The first thing to ask yourself is:
What is the purpose and intention of the meeting or event?
What outcome do you want?
What information do you want to share, what learnings do you want to enable?
Is the intention to share information, enable learning, work on something together, create connection in a group, reach joint decisions and clarity on next steps?
Of course, it can be challenging to narrow it down to 1-2 main intentions. Yet doing so helps you to keep the focus when it comes to:
This supports you to not overload your workshop, event or conference with tools and methods, but cut down to those you really need and which are actually supportive to your participants. And in doing so, create time and space for them to really engage.
Last year I was part of planning and running around 80 workshops, conferences and events with a total of around 2000 participants, as well as learning from further events conceptualised, facilitated and moderated by my team members.
Through all these experiences we observed just how important it is to allow yourself to take a step back in the beginning of planning your online event and ask yourself: what is the purpose? What do we want the participants and ourselves to take from the event? What are the 1-2 main intentions? And following this - which format, session type and length really enables this?
When we skip this step, it very often results in following business as usual. There is a format and given time frame we already know - maybe even one we actually do not enjoy very much - yet we take it as a given and simply replicate it.
A classic example is the 1 hour webinar with a welcome, a longer input, or maybe even 2 or 3 inputs, and a few last minutes for quick questions in the end.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking this format and time frame, taking all our inputs and some elements for a bit of exchange and discussion and trying to just fit and squeeze it in.
Having the purpose and intention in mind can support you to check each element as you go and create a coherent picture.
Does this fit?
Do I keep it or kick-it?
How could I adjust it?
How much time should I allocate to it so it is really useful and supportive to participants?
In the end you might still end up with the same format and time frame. Often though, you realise that a few extra minutes, or distributing the time differently, can really support you to follow the purpose and intention of the online gathering. This could mean having proper time for participants to check-in, think about and ask their questions, and formulate their take-aways and learnings from the event. It could mean reducing the amount of input and not overloading your audience, or actually giving more time for the input if it is important and complex and thus requires the additional time to explain it properly.
So even if a webinar style fits best, it might be better to schedule it for 75 minutes or 1.5 hours with these additional minutes well invested, instead of 60 minutes in which important elements and time for participants to learn and take away something new could not happen.
There is no right or wrong format or length of time to choose. It all depends on what you want to enable and achieve. And this is why a successful event starts with a clear intention.