NACA BLOG - Coffeehouses Reconsidered: Tips for Your Next Virtual Show - 4/15/2020

NACA Board and executive director

April 15, 2020
Rigo Gutierrez 
DePaul University 

​The pandemic and resulting world events have served as catalysts for expanding our offerings of online engagement, albeit in an overnight sweep which has created difficult obstacles and transitions compelling us to adapt quickly. Perhaps the presence of a Technology category in the NACA Competencies for Campus Activities Professionals was preparing us for a mindset in which technology plays a central role in how we connect our campus communities.

Events featuring music are always a favorite among student populations. DePaul University has recently hosted a virtual Tunes at Noon, featuring John Rush, which was a coffeehouse event hosted on Zoom. It was a highly interactive hour during which students were able to submit song requests and enjoy a live performance from the artist. We used the meeting feature and shared the link in our marketing materials through social media, website calendars, and newsletters. Below are five tips for a successful coffeehouse series or other events featuring musical performances. 

  1. Conduct a sound and video check – This one is perhaps the most important to keep in mind. Be sure to schedule at least 30 minutes with the artist to test sound and video in preparation for the show, just as you would an in-person concert. However, I suggest doing this a couple of days in advance, particularly if it is the artist’s first virtual show. This would allow the artist to make accommodations or acquire new technology if necessary prior to the event. During our preparation with John Rush, we made changes to the settings to enhance the A/V, and it was wonderful to get it all taken care of prior to the show with enough time to spare. With virtual shows being so new to everyone, it also helps all parties involved get comfortable with the performance logistics. John recommends the use of ProTools or Garage Band to enhance audio.
  2. Assign roles in advance – While it only takes one person to run a Zoom meeting, it is not the same when it comes to hosting an event on the platform. Be sure to think about what tasks need to be done and gather your students and staff in advance. I suggest at least three people total on your event team. This can range from facilitating the check-in process, managing song requests for the artist, and moderating audience behavior. It is easy to underestimate the help that will be needed to run a virtual event. Additionally, with internet connection being unpredictable, be sure to assign co-hosts and prepare someone to take over for you if you experience poor network connection.
  3. Share resources your audience will need during the event - John Rush has a list on his website with artists whose songs he can perform, and our audience was able to take a look at what their options were for putting in a song request. Depending on how you format your event, think of what links or content you will need to share with your participants and how you will communicate it with them. Creating graphics with directions and using the screen-share feature works well for a visual display of steps to follow.
  4. Implement a check-in and prevent Zoom bombing - In order to prevent unwanted guests from making appearances during events and causing disruptions, we are using the waiting room feature and a QR code prompting participants to check-in to our online student portal. Once student names appear on our authenticated system (we use Campus Groups), a designated host can let them into the event. Zoom has plenty of settings designed to customize the features your guests have access to, such as file and screen sharing, sending private messages, among others. Be sure to think of your audience and decide how you want participants to navigate and experience the event in an orderly fashion.
  5. Set the tone and encourage the audience participation – A big part of building community is the interaction which takes place among students during programs. Focus your energy in ensuring connection is still happening in the virtual world. Initially, it can be awkward for people to put themselves on video and interact with others they have not met on campus before. As a facilitator, it is important to set the ground rules at the beginning, but be sure to not only express rules to follow (i.e. muting their microphone, not speaking over one other) and include statements about the connections you hope they will build. Tell them this Zoom event is a time for them to have fun, chat with each other, and enjoy a time of togetherness during a difficult time in the world and their life as college students. Allow people to chat when the artist is taking a moment in between songs and have some conversational questions ready to ask when the room is quiet. Encourage the audience to clap and cheer after songs! All of these elements are key to creating an atmosphere and keeping the spirit which exists during in-person events.

While virtual programming is the only option we have at the moment, it is safe to say the implementation of technology in student life and campus activities has forever been transformed and will continue to be vital once normalcy is restored. Now is a perfect time to leverage this opportunity and embrace the gifts the internet has to offer when it comes to engaging our students and campus communities!

Rigo Gutierrez works at DePaul University and oversees campus activities in the Office of Student Involvement, where he serves as the advisor for the DePaul Activities Board and leads other initiatives. He has served in multiple volunteer roles, most recently as a member of the NACA Live Team in Denver.


NACA Competencies for Campus Activities Professionals

DOMAIN: Program & Event Management 

COMPETENCY: Technology 

  • Select and utilize appropriate technology to assist with tasks (Comprehension). 
  • Develop familiarity with common technologies and their relation to campus activities (Knowledge). 
  • Build partnerships with Information Technology staff to accomplish goals (Comprehension).

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