One of the projects I completed earlier this month for a client of mine was an online career fair. It was geared toward middle and high school students, their parents and educators. Our goal was to expose them to career exploration information and some summer job search tips and techniques.
The event took place over a three-day period, with a "teaser" webinar the week before the career fair to help entice people to attend the sessions during the actual event. We used a wiki, a Ning network and a Twitter account for the bulk of our online outreach and interaction. We also set up a page describing how other individuals and groups could help us promote the career fair that included downloads of flyers and copy and paste info for them to include in emails and on their websites.
The career fair included a series of live webinars that we then recorded and archived on our wiki for those who weren't able to attend the live events. We also had some pre-recorded webinars that were uploaded at different points throughout the three days.
The group I worked with on this project had worked together previously on other activities, but this was their first time doing something entirely online. They also had varying levels of expertise in using the technologies, so that impacted how they participated and what they contributed to the project.
The first part of the presentation above highlights some of what we learned and the outcomes of the event, but I wanted to highlight a few lessons and include some more here. I'm dividing this into a few posts because there are a lot of lessons. :-)
Lessons Learned in Planning and Preparation
- The planning time was less than it might have otherwise been because we worked with a team who has worked together before. I think we would have had to triple it if we were working with a group who had not developed the levels of trust we had. I will say that the planning time was equivalent to what it would have been if we were planning an in-person event, so doing an online event didn't necessarily save us any time in planning.
- It is possible to plan a big event without ever meeting in person. All of our meetings were conducted online and via conference call, which also helped us get comfortable with the technologies and tools for actually delivering the career fair. Since we were physically located in several different counties in the southeastern PA region, being able to do all of our planning without a physical meeting was a definite bonus.
- We used Google Docs for our meeting minutes, which was really helpful. We would log on to our webinar platform and I would type the notes as we talked. Team members who weren't able to attend a particular meeting could easily review what we'd discussed and it also made it easier for people to indicate when they'd completed a particular task or add information. We were also able to do a better job of documenting our process, which will be a big help the next time we do one of these.
- Practice sessions with the presenters were absolutely necessary and really helpful in making sure that everyone was comfortable with the technology. A few of the presenters had actually done webinars before, but most had not, so they very much appreciated the opportunity to try things out before their events. It also allowed me to make sure that the technology was working with each presenter's computer. I will say that for next time, I'm going to get more people to help with these practice sessions, as they took up quite a bit of time.
- Related to the practice sessions, it also worked out well to have a Presenter's Page with guidelines on how to participate in the webinars, suggestions for preparation and links to ideas on how to do effective online presentations. Not only was it helpful for those who had already agreed to participate, it was a useful presenter recruitment tool because it gave them a pretty good idea of what they would be doing.
- As I mentioned, the team I worked with to plan and implement this project had never done something entirely online. They also had varying levels of comfort with the different tools. What was probably the most interesting for them was seeing how we could actually do many of the things that they've traditionally done face-to-face in an online environment and how that actually expanded their reach. I think that next time, though, I would probably push them to actually use the tools themselves more. While a few of them, for example, added directly to the wiki, most would email me materials and information and then I would take care of the updating. It will be easier to do this next time because we all have a better idea of what we're doing, so I can focus more on helping them to use the technologies themselves.
In my next post, I'll talk about some of the lessons we learned during implementation of the actual event. I'd love to hear your ideas and feedback about experiences you've had in putting together online events.