Like so many others, we are feeling the effects of COVID-19 on our work, with our clients and in our community. We’ve had major events and workshops cancelled and postponed and although this is of course disappointing, I am excited to find ways to adjust to this new reality and continue helping people create amazing event experiences and now, virtual events.
Going forward, we will all be relying much more heavily on the virtual gatherings and digital tools. This can be a daunting endeavour and it does require us to all think more creatively. But the good news is that in the last few years we’ve seen exponential growth and improvement in the digital tools that can help us adapt and transform our live events into online ones.
The other good news is that we can help you do that!
To help you make this transition to the virtual events space we have put together some top tips for both online event organizers and speakers.
In this blog post, we are excited to share some top tips on what you need to do to organise your virtual event and our next blog will give advice on how to speak effectively on digital, video-based platforms.
There is now a plethora of video conferencing platforms that will allow you to hold virtual events: zoom, bluejeans and google hangout are the ones we’ve used most often. For those who haven’t used a video conference for large events before, most online platforms allow you to broadcast your event video to attendees that can only view the event – i.e. you won’t get hundreds of individual video streams popping up! As the host, you can add in panellists or other speakers as additional video streams, so your attendees only see what you want them too.
Once you have decided on the software you like best, it’s time to think about the technical elements of the event and what additional support you might need now your event is taking place online. Here is your checklist:
- Have a strong internet and Wi-Fi connection
You may not be able to control attendees’ off-site connections, but you want to be assured that onsite you can broadcast in high definition. This means checking the speed and connectivity well before the event and on the day. If possible, as the host, it’s best to have a hard wired connection rather than relying on WiFi. But if you only have WiFi make sure you don’t have others using the network at the same time.
- Have your equipment ready
You’ll need a webcam, mic and speakers connected to your computer (your speakers will need this too). Luckily most laptops have all of these built in, but make sure you test all of these before the event. For our events we use an external webcam and microphone to ensure great video and audio quality. Both of these can easily plug into a USB and headphone port in your laptop and are easy to use.
- Check the basics
Install all software updates, make sure your computer is plugged into a power source. Turn off anything on your computer with pop-up notifications (like Slack, calendar, email etc). Test the light levels in the room – ideally you want to make sure you don’t have lots of bright lights or windows behind you and good lighting on your face.
- Get to know the software
Regardless of which platform you use there will be lots of helpful online tutorials so make sure you are comfortable with all the different settings and functionality. In Zoom, for example, you can use meetings or webinar functions, you can turn on and off chat and Q&A functions, you can record the session, you can ask people to register in advance, you can send reminders to participants, etc. Play around with the software, make sure you have everything set-up as you want it and test it with colleagues well before the event.
- Decide if you’re broadcasting live or recording your content
You can record your online event to post on your website or social media. But many events happen live – decide if you want people to register for your event and join on the platform, or if you’re going to livestream on to Facebook or Youtube (or both!). When it comes to preparing the technical aspects of your event, practice using your video conference software and get comfortable with it well before the day of your event.
Formats for Online Events
As with live events there are lots of different formats you can use to run a successful online event. Think about what the purpose of your event is, what your speakers are contributing and how you want the audience to be involved.
- Who will be speaking?
For online events we find there are three formats that work well: (1) one speaker presenting followed by questions; (2) interviews with a host and speaker followed by questions and (3) panel discussion with multiple speakers and questions if moderated effectively. For example check our TEDxLondon’s new web series Conversations Beyond Borders for an example of how we’ve worked with two speakers in an interview format followed by Q&A.
- How big is your audience?
Depending on the scale of your event, you will need to make sure your platform can hold the amount of people you are expecting. Free versions of these software tend to only allow up to 100 participants for a limited amount of time – these restrictions won’t work for everyone!
- How do you want people to interact?
Even though you want attendees to be mainly view-only, you still want them to be able to interact with you somehow. Think how this works best for your event. Is it as simple as ensuring everyone knows how to use the live chat and can ask questions? Or do you need more interaction, such as audience polls or “break out” rooms, where attendees can have group discussions? Perhaps, you want to integrate your event with Facebook Live or similar? Many of these requirements are possible with one or more of these video conferencing platforms, in particular, why not check out Sli.do.
Sli.do is an online platform that allows your audience to send in questions, up-vote other people’s questions and answer live polls. It’s very easy to moderate questions, making it easy for the host to pick the most popular audience questions to ask. Plus, it’s also compatible with various video conferencing tools and has great analytics and reporting to help you see which polls, questions and comments were most engaging.
Rethinking Your Content
As with every event, online events should be carefully thought about and curated. Start by being clear about the aim of your event. What do you want the audience to think, feel and do afterwards? What unique perspectives can your speakers bring to the conversation? Is your event for the public or a specific group of people? Here is some specific advice to ensure your online event is engaging and compelling as possible.
- Keep it short
People have a much shorter attention span when they are sitting by a laptop or computer screen. Whatever length your event would be in-person, think about shortening it by 15-30 minutes. It’s always better to leave your audience wanting more, then getting bored and turning out.
- Have a good moderator
It’s always difficult to chair or moderate an event, but for an online event, it’s even more important. Make sure you have a moderator that is comfortable managing the flow of conversation, expectations of the audience, Q&As and any tech issues. You can find top tips for chairing in our blog post here.
- Plan the flow of the session
Online events tend to work better when they have a clear flow and direction. During an in-person event, there can be spontaneity and tangents which are fun and add to the event. Unfortunately, going off-track doesn’t translate to online events particularly well, so make sure you know exactly where the event is going and take your audience on that journey with you.
- Prep your speakers
Related to planning the flow of the session, part of this process is preparing your speakers. It’s always good practice to have a briefing phone call with them prior to the event, explain what the format of the event is, how the technology works, what topics and questions you will cover, and how you will manage the Q&A.
- Don’t rely too heavily on presentations
People are more interesting than presentations! Yes, slides can be useful references to keep your audience on track with what is being said, but ultimately, if people are joining a session, they want to see you or the speakers. Don’t hide behind your presentation! Top tips on how you should use visuals in general can be found on our blog here.
- Communicate joining instructions clearly with your audience
The event experience starts from the moment the audience member clicks they are attending. All communications from that point should feedback into how you want your audience to think, feel and act during and after the event. There is nothing more frustrating than not knowing exactly how to join the event – make sure your joining instructions are crystal clear and if there are any questions, where they can contact someone to troubleshoot.
We hope that this guide will give you confidence on how to turn your events virtual.
If you need help and support during this time to translate your events to the virtual sphere, please reach out to us. We are able to set up live virtual events, or record and video events for podcasts or streaming at a later date.
Let’s keep spreading our ideas worth sharing!