When you are planning an event remotely you have to align colleagues, hosting partners, and/or external event planners who you may never meet physically. It is nothing new that different stakeholders are working from different locations. What changed, however, is that almost every single person sits and works by themselves, which reduces usual communication channels a lot. When working remotely on any project, we have to step up our communication skills to overcome physical and technical barriers that we weren’t used to before.
When you sit in your office, you eventually hear what the other colleagues around you are working on or talking about. What did he say there? That isn’t right, and you quickly shout over your screen to correct what he was telling someone on the phone. Situations like these don’t happen in the remote work space because there is no eavesdropping on other conversations. At least not of other colleagues who sit miles away. But stakeholders of your event may still have misunderstood an information and unintentionally pass this on wrongly without your knowledge. And since that person isn’t aware that the information he just shared is wrong or outdated – we know how quickly things can change when planning an event – he wouldn’t mention what he has said.
Listen, share, repeat
How can we prevent this or at least improve communication? First of all, don’t expect that others know everything, or that they read the updated to-do list immediately after you made a change. When you are in a planning meeting, tell the others what you have been doing, what you are currently working on, and repeat information even when you think it’s unnecessary or so easy that everyone should have understood it the first time. If you rely on ‘should’, then your planning process is already heading a very insecure way.
Two-way communication is king
Working remotely on a project with one-way communication, where the host or project lead is giving orders and the rest of the team only follows, will create barriers that can lead to mistakes being made and time being lost in correcting them when it’s too late. Create a dialogue instead and hear the opinion of the experts at the (virtual) table.
Don’t assume the speakers can navigate the streaming platform easily. It is better to ask and be sure you see the full picture. Who knows, maybe the event platform provides features you didn’t even think about which can steer the planning in a much more professional direction. Therefore, I always keep a close connection to my clients and all relevant stakeholders, sharing ideas and asking questions, to make sure we are all aligned. Everyone is an expert in their own field and by allowing for a multilateral communication you come up with the best results that combine all expertise.
We are all humans too and humans tend to forget things, especially when it becomes a little more hectic. Rely on your team to remind each other before the event goes in the wrong direction. It is much easier to correct and change course along the way than to fix issues shortly before the event. Asking these additional questions and repeating information prevents you from losing valuable time later.
This inclusivity approach helps to establish trust, which in return leads to a solid basis for long-lasting relationships and breaking down any barriers that are often felt by remote and freelance staff.
Efficient meeting culture
We loved them in the corporate work space before, and we are kind of hooked to them working remotely: meetings! Meetings play a fundamental role of smooth communication. Working remotely, however, these should not be set up “just to control if my team is really working.” Instead, define tasks for the week that need to be done and evaluate stakeholders along them. Meetings have not been invented to waste time, which they can quickly do when conversations get off the subject and not moving work ahead. When we don’t see our project partners in the office, it is easy to get carried away and start chatting. Therefore, we have to find a way to use meetings as a tool to let us communicate things which we would have easily seen in the office before.
Keep meetings an adequate length and give them a clear structure. By appointing topics or points to discuss upfront you make sure everyone attending knows the purpose of the meeting. And if you run through those points quicker than the set meeting time, stop it earlier. Who says that you have to fill the full 30 or 60 minutes with nonsense or small talk? And if nobody can think of anything to say anymore, maybe there is no need to talk right then. Postpone the meeting until the need is there. Don’t just meet for the sake of meeting.
Stay focused and adjust when necessary
Our to-do lists are all long and we make use of the freed up time much better working on our own tasks instead of wondering whether there is something to discuss. Especially when working with different stakeholders, you never know how their schedule looks like. Again, don’t assume they have some time to kill, but navigate through the meeting in a focused way. Anyone attending the meeting who notices that the conversation gets stuck, is not leading anywhere, or got off the track, is allowed to intervene and focus the group again. Don’t just wait that the meeting host steers the communication.
Adjust the frequency of meetings according to necessity. For example, in the last weeks before an event, I usually increase the frequency of stakeholder meetings. Holding a weekly stand-up actually saves you time to write emails back and forth or calling after people. Use the meetings to give a summary of what everyone has achieved the previous week, go through everyone’s tasks for the upcoming week, and check where further information is needed. Align with the team to make sure everyone knows what’s important in the week and identify possible bottlenecks.
Think twice who really needs to attend a meeting
Also remember that not everybody has to attend every single meeting. FOMO is everywhere, but this is not the right place for it, even when the frequency is increased to a weekly call. Maybe this week it’s only about registration. Does the technician of the event platform need to attend this one? Not really. Again, here it helps to appoint topics upfront to inform everyone of the meetings purpose, and let them decide whether their virtual presence is needed or not. And the fewer people attend a meeting, the easier it is to keep it short and focused.
Only trust the written word
The above communication tips are very much based on talking. For those, who prefer a more written approach, I’d definitely recommend to work in the same platform or project management tool. Get a quick overview of what others are working on, see the progress of each task, or find that small detail you were looking for instead of waiting to receive a reply from the respective person. Having one place where all discussed information is collected will also improve the event planning significantly. Instead of relying that everyone makes their own (correct) notes, you can rest assured that no important information gets lost by updating the tool regularly and providing the stakeholders a place to look up anything they need.
If you are still looking for a suitable project management tool, reach out to me, and I am happy to show you a few of my personal favorites.
Have a lovely day!
PS: The right communication at online events can also help break down any barriers between you and the virtual audience. You may simply ask the attendees who log in before the event who they are and possibly which AV equipment they use. This gives you the opportunity to start a connection to the individual, solve any technical issues, and get an idea about the equipment your target audience uses, plus which AV equipment results in least complications for a smooth online attendance. In turn, you can give these findings as recommendation to other participants for future event attendance.
PPS: Create special spaces for people to meet for some chit-chat. This way, the remote team can catch up on personal matters or other social interaction during their breaks and will stay focused during meetings, using everyone’s time more efficiently. Proximity chat tools are ideal to set up a virtual office with dedicated coffee kitchen area where stakeholders can meet and discuss any matter outside of the meeting.