During the COVID-19 pandemic, the The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Department of Tourism has remained committed to protecting the health and safety of our residents and visitors, and we continue to be guided by public health experts in order to minimize the spread of the virus and to make prudent decisions concerning the management of our tourism sector.
Like every other destination affected by this crisis, we are actively looking forward to and planning for the eventual resumption of tourism activity. We greatly value our partnerships with all our colleagues in the meetings and events sector. Our local MICE stakeholders have been using this “down” time to refresh and enhance their product offerings and to ensure that each property, venue or activity is fully prepared and equipped to provide a safe, healthy and exceptional experience to arriving guests. This is a coordinated, integrated effort between local USVI government agencies, tourism stakeholders and organizations including the U.S. Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association.
Until our MICE offerings are fully reopened, the Department of Tourism continues to engage with its various audiences to share the beauty and appeal of the Virgin Islands and to encourage safe public health practices, including social distancing.
We remain fully committed to meeting your business needs once this health crisis has abated. When we are assured that the Territory is equipped and ready with all testing and containment protocols recommended by public health experts and our local authorities, we stand ready to work with you to welcome your groups back to the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands, where a truly wonderful experience awaits your clients.
Twists and turns in your voice and the experience you provide will make your live stream an adventure. Start with the beat of their favorite drummer and you’ll breathe life into your virtual experience. New ConventionPlanit.com supplier member Ben Corey, CEO and Lead Digital Entertainer with Stream Variety, offers advice on livening up a virtual meeting. Read on for part 2 of this new series.
1. Speed up the pulse with music – THEIR music.
Nothing dials up excitement like people’s favorite music! Ask participants to turn up their favorite songs while waiting for the virtual event to begin. “Start the event on your own terms, by playing your own favorite music.” All of my performances feature preshow music because of how well it gets people going.
2. Engage with your voice.
Let’s face it – on screen, it’s half of what you’ve got! Avoid sounding monotone or that news video in the next window over will pull your audience away. Practice varying the pitch, rate, and volume of your voice to pull your audience in while also non-verbally signaling your credibility. Ex: speak softly on a key point so your audience leans in, then, when they least expect it, pop your voice to deliver an exciting detail.
3. Keep them on their toes.
Incorporate continuous surprises into the stream that they would never see coming. For example, beam Ben Franklin in to deliver a motivational on theme message.
Ben Corey provides consulting and support to help you launch successful digital tradeshows, innovative online networking events, and conferences. He provides a complete roster of sponsorable streaming entertainment. Contact Ben Corey directly at Stream Variety to learn more.
I could tell by the glowing yellow line that framed Amy’s video image that she was saying something. But for the life of me, I couldn’t absorb the meaning of her words, even though I could hear her just fine. Maybe it was the fact that this was the third Zoom workshop that I facilitated that day, or that I hadn’t given my brain or body a chance to recharge for the last several hours. Whatever the reason, at that moment, my brain felt absolutely fried. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself together for the waning minutes of the session, but I resolved never to let that happen to me again, whatever the heck that was.
Just because I have heard many people complain of “Zoom fatigue,” it didn’t mean I had the solution. Since I typically lead multiple virtual workshops each day, I had a vested interest in figuring out how endless video meetings are affecting our brains and what we can do about it. Here’s what I have discovered about how and why meeting by video can jam up our brains, along with some tips to avoid or mitigate the negative side effects.
Why, exactly, are video meetings so taxing?
• We’re expecting too much. Virtual experiences can never measure up to face-to-face interactions, especially when it comes to building relationships, making intuitive connections, understanding others’ perspectives, and deciphering emotions. And yet we somehow expect that with an icebreaker or two, a few great questions to stimulate conversation, and a host of activities to keep people engaged, that we can come close to simulating in-person conversations. The more we try to convince ourselves, the more disappointed we become that the session felt tiring and well, flat.
• We are forced to focus hyper-attentively on expressions, gestures, nuances and gestures, scanning all visible faces, at the same time, listening for words, tone, cadence and silence. (And if we’re leading the session, we’re also concerned about the technology working, session content, timing, dysfunctional behavior, and myriad other factors that need to go right.) This is just plain exhausting. Contrast this to if we were sitting around a table, where we’d be looking at one or two people at a time, instead of scanning every face, every moment. There are no natural breaks in video meetings. Gazing out the window to think, as we might otherwise do, may be misinterpreted as disinterest. Taking an impromptu stretch break might be considered rude. And so we sit, dutifully glued to our video cameras.
