The EventBuzz Podcast: Experts Insight on Hosting Educational Events Online

The EventBuzz Podcast: Experts Insight on Hosting Educational Events Online

Podcast speakers: Savannah McIntosh, the Purplepass Marketing Director and Justin Beattey, director of the MHAI Stanley WD Kemper Training Institute. Jump to links and video notes below. 

 

The EventBuzz podcast: Training Institute

presented by Purplepass

 

Podcast Transcript: Purplepass + Training Institute (MHAI)

 

Savannah (Purplepass):

Welcome to another episode of our podcast EventBuzz by Purplepass, where we talked to event planners in different industries and get their take on running an event planning advice, marketing tips software, you get the idea. In light of COVID-19, we have seen a dramatic rise in online events specifically in the education sector, not just schools, but other programs now offering online courses, workshops and training opportunities all digitally, which is pretty cool. And today, we have a special guest with us here to talk all about a very important organization with digital programs and educational opportunities they're offering plus giving us kind of a quick look into how they run their training and other educational events all online.

So Justin, how are you doing today?

 

Justin (Training Institute):

I'm pretty good, how about yourself?

 

Savannah:

I'm doing great, thanks for joining us, why don't we just start by having you briefly introduce yourself as well as giving us an intro into the organization your director for maybe talk about the different programs and support that you guys offer, your overall mission?

 

Justin:

Sure. So my name is Justin Beattey, I'm director of the MHAI II Stanley WD Kemper Training Institute. MHAI stands for Mental Health America of Indiana, we're a program under Mental Health America of Indiana, which is a statewide affiliate of the national organization, Mental Health of America.

And what our mission is, is to advance the education and behavioral health professionals like our goal is to not duplicate educational opportunities that are already out there. It's more to act as a supplemental educational resource for different opportunities people need when they're out in the field, providing whether it's substance use support or clinical support, mental health, co occurring trauma, all those kinds of things as we provide both in person and pre-recorded educational opportunities for professionals all over all types of fields related to behavioral health.

 

Savannah:

Awesome. And how long have you guys been doing virtual events? I know this isn't new for you, at least I'm not I'm aware. At least I think I'm aware it's not new for you guys. I've seen you guys do a lot of online like trainings and workshops and stuff like that. And if you can also tell me a little bit about like, the digital events you're currently offering?

 

Justin:

Sure.

 

Savannah:

Not really events, sorry, but like, your classes and what not.

 

Justin:

Oh, no, it's, it's fine. I'm not gonna pick apart language.

 

Savannah:

I use saying events all the time. So my brain kind of puts everything as an event.

 

Justin:

Yeah, so we historically have been focused on in person training. And we have done some digital events and pre recorded events and stuff like that. But kind of over the last year or so we recognized the need for starting to move to a digital format. However, a lot of our educational events are very experiential. And what I mean by that there are a lot of small group work, a lot of networking, all these kind of things where we really felt like in person was necessary. And so we had kind of started adapting some stuff. But some of our like, major, major events, see you have me saying it too, major educational opportunities
were done in person.

However, with all the restrictions that were set in place. As a result of COVID-19, we really had to take a look at whether we, for lack of better word, and whether we were going to crumble or we were going to adapt to the the the new way stuff was going to be done. So we took a couple months off from our trainings to kind of really look at how do we adapt these really experiential in person, you know, a lot, a lot of group work dialogue, how does that transition to a digital format, so we kind of broke some stuff down, change some things, you know, and stuff like that. And so finally, we started offering them online. And we noticed minimal negative impact from moving them digitally.

We actually got resounding feedback from our participants about how they enjoyed it so much that we had found ways to make it engaging educational that, you know, yes, it kind of stinks that we can't be there in person, but man, I didn't think sitting on, you know, a digital platform for six hours or four hours or I mean, we have one training we do that's five days. So you're on the digital platform six, six to eight hours a day, five days in a row and that's one of the ones we were really concerned about. And the
feedback, we've got, like I said, it's just amazing where people are like, Man, this is awesome, you guys have done a great job of making this as close to a classroom type learning, you know, we've learnt used, figured out the nuances of the platform we use to make it as engaging as possible.

