Digital technology provides grassroots organizers a variety of ways to stay in touch with their members and communities outside of in-person meetings and events.
Online video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts enable people near and far to connect with each other from the convenience of their homes, offices, or anywhere with Wi-Fi. And, to make it even more accessible, many online platforms also let you join by phone.
Revolutionizing the way we think about gathering people in “one place,” platforms like these have opened the door to a whole new way to do meetings. And, with more and more of these platforms allowing larger groups to gather via video conference, they are opening doors to new options for more far-reaching events.
For example, after the release of Ava DuVernay’s documentary, 13th, we teamed up with our partners at the Center for Community Change to hold a live screening and discussion using Zoom video conferencing service. Our goal was not only to encourage people to see the documentary, but to give them the opportunity to watch and reflect on it with others. It turned out to be a successful event that sparked a much-needed dialogue about mass incarceration and criminalization, engaging people from across the country. We were able to watch it as a group by streaming the film from one computer and using Zoom’s screen sharing feature.
For a grassroots organizer who spends a lot of time trying to get people in the same room, online events can be a great option. However, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact, so you’ll want to be sure to balance the convenience of connecting online with in-person interaction.
Below are 12 important factors to consider that highlight some of the unique benefits of hosting an event online. They will help you determine whether or not it will make the most sense for your next gathering.
The biggest benefit of having an event online is the ability of people to join from almost anywhere. Bringing people together from across the state or country can be costly and can mean a lot of logistical planning. But by hosting an event online, you can engage people from different locations who you might not otherwise be able to bring together.
In addition to your participants, online events may sometimes be more convenient for guest speakers and/or others on your program, making it easier to secure their participation. For example, if your speaker lives several states away and has a busy travel schedule, having your event online may increase the likelihood of them being available.
Even when you are engaging people nearby, accessibility can be an issue. If a significant portion of your audience has barriers to transportation, you may want to consider getting them together virtually. On the other hand, you’ll also want to be mindful of your audience’s accessibility to the internet. It may seem like a no-brainer that everyone has access to a computer or smart phone and Wi-Fi, but that’s not always the case. It is up to you to understand your audience and figure out what might increase or deter participation.
If you are planning an event that happens to fall around a holiday, or a time where many people may be traveling, hosting your event online may be a better option. This will allow people to participate from where they are. Also, if you are planning your event during a busy time of the year, you may get more people who are willing to give an hour or so from their homes before they head off for their other plans.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t treat your event as a priority; only that you will want to be mindful of the other commitments that people you are trying to engage may have.
Similarly, if your event is during work hours, you may get more participation from people who can tune in from their office. You can also often get away with having an online event later in the evening than if you host it in person.
It is also important to consider how long your event will last. If it is for 30 minutes or less, then it may make sense to host it online. On the other hand, if you’re planning a half-day or a multiple day event, it will probably make more sense to host it in person. Unless it includes binge watching the latest Netflix original, it’s going to be difficult to keep people’s attention on a screen for that long.
Is this a recurring event? If so, how often will it take place? Thinking about the frequency may help you to determine whether it is best to meet in person or online, or whether you want to switch it up every once in a while.
Sometimes you need to call people together in a short amount of time. In instances when there’s no time to work out the logistics for an in-person meeting, like securing a venue, holding an online gathering may be a better option.
The type of interaction you want to have among participants at your event will be an important factor in deciding the best method to use. Does it require some hands on work? Are you planning to break people out into small groups? If the answer is yes to either or both of these, then meeting in person may be your best bet.
Note, however, that many online conferencing platforms offer helpful features for interactive conversations among small and large groups of people. For example, Zoom and Maestro Conference have options that allow you to move participants into breakout groups, and GoToWebinar has a great audience-polling feature. GoToMeeting allows you to mute everyone until it is time for them to speak. Participants can also click a button to virtually raise their hand if they have a question or a comment.
What does your budget for this event look like? Various factors like your ability to get secure a venue for free or at a low cost, and the number of people you want to include, will impact whether or not an online event will be your more affordable option. Several video conferencing platforms have free versions, but they usually limit the number of people you can have join. Comparing their prices to the expenses of hosting in-person will help you determine which option is best for you.
What kind of space is required? Is there a venue available that meets your needs? You might consider holding your event online if you aren’t sure how many people will show up. That way, you won’t have to worry about not having enough space, or sometimes worse – having too big of a space.
Several online conferencing platforms have screen-sharing features that will allow you to play media, share a document, or show a slide presentation on your screen with others. (Check out these links for instructions on screen sharing on Zoom, and GoToMeeting.) But, you may feel more comfortable using a projector and screen – or my favorite, a good old-fashioned flip chart. The decision about which technology will serve you best in an online or offline event will come down to what you need, and what you and your team are most comfortable using.
11. Number of people
As discussed, several of the existing online platforms can host both small and large number of participants, so this may not be a deciding factor on its own. This is often something to consider in combination with other factors. For example, if you want to engage 20+ people with a week’s notice who live far away from one another – it will probably be most convenient to do it online.
The most important thing to consider is the purpose of your event: What do you want people to get out of it? How do you want them to feel? And, what do you want them to do?
When thinking through your event and whether an online option is viable or not, remember that it’s not just about convenience, it is about impact. Knowing your purpose will help you to prioritize which factors on this list are most important to consider.
How are you using video conferencing technology to engage your base? Tell us in the comments section below!