• Our brains are constantly straining to fill in the gaps left by the two-dimensional aspect of video. According to Kate Murphy in her New York Times piece, Why Zoom is Terrible, since video images are digitally encoded and decoded, altered and adjusted, our brains are constantly trying to make sense of the resulting disorder, which makes us vaguely disturbed, uneasy and tired without quite realizing why. Murphy quotes Sheryl Brahnam, an IT and cybersecurity professor at Missouri State University, who compares videoconferencing to consuming highly processed foods: “In-person communication resembles video conferencing about as much as a real blueberry muffin resembles a packaged blueberry muffin that contains not a single blueberry but artificial flavors, textures and preservatives. You eat too many, and you’re not going to feel very good.”
• It’s harder to empathize. Our pixelated images are nothing like the faces we see in person, where we can instantly interpret subtle movements around the eyes and mouth, even when we’re not consciously aware we’re doing so. Those micro-cues all but disappear in the pixelated versions of ourselves, making it almost impossible for us to mirror others through facial mimicry, which, says Murphy, is essential to empathy and connection. “To recognize emotion, we have to actually embody it. When we can’t do it seamlessly, we feel unsettled because it’s hard to read people’s reactions and thus, predict what they will do.” Simply put: When our predictions are not confirmed, our brains have to work harder, making us feel exhausted.
• We can’t see eye to eye. We can make the others feel like we’re looking into their eyes by staring into our own video cameras. But when we gaze into our camera, we can’t also be looking at others’ facial expressions, let alone gazing into their eyes. We can’t have it both ways. In the absence of direct eye contact, building trust becomes a lot harder.
• TMI about ourselves, and not enough about others. Thanks to our ability to see our own images front and center, we tend to over-emote to make sure our reactions are noticed by everyone else, including showing affirmations, expressions of surprise or curiosity, disagreement, or demonstrating interest (whether it’s feigned or not). Says Christina Cauterucci in her Slate piece, I Will Not Be Attending Your Exhausting Zoom Gathering, “Social instincts that usually require little conscious effort are now taking up space in my brain, draining the energy I used to devote to the substance of a conversation.” (No wonder I had difficulty deciphering the meaning of my workshop participant’s words: My brain was already fully loaded trying to process all of nonverbal information I was struggling to take in.)
• Natural conversation rhythms are hard to come by. There are fewer natural pauses in video meetings, making it hard to discern when it’s okay to talk. Since we can’t easily tell if someone is about to speak, several may try to speak at once. Or even worse, sometimes no one talks at all. And when you’re trying to scan 5, 10 or 25 faces at once, it’s hard to know what’s holding people back from jumping in. As Julia Sklar explained in her National Geographic piece on Zoom fatigue, a typical video calls impairs our ability to pick up clues about someone’s direction or intensity of focus, or their intention to speak. A video call requires sustained and intense attention to words, she points out, causing our brains to become hyper-focused on searching for nonverbal cues that it cannot find.
Tips for combatting “Zoom fatigue”
• Just say no to video, at least occasionally. Apart from the fact you may have your kids running around your workspace, a counter full of dirty dishes behind you, or a sudden reminder that you’ve ignored hair over the last few days, it’s okay to decline the request to turn on your camera on occasion “just because.” Better yet, suggest that everyone attend in voice-only mode from time to time, or simply make it a con call instead. Research shows that many people tend to listen more deeply and derive more meaning from what they hear, without the distraction of trying to read facial expressions from tiny video images on the screen. (Even if you feel pressured to turn on your video, it doesn’t mean you have to look at yourself. By hiding your image from your own view, you eliminate much of the distracting noise that occupies way too much space in your brain. I do this often, once I get my angle and lighting right. It’s made a huge difference in my ability to concentrate and brain energy.)
• Move more conversations offline. These may take the form of asynchronous (any time) conversations in a shared workspace or portal (think Slack), when people can join at any time to exchange ideas, respond to questions, post answers, or brainstorm ideas. They might also take the form of 1:1 phone conversations, IM chats or email threads. The point is, not every conversation has to begin and end on Zoom.
