Best Practices for Online Events
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
Need help with your upcoming online event? We provide tech support and event production for all virtual meetings, trainings, workshops and conferences ranging from 1 hour to multiday events. Check out details at www.nonprofitlearninglab.org/tech.
When the COVID-19 pandemic halted our ability to host in-person events, we at the Nonprofit Learning Lab quickly pivoted to hosting 100% of our workshops and trainings online. We have now hosted over 200 virtual events and have learned our fair share about how to best prepare for and execute all kinds of online gatherings.
Tip #1: Know your tech
Technology often creates unexpected situations, especially during live online events. It is always important to have great audio and a strong internet connection when leading an online meeting, workshop or event. You should feel more than comfortable participating in an online event from your own devices and platforms before expecting others in your community to do the same. Even better to have an extra laptop on hand in case something goes awry, especially if you are the primary person leading the meeting or event. Do sound checks a few weeks prior to the event, the day before and the day of, just to make sure you have the best possible equipment and to ensure you are located in a good audio zone of your home or office. Not sure if your audio sounds good? Have a colleague or someone not in your home "call-in" to the platform so they can hear you and give feedback on your sound.
Tip #2: Practice until it is perfect
Doing a few "practice runs" or "dress rehearsals" for the event before you go live will help ensure a seamless experience for all. Walk through every step of your event, such as registration, log-in, participation in engagement activities, speaking, muting, closing out, and follow-up. As hard as it may be to arrange a time for every guest speaker, staff person, and volunteer to attend a run-through of the event, it is crucial to bring as much of your team together as possible ahead of time. Every moment of your event should be accounted for and talked through amongst your staff so that nothing is left to chance.
Tip #3: Be engaging
If you are gathering people together in an online format and expect the participants to be on webcam, then please make the experience engaging. An engaging online training, meeting or workshop is a better experience for everyone. We advise including an opportunity for engagement every 6 to 8 minutes. Some examples of engagement activities are: polls, a chance to participate in group chat, breakout rooms, quizzes, games, trivia, etc. It is always good to create and offer structured break out rooms where participants can interact, share ideas and learn from one another. It takes time to curate an experience, so give yourself ample time for the planning process.
Tip #4: Determine your goals
What is the main goal of your organization's event? Determine a goal early as this will help you decide the online platform to use. The platform you choose should align with the goals of your event. Are you trying to build community? Then you might need a platform with breakout room capacity. Are you trying to assess learning? Then you might need a platform with polls, a quiz function and a group chat box. Creating your online event goals should be one of the first steps in the planning process.
Tip #5: Have a back-up plan
The best laid out plans can go awry. We have all learned that over the past few months. When it comes to technology, you need to have a back-up plan. Your back-up plan could incorporate pre-recorded videos, back up internet and tech support—even if you think you know everything—something will always happen. We generally supply one tech support person for every 25 people in an event. This ensures that everyone can log in in a timely manner and that the lead presenter/s also have the support that they need.
Tip #6: Think about your audience
It is prudent to think about your audience and what online event structure aligns with them.
First, why is your audience interest in attending your event? What can they experience with you that they wouldn't experience with other organizations? If your event is mandatory, how are you making attendees feel welcome and accommodated? What platforms do your audience know and which have they used before? It is important to think about your event from the attendees' point of view so as to better visualize your ideal event and outcomes.
Having an idea about the comfort level of your audience with various online platforms is a must before any online event. Bringing people together for a meeting using a new application? Well, you may spend 30 minutes just showing the participants the chat box function. So, it is important to account for building the digital competency of your audience so that they can engage.
In conclusion, hosting virtual events is an incredibly difficult task that we are all figuring out together. No one has the answer to every question or concern, but that is okay! The field of virtual event planning is ever-expanding and there are a vast number of platforms and consultants ready to help you launch a successful and unforgettable virtual experience.