Event going virtual: how to make it not suck
August 5, 2020 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm involved with planning what is typically a large in-person event involving tours of lab facilities, food, and beer. It's going virtual this year. I am in search of ideas to jazz it up.

Each year my university hosts a pub-crawl style tour of research facilities, with food and good beer and raffle tickets, and opportunities to visit labs that are normally restricted-access and meet the people who run them. The goal is to introduce science graduate students to some of the resources available to them. It was originally created to replace a very dry, poorly attended poster session, and has been extremely successful for several years. We typically get a few hundred attendees.

Obviously it can't happen in its usual form this year - it has to go virtual. I'm in search of suggestions for ways to make this fun and interesting. The primary mission is educational, but it's not educational if you've bored everyone to tears. The budget this year is limited and it's going to be implemented by a small group of people who don't specialize in this sort of thing, so it can't be anything TOO complex or expensive. But I'd love to hear ideas (from inside or outside the box) for how to implement this so that students leave it thinking (1) huh, that was actually fun (or at least interesting) and (2) I'd like to do some work with those folks.
posted by telepanda to Technology (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are there any lab techniques or equipment that can be demonstrated on camera that the students would normally not be able to see unless they were there? You can point a smartphone at it and demonstrate the technique on a Zoom webinar. I have done this for virtual events where someone was demonstrating an artistic technique or detailed mechanical work, for example, and it was very well received by attendees. Even behind-the-scenes tours work as a virtual experience if the facility or equipment is something people wouldn't typically have access to.

You can also still do a raffle with prizes, which could be the hook to get people to register and attend.
posted by bedhead at 10:18 AM on August 5, 2020

Right now, nobody is doing virtual events in a non-sucky way. I'd expect low turnout, low engagement, and low conversion rates. Here's some ideas anyway:

Play two rooms and a boom virtually. Give raffle tickets as prizes?

Play Lie Swatter virtually. Give raffle tickets as prizes.

Have everyone fill out a survey ahead of time - then play family fued or a "what % of people said this" guessing game. Use email / google forms to submit answers. Give raffle tickets as prizes.

Have a digital scavenger hunt. The winner is whoever emails the correct stuff first to an address. Give raffle tickets as prizes.

Give a (short, edited) virtual tour of the labs. Send it as a youtube video.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:22 AM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding pre-recorded lab tour videos - no fiddly setup issues, and you can take advantage of the format to provide closeups or other details that might otherwise get lost live. Interesting videos are great to include on a lab's website even in non-pandemic times, so maybe use that to encourage good production values. Include contact info if people want to follow up or ask more questions, of course.

You could have a scavenger hunt style "quiz" on the videos (either genuine questions about the lab's work, or silly things like "count the number of compressed gas cylinders in the background") and draw for prizes among the people who answered the questions.

For the live portion you could do prize drawings and some sort of Q&A/panel discussion with folks currently working in the labs? Have some presubmitted questions ready to go to start the conversation.
posted by btfreek at 11:08 AM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

My company just did something similar (well, at least the lab tour bit). They set up phones/tablets/computers with webcams at strategic locations throughout the lab, and had all of them plus the guests dial into a zoom call. A moderator then talked through the lab tour, and switched from station to station as they went. People at each station were prepared to talk a little bit about what it was they were doing, and how they fit into the grander scheme of things. Took a bit of planning but was apparently well-received.
posted by Jobst at 11:11 AM on August 5, 2020

I just attended a conference that was converted to virtual. Definitely pre-recording some neat lab demonstrations and then have live Q&A after. The pre-recording was a big step in making the event I attended go more smoothly. Also having a moderator who isn't presenting to help with things like muting, monitoring the chat, making sure the screen is sharing properly.

For more atmospheric stuff: You can add polls to Zoom that can be used for trivia for prizes, which could still be fun. The whiteboard is also sort of fun for collaborative games but obviously you have the risks that come with letting People On The Internet write things on a common wall. Choose cool beer pairings and ask a local place to put together a package folks can call in for pickup.
posted by assenav at 11:51 AM on August 5, 2020

Lab tours as online escape room?
posted by kbuxton at 12:01 PM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

We gave used google glasses to share demonstration and operation of instruments.
posted by gryphonlover at 12:17 PM on August 5, 2020

It's almost certainly too much effort, but my first thought was to have each lab do a Dance Your PhD style performance about their research. Of course it would be an added complication that everyone had to record their parts separately, but there have been some wonderful dances choreographed in quarantine—with, again, a stupendous amount of effort, probably too much, but just putting it out there.
posted by babelfish at 1:33 PM on August 5, 2020

Give people a prompt before they enter the lab and a link to a Sli.do word cloud. Perhaps another prompt after they exit the lab with another link.
posted by grateful at 1:35 PM on August 5, 2020

Since it used to be a bar crawl, you could do drinking games? Like any time someone says "lab" take a drink (or cheer, for people who don't/can't drink).
posted by thebots at 10:03 AM on August 6, 2020

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