• Take breaks. If the meeting leader hasn’t built in break time, request a break when your energy is flagging. Chances are, others feel the same way. If you feel awkward about interrupting to ask for a break, let people know in chat (or some other way) that you are walking away for two minutes and will be right back. If you must stay put, find something to focus on that can help settle your mind, like an open window, a photo or painting, or a doodle. You don’t have to keep staring at the screen intently for 60 or more minutes at a time. You brain will thank you.
• Make use of breakouts. Not all meetings will benefit by having small-group breakout activities, but if you’re having at least 10 people sitting around the virtual table, consider how the formation of small groups can help achieve the intended results, perhaps even in less time. When we’re seeing and hearing just a few other people at a time, we can focus much more easily without the distraction of so many other faces. Plus, conversations are almost always more satisfying and meaningful with just a few people. Caveat: Make sure you have allocated sufficient time for instructions, the breakout activity, and a group debrief, if one is needed. Breakouts take time, and almost all need some kind of debrief. Don’t cut them short.
• Be super clear in setting expectations and giving instructions. Since it’s a fair guess that many on the call will be at least somewhat disengaged or tired at any given time, it’s especially important to make sure that everyone understands the questions, instructions, or other requests. Use multiple communication channels to do this. E.g., review instructions verbally, and also on a slide in the shared screen, as well as in the chat area. Invite people to ask questions for clarification after you review the instructions. If you are able to scan facial expressions, look for signs of hesitancy or confusion. Pause long enough for people to ask questions. Resist the temptation to move them along too quickly in hopes that everyone magically understood everything right up front.
• Take a pulse. This can take the form of a quick poll (launching one from your meeting application, or using another app like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter). Or you can do a quick verbal go-round the room, or ask people to type in, say, a number from 1-10, where 1 signals very low energy and 10 signals very high energy. You can try scanning faces, but as we’ve pointed out, we derive precious little emotional content from pixelated images. Regardless of your method of assessing the level of energy in the room, try asking people to turn off their videos before weighing in. Many experts say that no facial cues are better than faulty ones.
• Make virtual social events optional. Many of my clients are holding virtual happy hours for people to connect socially, something that’s sorely lacking these days. Typically, these social sessions are held around 4-5 PM on Fridays. Some rotate hosts. Some have themes, like “Movie Night,” where people share favorite films. Some play games; for example, my brilliant friend and neighbor just developed an app for our poker club to play Texas Hold-‘Em via Zoom. And some people just want to talk, about anything and everything.
Video meetings don’t have to be so tiring, and you probably don’t need as many as you think you do. Know the limitations and constraints, both of the technology itself, and of peoples’ ability to stay focused. Be thoughtful about when video is really required by all, or even by some. And while you’re at it, think about whether real-time meetings of any kind are really needed, or whether you can have conversations some other way. As Christina Cauterucci reminds us in her Slate piece, “These days, when video chatting has to stand in for a whole social life’s worth of in-person contact, it feels like a massive downgrade. Every Zoom call brings a painful reminder of what quarantined life is missing.”
Note: The article originally appeared in Guided Insight’s Communique
Nancy Settle-Murphy is the President of Guided Insights. She is a renowned expert in the fields of virtual leadership, remote collaboration and navigating cross-cultural differences, and the author of Leading Effective Virtual Teams. Learn more about Nancy at www.guidedinsights.com.
ConventionPlanit.com can be your extra hands away from the office.
RFP Valet is a high tech/high touch service to help you plan your meetings. With the experience of industry professionals, ConventionPlanit.com offers RFP writing and distribution. All responses are promptly sent to you and compiled on a downloadable, online chart.
Whether you’re rescheduling a face-to-face meeting or sourcing a virtual event, ConventionPlanit.com is ready to assist with a portfolio of hotels, destinations, and service providers. There is no training, templates, fees or commitments to be concerned about.
We asked DIGITELL, Inc., to explain how Live Streaming cultivates a new audience and leverages your content to generate new revenue.
For those of us who may be unfamiliar with Live Streaming, how does it amplify the meeting experience?