And we've actually been able to increase the amount of educational opportunities we've provided, because of having it digitally. And, and the biggest part of it honestly, is we serve all of the state of Indiana. And as part of that, travel was always an issue for people because we're based in Indianapolis, which is pretty much the center of the state. And so some people had a three hour drive to come to one of our trainings, and then the cost of staying the night food, you know, or anything like that. And now it's, well, let me make sure my computer set up wherever I'm going to have it, I may even still be in my jammies to do this.

Yeah, you know, and so it's worked out really well. And, and to be honest, we I pulled the numbers just because I was curious. We've trained over 525 people since May 1. And I was surprised when I saw that amount, and that just would not have physically been possible in an in person setting because one of the things is too is, we cater to a lot of different professions. And so we're able to have multiple trainings on the same day, where if it was in person, we only have one training facility. So we couldn't do it, you know, we did a five day training, we couldn't have any other trainings that week.

And now this has given us the opportunity to run multiple educational events, on the same day or in the same week, and really, you know, increase a lot of areas of our reach.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, and I think too, like as awful as as pandemic has been, it's forced a lot of people to get super creative. And like you guys, you've, you've got creative, and you actually found a way to reach more people. So it kind of I mean, it's not gonna, I'm not gonna say it's a great thing, but it has had some positive impacts on businesses, depending how you look on it. And that's awesome for you guys. And it's awesome that you're doing online, because now other people have access to it, and it's a lot easier. So yeah, that's great. And I was going to ask you all about the benefits, but you totally like, covered all of that.

And also, I'm sure people are curious what software you guys are using to do the online training workshops?

 

Justin:

So we looked at several platforms, and the one we decided to go with was zoom. And a lot of the reason we decided on zoom was because of there's a breakout room feature where you can essentially put people into small groups. And there was a lot of other functionalities that just for the type of interaction we were doing best fit our needs. Because of like I said, we there's there's multiple software out there, there's a bunch of amazing ones out there. And zoom just when we really got into the nuances of how we wanted to be looked at as educators how we wanted to ensure that our participants were staying engaged, paying attention, you know, all those kinds of things. That's the one that best met our specific professional needs.

 

Savannah:

And so what is the setup process for your users? How do you, how do you guys go about preparing them for transitioning from in person to digital events, especially people that are not might not be comfortable with using computers at first, or just not used to the idea.

 

Justin:

So one of the things we always do on our Purplepass registration page is there's a there's a section where you can put like, I think it's called technically terms of terms and agreements in or something along those lines. And we put in there an explanation on how to download Zoom. You know, we put in there like to make sure they read it says hey, make sure ahead of time, you've downloaded this software that these are the minimum requirements that Zoom states you need we we appreciate you being on webcam as much as possible, you know, test your speakers and mic ahead of time.

And then also like we put one of our one of our team members contact information there, that if you have any additional questions or comments, please reach out to us directly. And we don't we expected that to be an overflow. To be honest, we were like man, we probably shouldn't do this. But we we have to and majority of people have said that, you know they once they've got the software downloaded if they had some issues, they looked at the frequently asked questions. And then the few that didn't have reached out to us and we scheduled a time and have maybe committed honestly 20 minutes to that time working with them to make sure it's downloaded and on there.

And I mean and it's worth it because then you know everything's up and running when you're doing your digital event and you're not spending the first hour troubleshooting each of your 30 participants, computers?

 

Savannah:

Oh, yeah, I didn't think about that. And Zoom is pretty user friendly. It's just it is a new space. So if you're not used to it, it's probably helpful just to have someone, it's less intimidating to have someone just walk you through it. And so yeah, that's there's, there's a lot of places in Purplepass where you can add little notes and stuff. And like, you could even probably include like a link if you wanted to send them to a master guide or something. But yeah.

