Prepare, plan, and practice is a mantra I have followed for many years. As an online event producer, I rely heavily on my experience as a stage performer. I suggest that they aren’t as different as you might think!

Stage productions are well-crafted interactions meant to engage an audience and hopefully impact some meaning about a particular subject. The production evokes an emotional response—you are wrapped up in what is happening on the stage.

Good virtual events evoke a similar emotional response—you connect with the material, internalize this new knowledge, and make it a part of your own body of knowledge. Are all artistic performances and virtual events life changing? No, but both should be impactful.

To be impactful you need a plan

Planning for a stage production or a virtual classroom session can be very simple or extremely elaborate. In a stage production there are actors, stage managers, lighting and sound technicians, and directors. Although there are less people involved in creating and producing a virtual classroom event, definitive roles make a session run smoothly.

In a successful virtual classroom there needs to be a learning experience designer, a facilitator, and a virtual event producer. Sometimes one person holds all these roles, however having a producer with online instructional experience who is skilled in the virtual classroom platform is one of the best ways to produce a high quality, instructionally sound learning experience. The facilitator needs to be familiar with the virtual classroom platform but the producer will be able to run and troubleshoot the technology and suggest engagement activities that can be used in the platform you are using.

To maximize the impact of stage productions you begin with the story arc and an overall script of the performance. This serves as a roadmap of where you want to go and how the production will get you there. The overall script is broken down into technical/production scripts that include music, lightning, and sound cues, as well as description of curtain, furniture, and scenery movement. Acting scripts give performers lines and stage directions for movement and characterization. These documents provide the framework for a well-put together event.

In a virtual classroom, a document framework is similarly important. The story arc and overall script can be compared to the learning goals that are determined through a needs analysis, which will result in the desired outcome such as increased performance, safety protocols communicated, a change in organizational behavior, etc. The technical/production scripts are the virtual event producer notes of the structure of the session. Just as the technical execution of a stage production depends on the type of stage, lighting capabilities, scenery, and props available, the environment of the virtual classroom will determine the types of engagement activities available. Is there group chat? Polls or quizzes? Breakout sessions? Whiteboards? Emoticons? A producer can suggest and map activities that will meet the learning goals, as well as take into consideration the learners’ needs.

A collaboration between the facilitator and the producer can bring forth activities that align with and repeat the learning objectives. The acting scripts can be compared to the presentation (facilitator) script that contains the verbal content the facilitator can say to ensure that all learning goals are addressed. The classroom materials, presentation slides, videos, and other visual content should be appealing and not text-heavy. It is good to have a visual anchor for information that connects with something a learner already knows. By connecting the new information with previous information, the likelihood that the learners will retain the information is increased. For maximum retention, and to combat the forgetting curve, spaced after event activities are a good option.

Practice makes perfect

Once all the planning and preparing has occurred, it’s time for practice. Just as in a stage production, you need to run through your lines (the presentation or facilitator script) check the lights and scenery, (technical considerations such as microphone and/or camera, polls, videos, etc.), and make sure all is within the running time of the performance (the stated classroom time). Going through the event with your producer allows you to tweak, adjust, and ensure smooth transitions and delivery so your learners can concentrate on the material. Having a framework of structure, roles, and timings for a session is critical and very much like having stage production elements in place. The key is to prepare, plan, and practice.

Some might say, “I can just wing it,” much like people in improv troupes seemingly do. However, what they might not realize is that improv performers practice all kinds of methods of thinking on your feet, and have a framework of sorts that guides a performance. It’s like knowing how to drive many kinds of vehicles in all kinds of weather by practicing in snow, rain, wind, heat, etc. The performer must adapt to driving a particular vehicle in a specific kind of weather, all in a split second. The words may not be scripted but there are many, many, many hours of practice that have laid the foundation of a funny improv skit. Actually, it is more difficult to perform improv than it is to perform in a scripted stage production! But like stage production, the bottom line is that the process of preparing, planning, and practice cannot be underestimated.

Are you fully prepared for your next virtual classroom event?

You've picked the date, selected the topic, lined up your speakers, and chosen your platform, so your virtual classroom event should be successful, right? Not necessarily. Did you remember to test your platform, have you communicated all requirements to participants, and are you prepared for any technical issues that might arise?

The Learning Guild’s The Complete Virtual Classroom Checklist: 30 Tips for a Successful Event is a concise checklist to help ensure the success of your virtual classroom event. It details what to do before, during, and after your event. Each stage covers tips related to technology, environment, and classroom materials. Included in the checklist are key takeaways for each stage of the process. Download the checklist today!