Years ago when I was teaching virtual facilitation skills, there was a section called “disaster recovery”. I poked fun at this, saying it seemed a bit too dramatic and asking if there had ever really been a Code Blue in a breakout room. Truth is, though, sometimes things do go wrong, and great staff with a great plan can keep hiccups from turning into full-blown failures.
For instance: Recently InSync Training, with a team led by producer Helen Fong, was supporting a small conference. The sponsoring organization estimated the number of registrants; it was within InSync’s license limit for the conferencing product. Then, the morning of the event, last-minute registration surged and quickly hit the license limit. Helen called the vendor’s support number and was told the license could be upgraded right away via credit card, but it would mean that the hundreds of people already present would need to log out and back in – a logistical nightmare. While Helen was working on this she needed to contact support again and a different person responded – who said the earlier information was wrong: As the product is cloud-based the additional seats would be available immediately. The support person made the change and while they were talking Helen watched the registration climb past the limit and up… and up. Problem solved. Disaster averted.
Helen said there were a good many planning and production factors in place that helped keep the situation from going off the rails. In working on larger events, particularly those with multiple and even concurrent sessions, she offers these tips:
- Insist on live, day-of contact with a person associated with the event. This should be someone who is not enacting another role, like speaker or room moderator, but a person who can be available to answer calls or chat messages right away. She recommends using cell numbers and not office desk phone numbers.
- Have a dedicated producer overseeing the background of the entire event, not someone who is busy with running/supporting individual sessions.
- During the event, the producer overseeing everything needs to stay close to a phone and have a good internet connection. Consider this person as being “on call” for the duration of the event.
- Create a document outlining all the details of the event. Example:
-Breakout room details
- Fong says, “Usually our biggest problem is having a participant in the wrong place and trying to figure out how to get them where they need to be. I need to know that Room A&B are happening, what’s going on and who is doing what. From there I can piece together what’s going on and help get them to their destination.”
- In addition to that document, have a checklist for the day.
- Have a strong communication plan. Apart from the event contact, communicate with the project manager and other staff and your own management (in case you need, for instance, approval for a license change or a credit card number). She recommends a dedicated chat stream for those managing the event.
Finally, Fong says, “There is no such thing as ‘TMI’. The more you know about the event, and who is doing what, and where, and when, the more likely you can fix problems quickly or avoid them altogether.”