 

Justin:

And one of the things we've done with that, too, is, we wrote when we restructured the trainings, we wrote an A 15 minute segment at the beginning of everything, to walk people through how to use use the Zoom platform, like to show them how to use specific functions, how to make it the screen look correctly. And I mean, it's really not that much extra time. And you know, and the people appreciate it, it's just a good customer service tool.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, and that small amount of time that you took to kind of explain, it probably saves you so much time, if you were to actually like figure it out during the event. So yeah, I would definitely encourage other people using it to like, even if they think it's a simple process to some people, it's not so like, I would just say always have at least some steps to follow.

And my next question for any advice you might want to give our listeners about using Zoom for their like educational courses probably would be that or any other, like, if there's common mistakes you guys made, or had to learn the hard way that you could let them know?

 

Justin:

Few of the things around it just in general is, if you have multiple, like instructors, or people using the platform on your organization's behalf, don't assume they know how to use it. Like we like we dedicated training, like we created, like a couple hour training opportunities for our educators and staff where we all got on Zoom together. And we just showed them how to use it. You know, it was it was a real like online tutorial where we were like, Okay, everybody go use this feature, we're not going to stop until everybody knows how to use it, okay, now, okay, your Internet's showing unstable, don't get, don't get nervous about it, here's what you need to do go shut this program, you know, do this and that.

So that way, when the person was in the thick of actually doing it, they felt prepared. And so that was that was one of those things is that we wanted to make sure our staff was as fully prepared as possible. So we, we took a little bit of time to dedicate to it, and where if you look at it from outside, you're like, Man, that's time You shouldn't have to spend. But realistically, as you previously mentioned, it saved us so much time in the long run, you know, and as part of what we do is we explain to people, hey, we understand your internet may go out, we understand, you may lose this or that, like we're going to work with you just joined back when you can, you know, it's in this new digital age, we all have to be a little more understanding that technology and our internet capabilities in each of our households is out of our control. And just really kind of looking at those different kinds of things around that and just really fully as an organization or program, understanding what the limits of your capabilities are, to what other people do with their systems and how they join.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think I'll forget to like I'm so comfortable with computers now. I'll be talking to my mom or having her do something. I'm like, why? I have to like step back because that's not their life every day, they don't know. So yeah, a little patience and getting them going. And then once you got it, it's pretty easy.

I also wanted to talk to you about the virtual conferences you guys put on. I think there's one coming up in November, I believe I saw that. If you wanted to talk about that event, first introduce it, that would be cool.

But mainly, these conferences tend to have panels that participants are able to interact with. So I kind of just wanted to see how that works, or how you guys go about doing that.

 

Justin:

So the conference you're talking about in November is we're working with one of our partner organizations that are under the MHAI umbrella is the Indiana community or not community, Indiana Collegiate Action Network that helps do things with all the colleges here in Indiana and that that's happening and I think it's the second week of November is their annual conference. And so we really looked at what that would look like to have presenters, you know, and these kind of things and there are several options you can do around different things. But what this is where we're really
putting ourselves out on a limb so to speak and doing it all ourselves.

And so we're still kind of working through some of this stuff of how the panelists are going to work and these kinds of things. But overall, with that one, we'll probably we're expecting probably about 125-150 people in attendance. And so our goal is is with that is to potentially split into the breakout room sessions where it would be just like walking over and to your side conference room from the main hall, you know, and then bringing people back.

And then, you know, if you're looking at things like sponsorship, or those kind of things, you can look into creating backdrops that have your sponsors logo on them, you know, do that, do the introductory thing of, hey, we want to talk to you about how this next presentation is brought to you, you know, my Purplepass your one stop shop for all your event needs, you know, all those kind of things, where you can really do it and customize it to what your individual needs are.

 

Savannah: 

And for the like the breakout sessions, how, how does that work? Zoom? Is it just like another link, and then they would go to it?