Live Streaming is simply delivering the education and experience of your meetings with those who are unable to attend physically. Live Streaming adds a whole new group of people into your meeting experience. It allows you to reach a greater audience with your message, which benefits your organization and your community.
Why is Live Streaming so important compared to traditional forms of marketing?
Over 80% of people attending a Live Stream have never been to your physical meeting. With a 20% – 40% conversion rate, Live Streaming provides the exposure you need to grow your physical meeting. It is the most successful and cost-effective marketing you will ever do for your meeting and organization.
What impact does Live Streaming have on revenue development?
There are over 5 ways of generating revenue from live streaming, resulting in significant (non-dues) revenue for your organization:
Registration revenue from the virtual attendee
Virtual pass revenue from the physical attendee to share with their staff who could not attend
Virtual pass revenue from the exhibitors to share with their sales staff who need to hear what is being said in the industry
Sponsorship revenue by exhibitors and sponsors who wish to privately host Live Stream education content
Sponsorship revenue by exhibitors and product showcases between sessions present plenty of options to enhance the Live Stream experience
How does live streaming engage new or existing members?
The comfort level of people learning digitally has never been higher. 15 years of Webinars and Online Learning and 12 years of Live Streaming events have created an enormous market of digital learners. With less than 10% of members typically attending a physical meeting, Live Streaming gives you a product to offer 90% of your members who don’t attend and the ability to reach an international community that can’t or is afraid to travel.
What other benefits can only live streaming offer?
It re-engages dormant members who become active spenders of your organization
It can give your exhibitors an additional market to reach for new business
It will increase your physical meetings and add new members
It gives you the ability to reach international markets in their language
To learn more about Live Streaming, contact Digitell.
When that big onsite meeting suddenly must be remote: An essential checklist By Nancy Settle-Murphy, Guided Insights and Jesse Bibbee, Gazelle Interactive
After months of planning, everything is finally in place for next week’s two-day meeting in London, which will chart the course for the launch of the company’s new product. The 25 participants from eight countries will be convening to make final decisions on pricing, sales and marketing programs, and launch details.
As the meeting convener and facilitator, you’re feeling optimistic that the meeting will be a huge success. That’s when you get that dreaded email that upends every single one of your plans: “Out of abundant caution… all travel plans are on hold until further notice. This means that all business meetings must be cancelled or postponed, with no exceptions.” Your manager advises you to put your energy into figuring out how to achieve these same goals remotely. “After all,” she says, “Our competition won’t be taking a break. Neither can we.”
As the meeting convener and facilitator, you’re feeling optimistic that the meeting will be a huge success. The hotel rooms and meeting center are booked, everyone has plane tickets and visas in hand, the room logistics and menus are nailed down, and the agenda is finalized. You breathe a sigh of relief, eager for the weekend ahead.
That’s when you get that dreaded email that upends every single one of your plans: “Out of abundant caution… all travel plans are on hold until further notice. This means that all business meetings must be cancelled or postponed, with no exceptions.” Your manager advises you to put your energy into figuring out how to achieve these same goals remotely. “After all,” she says, “Our competition won’t be taking a break. Neither can we.”
If you or someone you know is facing a similar situation, Jesse Bibbee of Gazelle Interactive joined me to create this checklist of steps that we have found to be essential, as a start:
First, don’t panic. You will figure out how to do this, especially if you seek out people who have experience designing and running remote meetings and events. Reach out to meeting participants for their ideas and assistance. Brainstorm ideas and divvy up tasks. Make a list of everyone who can play a role and help out, both internally and externally.
Design the basic meeting structure, quickly, and then flesh it out. For example, how many virtual meetings of what duration spread over what period of time will you need to accomplish the same goals you had hoped to achieve in approximately 12 hours of your in-person meeting? You might, for example, settle on four two-hour meetings, spread over three days. Not all 25 participants must attend each meeting. Consider how much and what kind of work can be done between meetings, either independently, in small discussion groups, or a combination. Set up a central place where people can post, access and comment on “homework” prior to the next meeting, so you can allocate all meeting time to interactive conversations.
