There was a wonderful Zoom event last week, out of which I believe brought some excellent lessons for putting on virtual events—even though it was a very popular subject and a few drinks were on the respective tables. It was the 2019 World Series Game 7 Reunion Special featuring coaches and players from the Washington Nationals who were all simultaneously watching a replay of their victorious Game 7 win over the Houston Astros in late October.
The biggest lesson to come out of this Zoomcast is to take advantage of a medium’s strengths. Zoom, or similar platforms, can put a whole bunch of live faces on the screen, have them speak in turn and give viewers that reassuring Brady Bunch feel. Facebook allows people to comment a mile a minute, but most importantly feel a part of things. Here are a few other lessons:
Have a smart, well-respected moderator. The event, which took place on Zoom but was available for fans to watch on Facebook, actually had two good moderators—Dan Kolko, an announcer for MASN which carries the Nationals, and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ longest tenured player and a hugely respected presence in the community. Zimmerman proved that he easily has a life after playing, prodding the players to speak and react throughout—even leaving a question on the table when he needed a bathroom break. And when there was a lull, he then added his own experiences.
In these times, a dash of humanity goes a long way. Earlier that day, Zimmerman had begun a new charitable effort—Prosforheroes.org. “The goal is to ensure that health care professionals have the tools they need to stay safe, including supplies, reliable equipment and healthy meals for themselves and their families every day.” The gofundme page is already up to $309k. This had more than a dash of humanity, but small businesses don’t need anything of that size. Just allying yourself to one of the great causes out there can be a good thing. “We’ve taken part in this and you can too.”
Give your audience points of engagement. When I watched Education Week’s Online Summits, there were virtual conversations taking place everywhere between registrants and Education Week editors and invited speakers. For the Game 7 Special, fans watching could comment on Facebook and that became part of the show. I’ve read about other virtual events with surveys or polls in the middle, and, of course, questions to post on the chat line. We want to engage!
Do all or some part of it live. At the Nationals celebratory parade in November, second baseman Brian Dozier became famous for taking off his shirt on stage. So, of course, he had to enter this event shirtless as well. It brought the most laughter of the whole Zoomcast. I doubt any of your speakers is going to come into your event shirtless, but people still appreciate spontaneity. Maybe that’s a speaker making reference of something that happened that morning or telling about her current situation. I’ve watched some of Bob Coleman’s live daily shows, and they feel urgent.
Offer a little behind-the-scenes information. The players started talking about the conversations they were having with the umpires at the end of the game. The catcher Yan Gomes said the umpire told him in the bottom of the 9th to try to relax. (Gomes told him, “I’m okay, just call some strikes.”) Zimmerman said the umpire at first base, with just one out to go, congratulated him—a baseball no-no until the last out is recorded. Try to tell some similar-in-style stories that your audience might not get to see.
Home is where the heart is. We saw lots of dogs, a few kids, some crazy backgrounds, a Japanese boulevard—baby shark himself Gerardo Parra came on from Japan where he signed this year—and a few man-caves. People understand that most speakers are home now, and while your events will be more business-oriented, personal items can add to the atmosphere.
Divide and conquer. The Game 7 Special was unbelievable fun for us fans, but at 4 hours-plus, it did clock in a little long. I actually watched over the weekend in 40-or-so minute pieces. That felt just right—even though I wasn’t able to also watch the game. Remember, what you’re doing now has an afterlife. I get a sense people are watching at all hours these days. You can do episodes or parts and then post everything for later. If it’s good, people will watch.