 

Justin:

No, like one of the neat things about the breakout rooms and Zoom is that when you're when you're one of the main you're when you're the main user, you can you can assign people to rooms. And then they get a link that pops up in the Zoom Room that says you've been invited to conference room, blah, blah, blah, you can name it, whatever you want. They click OK. And it essentially takes them into a whole nother zoom meeting. But you're but they don't have to log out, you know, or any of those kinds of things. It just kind of teleports them over there, where they would be in a different room specific to that conversation. And then you can have a couple of them go on, you actually have several of them going on at the same time where it would just be like a conference hall. You know, it would just be all the little breakout rooms for it.

 

Savannah:

Wow. Okay. And that's all done through Zooms. I've never used zoom to that extent before. But that's pretty cool.

 

Justin:

That was the main selling feature for us. Because like I said, most of our trainings had small group work. And a lot of the other ones didn't offer us the ability to transition the way we wanted to in those situations.

 

Savannah:

Oh, that makes sense now, yeah, that is really cool. Um, and then the other question, I have so many, I wanted to kind of give people an inside look into how your courses workshops, function online. I know we talked about the breakout sessions, you guys do that for your workshops as well? Or is it just like smaller groups?

 

Justin: 

It really each one's kind of unique. Our big thing with this was that we did not want them lecture style, because it's, it's mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting to sit in front of a computer screen all day. And even more if you're just staring at a slide with a bunch of words on it. So are our trainings, we really looked at?

How do we get people looking at each other? How do we get people having conversations? And so that's where, you know, Zoom offers you the opportunity to do polls, you know, and one of the nice things about doing polls where we pop up something, you know, like, what do you think about this? Yes, no, maybe. And one, it lets you know, people are paying attention. But two, it kind of gets their body moving, you know, and we always add a multiple hour training, we always take a break from a 10 minute break roughly every hour, and encourage everybody to turn off their turn off their cameras, mute their microphones and get up.

And one of the things I always joke with people about I'm like, at least switch the screen you're looking at, like, I know, you're gonna grab your phone, you're gonna check emails, so at least check emails on your phone and walk around versus sitting at this computer the whole time.

And so that's where, at times, to be honest, and some of the trainings I've done, I've stopped at mid training, I'm like, alright, I can see I'm losing some you. So stand up. Everybody stand up right now. Like shake your arms out, shake your legs out, because that's what we do in our in person trainings. Because usually, when you're doing an all day training, people like to eat carbs for some reason around lunch for their lunch. And then they hit about that one hour after lunch window where their eyes get droopy and everything. And so we always get that blood flowing again. So we've made sure we do those same things.

Just because we're not in the same room doesn't mean we can't get up, move around, joke around have conversations, all that kind of stuff call on people to read, ask people their opinions, you know, and really make it engaging.

 

Savannah:

And so when people respond, or if you ask them a question, are they actually are their audio on or are you guys using like the chat feature?

 

Justin:

Both like, what we encourage is we encourage the verbal dialogue, but then also we encourage people to use the chat throughout the trainings. And what we found is really neat is when you're in person, those that kind of side conversation can become overwhelming because you can hear it and you know those kind of things, but in a chat box, it's not overwhelming, and there's been some really amazing side dialogue going on in the chat box where us as trainers honestly have stopped and been like, hey, we want to point out the conversation going on in the chat box. Like, it's awesome. If you're not reading it, like, let's look at what Sammy said, let's look at what Jarell said, you know, or this and that.

And it's really gave us the ability to have that full continuum and everybody feel like they're engaged during the whole thing, rather than just when they're called on to speak.

 

Savannah:

Oh, okay, so you guys are doing the training, but then on the side, they can do the chat and kind of give their own opinions. And then you kind of do like, a little, maybe a little debate or sparks conversation.

 

Justin:

Correct?

 

Savannah:

Yeah, that that's cool. I didn't think about that either. See it? I mean, there is benefits to doing online with all this cool technology versus in person. I mean, you just have to weigh it out.

 

Justin:

It's interesting around that, because like, my wife jokes with me is because like, I was adamantly against doing digital trainings, like I like, I'll be honest, I was one of the main barriers for our organization, transitioning to digital trainings, because I was like, "Oh, it's gonna lose all this, people aren't gonna pay attention." And now I'm one of the biggest champions in our area of digital trainings like it's won me over.