Create detailed agendas for each real-time virtual meeting, linking objectives and intended outcomes to conversations needed to achieve them. Instead of merely listing a topic, use action verbs so people can come well prepared. For example, instead of: “Pricing,” try: “Agree on minimum and maximum acceptable pricing at time of launch for each of our five major regions.” Be realistic about how much you can get done in each meeting. We recommend virtual meetings run two hours max. Keep in mind: Not all objectives need to be met through real-time meetings. Open up asynchronous (any time) meeting spaces where people can ask and answer questions, add ideas, brainstorm options, prioritize, etc. Build in time for thoughtful reflection and paraphrasing, especially when working with cross-cultural teams.
Select the right participants for each meeting. Avoid the temptation to “just include everyone” in every conversation. Managing verbal interactions with 25 people in a virtual setting can be almost impossible, especially when the topics are likely to be complex or contentious. Instead, select only those people who need to participate in a particular real-time conversation, and include others in different ways, such as in a shared asynchronous meeting area or in a different conversation. Limit meetings where in-depth conversations are needed to no more than 6-8 participants, as a rule. If you must include all or most participants in each meeting, enable people to participate in multiple ways, such as via chat, polling, hands-up, or typing into a share space.
Establish, communicate and reinforce agreed-upon team norms early on. Such norms, (a.k.a. operating principles), should include meeting behavior and practices, the use of other communication channels, progress reporting, etc. For virtual meetings, norms might include expectations around prework and preparation, punctuality, attendance, level of participation required, and how certain technologies will be used, such as video, use of mute, need to test technology beforehand, etc.
Divide and conquer. In addition to asking a team to help with the design of the overall meeting architecture, seek assistance in other areas, too. For planning, you’ll want help creating the detailed agendas for each meeting, which will include identifying the needed prework, establishing participant and presenter roles, pre-meeting communications, and deciding which technology will be needed. For the real-time meeting, you may want to assign roles such as facilitator, timekeeper, scribe, tech support assistant, and action master. In between meetings, you’ll want someone to make sure that pertinent notes are accessible, assigned “homework” is completed and posted on time, and that actions are completed.
Select technology that can support your meeting goals. First, take stock of available technology and tools. For example, does everyone have access to video? A shared online meeting app? Audioconferencing capability? Sufficient bandwidth? For those must participate at odd hours from different timezones, are these tools also available from where they will be participating from, which might be their homes for many? Will you need to integrate other technologies you may not have now, such as for polling, sticky notes, dot-voting, etc.? Whatever set of tools you use, make sure all feel comfortable using them well ahead of your meeting. Have a back-up plan in case technology doesn’t work as planned.
Get the audio right above all. Even if you have the greatest online meeting tools, if people can’t be heard, or can’t hear, then the whole meeting can fall apart. Do a sound check for every possible variation imaginable. If a few people will be participating in different conference rooms around the world, test how well people can hear and be heard. Some speakerphones and conference rooms may distort sound, in which case you may need for everyone to participate from an acoustically private area with a headset. During the meeting, check periodically to ensure that everyone can hear all voices, regardless of location. Build in time for paraphrasing and summarizing questions and responses if needed.
Connect with video. Apart from the cases where certain systems or locations might make the use of video difficult or impossible, we believe that the use of video is critical for a few reasons. By seeing each other’s facial expressions and gestures, we have a better idea how people are feeling or what they may be thinking, even when they’re silent. Video helps hold people accountable for full participation, as it’s obvious when someone is distracted. Perhaps most important, video can help team members feel as though they’re actually sitting across from each other, in a virtual space. Ask local participants to book a conference room that has video capability if possible. Otherwise, ask people to join using a device that has video capability, either built in or an external webcam. For some, this might require a modest investment, which the meeting sponsor should probably be prepared to fund if needed.
Embed opportunities for active engagement throughout every virtual meeting. Minimize time spent in passive participation (such as reviewing content that could have been posted in advance), and maximize the number and frequency of participant interactions. Take advantage of peoples’ inherent desire to multitask by building in opportunities to multitask “on task” throughout every meeting. Examples: Soliciting quick verbal responses, polling, dot-voting, use of virtual post-its, hands-up, chat, asking people to type in responses, writing an idea on a piece of paper, etc. Plan on an interaction of some kind at least every 5-7 minutes.
