of workshops over the years, so we’re able to pull those together pretty quickly, but we are very thoughtful about tailoring the content and discussion to each client’s challenges and priorities.

Q: What advice would you give to someone conducting their first virtual workshop?

A: Know your audience’s comfort with technology tools — they may prefer that you run more of the show if they’re not comfortable editing a group whiteboard. Others who have used InVision or Miro or similar software before may feel more comfortable editing a shared digital space.

You also have to include time to explain the platform and ways of working so that everyone can participate and feel comfortable, which is not something you would have had to allow much time for in an in-person workshop. Without being able to read body language, it may be harder for participants to voice their opinions, so make sure you’re very clear and verbally communicative, give people different ways to participate and feel heard, and keep an eye on body language as much as you can through the video.

And to that point — I prefer participants to be on video. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, but it really helps with participation and connection in a workshop.

Q: How do you decide if a virtual workshop is the correct approach to use?

A: Right now, every workshop needs to be a virtual workshop because of COVID-19. But going forward, virtual workshops may continue to be the norm, especially if a client is looking for ways to save on budget, or if they have team members based in multiple locations across the country. A virtual workshop lets you bring together more people who might not have been able to join in-person, giving you broader perspectives and more diverse voices, without the burden of travel. Honestly, I’ve been thrilled at how well virtual workshops have been going — and think they should absolutely be a permanent option available to us.

Q: What are the most effective tools for a virtual workshop you have been using recently?

A: We use Miro and InVision for whiteboards and shared collaboration. Zoom is of course huge for video conferencing. Using a combination of those tools can ensure that people can participate however they feel comfortable, whether that’s sharing a screen, collaborating digitally, or just having a conversation guided by a moderator.

Q: Do you find that virtual workshops encourage more or less collaboration than in-person workshops?

A: I like that there are more ways that someone can communicate virtually in comparison to traditional events. It can be harder to get a word in without body language and noticing someone wants to speak, but with chat functions and the opportunity to ask questions directly to the moderator, anyone can chime in while someone else may be speaking. We’re all quickly getting comfortable with virtual meetings and this new etiquette, so for most of our clients, participating in a virtual workshop is pretty seamless.

For in-person workshops, I appreciate being able to have the tactile experience of being on your feet and doing exercises where you can use your hands. And being in-person of course is great for relationship-building. But knowing that we can get great data and results, whether it’s digital or in-person, is really exciting.

Q: What are some of the most important features to consider when choosing a virtual tool?

A: To me a lot of it comes down to the user interface and personal preference. I like how intuitive and visually-appealing Miro is. At a minimum, I want a tool that has a chat feature, the ability to import images or slides, and for multiple participants to be able to edit it at once. Miro and InVision both check these boxes.

Q: How do you maintain structure and keep engagement levels high?

A: The role of the moderator is so important. You can create energy and enthusiasm, and hopefully a real connection, with the participants. Clearly explain the goals, purpose, and structure of the workshop. Make sure everyone feels comfortable and prepared, including giving them some preparation in the days before the workshop.

During the workshop, it’s important to keep it relevant to the participants, which is why we usually do our workshops at the end of discovery so it can be really tailored to the organization. We also usually keep our workshops to 8-10 people or less (although we have done workshops for more than 100 people!) which helps people stay engaged and able to participate. And finally, really simply — give people a break. Encourage them to stretch, get some water or caffeine, or give their eyes a break, and come back ready to finish strong.

Q: Do you think the success of virtual workshops will have a ripple effect on events in the future?

A: I’m very optimistic that the transition to virtual workshops and events will allow people from anywhere in the world to participate in a way that still feels very engaging and interactive. Removing the barrier and burden of travel and giving us a broader pool of participants is really exciting — I love the idea of being able to hear even more voices and perspectives, and only needing an hour or two from them to get that. Our clients may be in one location, but their audiences may be scattered around the country or the world — and now we can bring all of those stakeholders into a “room” together!

Being forced to work remotely is obviously becoming a catalyst for change and embracement of digital technologies that was past due. Our ways of working are finally catching up to our technology, and new platforms and tools are being created constantly. This is opening up new doors for agencies, clients, and people, which I’m very hopeful about.

One Last Thing

Did you find this discussion helpful? For more content diving deep into the world of digital marketing and communications, join us for “Going Beyond” with President Mark DeVito.

If you have specific questions about conducting a virtual workshop, click this link or Tweet us your question @bdagencysocial.

As COVID-19 pushes teams into remote, virtual workspaces, our “Staying Connected During COVID-19” series is here to help. Let’s commit to keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, one step at a time. Follow us for tips on how we can further your mission together.

Jonah Malin's headshot

Jonah Malin

Jonah Malin is a creative marketing professional, crafting story-driven content to execute a diverse range of digital, print, and social deliverables.

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