Ten tips for online events

Running an online event with multiple stakeholders and sessions? Here are ten ideas gleaned from work with virtual / distributed events:

  1. Establish a secondary and more private channel for managing event logistics. For example, platforms such as Google Voice and WhatsApp allow messaging from a desktop or web tab (in tandem with a phone)

  2. Practice with any technology you plan to use during the event and in sessions. Make sure that presenters (including students) are familiar with the technology and the online ‘spaces’ in which sessions will take place. Where possible, use platforms that are familiar to the presenters.

  3. You don’t necessarily ever need to use live cameras to have a great online event. Some benefits of going camera-free include addressing some privacy, equity and internet access issues. Audio with a shared screen can be enough and is often preferred.
  4. Anticipate connectivity issues and signal the possibility of problems at the beginning of each session (along with sharing some potential remedies). Make attendees comfortable with the likelihood of there being some technical glitches; it’s really no big deal. If there are problems with audio, spread the word to close any unnecessary browser tabs and mute any open mics. Encourage participants to exit and re-enter the online session if needed. Note, too, that some video problems can be addressed by downloading any videos and avoiding streaming content. Remember that most online event platforms include a dial-in option (keep those numbers handy)

  5. It’s possible to start in one online meeting platform and move the group to another platform — probably most easily done via web links posted to the chat. Keep someone in or monitor the exited room to help any stragglers make the transition. Transitions can support situations where a different platform offers better features (break-out rooms, interactive boards, etc) or a presenter is more comfortable with a different platform.

  6. If recording sessions, work through the ethics and logistics of this: Are participants and presenters informed with enough notice and do they consent freely to being recorded? Are participants attending the session voluntarily (or is attendance required)? How will the recorded content be used? How might recording change the participation? Is it necessary to record any discussion or questions? How will you protect the privacy of participants who do not want to be identified or recorded? Will you need to transcribe audio or add captioning to video in order to share it?

  7. To back-up any automated attendance tracking and help document the event, take screenshots during sessions. Screenshots can be saved and organized as PowerPoint slides, etc. Track attendance manually, too.

  8. Use chat and other cues (mic checks, etc.) to engage with participants. Some information might need to be repeated in chat for individuals joining sessions after a post is made (these are not always visible to newcomers). Remember that Windows Notepad or similar can be used to remove formatting of chat posts (and save some messages for re-posting)

  9. Conclude sessions with synchronous and lively applause — on mic and in chat! Well-done to everyone!

  10. After each session, check-in with your event team via secondary channel to compare notes (including attendance counts) and determine next steps. Be sure to plan for time between sessions or how to mitigate any possible overlaps. Soon enough, the event will be DONE (congratulations)!

Need help with online event planning or logistics in the higher ed, non-profit or urban planning sectors? Please be in touch.

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