Make no mistake: Being suddenly forced into converting an extended onsite meeting or training program of any kind into a virtual space is not easy. It requires a whole new way of thinking about the kind of conversations that need to take place (and where, when, and by whom) to achieve your intended outcomes. It also means thinking through how best to blend a whole array of asynch and synchronous communications and collaboration options in a way that can make for the most efficient, productive and satisfying conversations. Making such a “conversion” can be arduous and time-consuming the first few times, but with practice and reflection, it may become second nature before too long.
Note: The article originally appeared in Guided Insight’s March 2020 Communique
Nancy Settle-Murphy is the President of Guided Insights. She is a renowned expert in the fields of virtual leadership, remote collaboration and navigating cross-cultural differences, and the author of Leading Effective Virtual Teams. Learn more about Nancy at www.guidedinsights.com.
New to ConventionPlanit.com, may we introduce Mary Ann Pierce, President & Founder of MAP Digital, who spoke to our Advisory Council about getting started with a virtual meeting or event. Mary Ann has produced onsite and virtual events worldwide for the past 20 years. What information should you consider? Mary Ann says to find the best virtual meeting company for your needs, it’s important to qualify your meeting. Sound familiar? Virtual meetings have nuances of thier own, just like a face-to-face meeting. She offers the following qualifying information to consider when searching for a virtual meeting partner:
1. Date(s) of event
2. Examples of website or agenda that you want to replicate virtually
3. Where are the speakers located (time zones matter!)
4. How many sessions, and what is the format (panels, keynotes, individual presenters, etc/)? Are any sessions concurrent? Will there be slide presentations? Video or audio only?
7. Is admission free? Does it require payment? Is it restricted but free?
8. Where will your content usage data be sent?
9. How long do you want the content available?
10. Do you need video snippets for a content marketing campaign?
About MAP Digital Virtual Events powered by MetaMeetings:
For over 20 years, MAP Digital has fused the digital space onto investment banking conferences and CEO-level events. Headquartered in New York City, we produce onsite and virtual events worldwide. MAP Digital: MetaMeetings® platform captures speakers’ presentations from anywhere; and then streams them onto the content-rich, interactive, secure and compliant MetaMeetings® website. There is no limitation in the number of attendees and sessions that can be archived for return engagements. Attendees’ content usage data is captured and resides in the MetaMeetings platform. Post event the archived videos can be transformed into content marketing snippets amplifying your speakers and brand thought leadership via social media which expands your networks and audience development efforts.
Since our inception in 2003, our team at ConventionPlanit.com has kept our ear to the ground to understand the current issues that impact meeting professionals. It goes without saying that the impact of COVID-19 on the meetings industry is the most pressing issue of the moment.
ConventionPlanit.com recently held its 10th Annual Advisory Council Meeting (via conference call), which proved to be a platform for industry professionals to discuss their own challenges and share ideas to navigate the global pandemic.
The Council members shared that some of their meetings have been cancelled, some are going virtual, and some are being rescheduled in 2021, depending on the market sector. They expressed frustration over inconsistent policies among hotels with deposit refunds for cancelling or rescheduling meetings. The Council members recommend waiting to cancel a meeting until local or state government has issued an order to increase the likelihood of receiving a reimbursement. Looking ahead, the planners advise to be prepared to provide justification to travel. There will be fear in meeting face-to-face for many and getting back to ‘normal’ will be a slow process.
The meeting included a presentation from Mary Ann Pierce, Founder & CEO of MAP Digital, a leader in the virtual events space for the past 20 years. Mary Ann shared tips on delving into virtual events and answered questions from Council members. (Scroll down to find more from Mary Ann in this newsletter!)
The Advisory Council suggests being strategic when pushing content out digitally and focus on engaging and collaborating with partners to make the content experience-based. Think about what your strategic goals are versus getting content out for the sake of it. Many people are distracted, so less is more.
We asked the Advisory Council when they think they would be receptive to seeing advertising from suppliers, and they suggested when they are able to go back to their offices. In the meantime, relationships with suppliers are more important than ever, and they appreciate personal reach outs to see how they are doing.
The Advisory Council also weighed in on what information they would like to see added to ConventionPlanit.com from suppliers, and they suggested COVID-19 updates displayed on listing profiles. With so much unknown, the more information they can access, the better. Check out the ConventionPlanit.com website under Notices & Special Offers for more.