It's just, there's been so many more bonuses and pluses to it than the few minus regressions, it just the positive just far outweigh the negatives. And a lot of it was me not knowing me not being involved in very many digital trainings, me not understanding how it works. So once I kind of educated myself and did a little research, I was like, well, this will work for the time period. And now I'm like, I think this is the way of the future.

 

Savannah:

I mean, I definitely miss I love interaction, I miss the in person. But there are so many benefits with online learning. I mean, so many, you can get so much more people involved. It's a lot easier. Yeah, I definitely agree with that. And for other people out there listening, I know, especially like, right now we have a lot of people reaching out to us, that are educators or putting on educational programs or trying to do workshops, like you guys doing it online. Because obviously right now, they we can't do in person, and this is their only option. Do you have a few other tips you might want to give them or tell them like you said, like you were afraid of it afraid of making the transition to digital, anything you'd like to say to them who are kind of unsure where to start or just unsure if it's gonna work?

 

Justin:

The biggest thing I could say is give it a try and see, but but be open to adjustments. Understand that how the first couple times you deliver it, it's going to be awkward, you're going to think it didn't work out, right? But let's talk to your participants. Listen to your end user. And that's what we did is we really talked to the people that were in our trainings, and said, "What did you like, What didn't you like, what worked, what didn't work?"And we think we figured it out pretty good now, but there was a lot of adjustments, we stayed open minded to understanding that there was going to be a process to this and not just an immediate end product.

And so I think through being open minded, listening, talking to the people that were actually receiving the information, and what they needed, rather than what we thought they need is what's helped us make these as awesome as they are now.

 

Savannah:

And I think you hit the nail on the head there, like a lot of people tend to forget, listen and talk to people like actually receiving your service. And they're going to be honest, and especially if you just ask, "Hey, what do you think of this?" straightforward, they're going to tell you and you're going to get more feedback and more knowledge just from that conversation or maybe using a survey or what not, then trying to guess or think your way or the highway or this is what's going to work. So I think you're right about that.

 

Justin:

And that is that's what that's and I agree wholeheartedly there is that, like a lot of times, we don't think about the populations we're serving, you know, or our concert goers, you know, or educational people, the people that are showing up for our events, you know, whatever it may be like, they're the ones who are going to keep you in business.

It doesn't matter how cool or great you think your product is, if no one wants it. So listen to the people that are using the product, listen to the people that are engaging with it, and understand that things change and grow because anybody who's still around after roughly mid to late March, understands that you have to be willing to adjust.

You know, there were so many plans, so many organizations communities had, you know, in February of this is what we're doing this spring, this is what we're doing this summer. I mean, look at the concert industry as a whole, you know, look at the educational industry, like, so many in person event situations got turned on their head. And and we're in the situation now where you either adjust to what's needed to be done, or unfortunately, you may be looking for a new line of work.

 

Savannah:

Yeah, exactly. You got to get creative. Make it happen. Okay, well, is there anything else you would like to add? Because I think I asked you everything I wanted to, and you just provided so much great information that I know it's going to help everyone that's been asking us what to do like how to make online learning better, and especially engagement.

 

Justin:

I'd really say overall, just remember to breathe as you're working through this stuff. And, again, understand it's a process that you just have to be adaptable, and you have to be willing to listen to the community. Listen to the people you serve. And so I mean, the biggest things I could say is breathe, be adaptable, and listen.

 

Savannah:

Okay, breathe, adaptable, listen. I feel like we can use that not even, just in life.

 

Justin:

Yeah, I agree.

 

Savannah:

I need to start telling myself that

 


 

Video notes and links

Organizations mentioned: 

Training Institute - Mental Health America of Indiana 

Mental health America of Indiana (MHAI)

ICAN - Indiana Collegiate Action Network 

 

Social media: 

MHAI Facebook

MHAI Twitter

 

Upcoming events: 

ICAN Digital Conference 

 

Software: 

Zoom

Zoom breakout sessions

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