Like their face-to-face counterparts, the foundation of a successful virtual event is its staff. While virtual environments may require far less staff than an in-person event, there is still a need for careful planning to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
Identifying Staff Roles
The first step in staffing your virtual event is determining which roles need to be filled. We’ll break the staff roles down into two categories—general support staff and session support staff.
General Support Staff
Have technical support staff available through multiple channels, if possible. We recommend monitoring phone, email, and social media while also utilizing your video conferencing and online tools.
For example, if you are using Zoom, create a public Zoom meeting to serve as your information desk and enable the waiting room. Then, admit people from the waiting room into the meeting room one at a time to speak with them privately. If you have multiple technical support staff available, add a breakout room for each staffer. Then, have one staff member remain in the main meeting room to welcome and assign the attendee to the appropriate breakout room for assistance.
In addition to the dedicated customer service associated with your software providers, it’s best to have at least one team member who is fully trained in each of the tools you will be using. This internal software expert can take care of basic questions and configuration updates while more complicated issues are directed to the software provider.
Session Support Staff
Most video conferencing tools will use the term host for the person who schedules, starts, and controls the meeting. They may also be an on-screen participant or they may just fill the role of the producer—making sure the stream is live, managing the recording, running audience participation features like polling, or controlling the slides and other visuals.
For larger meetings, we recommend that you have a co-host available that has a copy of all of the presentation materials. They can step in if the host is overwhelmed, experiences any technical issues, or loses internet connection.
If the host is not an on-screen participant, you’ll need an MC or master of ceremonies to introduce speakers, fill the time between speakers, and keep the event moving.
If you’ll have a Q&A period during the session, dedicate a staff person to monitoring the incoming questions, reading them out loud, and typing out the answers (as needed).
Other Support Staff
Much of the support needed during a virtual session consists of small tasks that don’t require a dedicated role. These tasks include:
- communicating with attendees through the chat window
- reaching out to attendees who raise their hand
- muting non-speaking participants
- disabling video/screen sharing privileges
- assigning attendees to breakout rooms
There are many roles for staff in a virtual environment but don’t let this intimate you! Depending on the size and complexity of your event, it is feasible for a single person to comfortably cover several roles. A good rule of thumb is to have at least one support staff member per every 100 attendees.
Once you’ve identified how many people you’ll need, it’s time to recruit! In addition to your organization’s staff, put out a call for volunteers or offer sponsors the opportunity to participate. A sponsor could serve as the MC–introducing speakers and using the time between sessions to interact with attendees.
If you want to entice volunteers, consider offering:
- A complimentary registration
- A credit towards your next in-person event
- A discount on membership dues
- A promotion code for your or a sponsoring organization’s shop
It’s best to have at least one support staff person per 100 attendees. However, once you have that staff available, how do you know where to assign them? In a physical environment with clear room sizes and capacity limits, determining how many staff members are needed in each session can be straightforward. But virtual events are more easily scaled. Any limits can be quickly extended, often requiring just software plan upgrades.
One way to help plan is to include session selection during the registration process. Even if you do not require participants to attend the sessions they selected during registration, you can use the choices made to gauge interest.
Another option is to have a pool of floating staff that can be assigned to sessions as they open. Have one of the dedicated session staff members keep an eye on the participant numbers and reach out through a team collaboration tool (like Slack or Google Hangouts) to let you know when additional team members are needed. One of the benefits of a virtual environment is how quickly you can adapt and readjust. Staff can be shifted to fill needs as they arise without having to race through a building to change rooms.
Lastly, make sure to devote time to preparing staff ahead of the event. Volunteers especially will need training since they may not be familiar with the tools that your organization’s team members are comfortable using. Even if they’ve used the same video conferencing tool before, make sure to run through a practice session. They may have only experienced those tools from the participant point of view and might not be familiar with the host controls.
Additionally, equip support staff with a “toolkit” for answering common questions. If possible, have responses ready to copy and paste for participant questions like:
- “How do I access the virtual sessions?”
- “How do I find my login credentials?”
- “Do I need to download video conferencing software?” or “How do I download video conferencing software?”
- “Will this session be recorded?” or “How do I access recordings after the live session is over?”
- “I can’t hear/see the speaker. How do I fix this?”
- “Other participants can’t hear/see me. How do I fix this?”
- “The stream is lagging.” or “I keep getting kicked out of the session. How do I improve the quality of my connection?”
It can be as simple as having links to relevant articles in your video conferencing software’s support documentation ready to send to your attendees.
Producing a virtual event may seem daunting, but with proper planning and an organized staff, your event team will thrive and your event can succeed! At the end of the day, a major key to producing successful virtual conferences and events is thoughtful planning that supports a clear project vision. In the virtual world, the devil really is in the details.