Need to move an event online in a hurry?

Four people with brown skin and brown or black hair are sitting at a conference table. A fourth person with brown skin and long wavy brown hair stands at the head of the table. All of them are wearing are business attire. There is a large window behind them with a view of a city.
Photo by Rebrand Cities from Pexels
March 12, 2020
Robin Eastman

Six months ago, my business partner and I began our journey to make great online conferences, founding Versatackle. We know that to reduce the carbon emissions driving climate change, more events need to move online, and to do that, people need the right tools. Working in the heart of Seattle – the region hardest hit by coronavirus in the US – we are seeing just how urgent that need has become. Since we’ve been deep diving into online conferencing technologies, we want to help others rapidly move their events online and make sure the transition goes smoothly.

Here are our recommendations.

Update your audience

Be proactive in letting people know you are holding your event online instead of in person. It will help if you can do this before people start cancelling.

Choose a conferencing app

There are several apps you can use for the basis of your event, such as Zoom and GoToMeeting. Check the plans and pricing pages and make sure the one you choose fits the needs for your event, especially in terms of size and duration. Some offer free trials, so do a mock session to see how their app works for you and your audience.

Consider needs not met with the base app

Think about how you'll be engaging your audience. Consider interactive polls or Q&As through apps like Test those out and see if they will enhance your event, and include presenters in the testing process when possible. This article has ideas for apps you can use.

Less is more

This is true for all events, but especially ones online. Review your materials and shorten where you can. Make sure presenters practice in front of an audience and trim if possible.

Visuals and audio need to work together

It’s hard to stay as focused in an online meeting or event. Help your participants follow along with slides that complement what the speaker is saying. Slides shouldn’t be transcripts, so don’t include every word that’s spoken. Break up overly complicated slides into two or more to focus your audience’s attention. Use summary slides to help attendees contextualize and absorb what they’ve learned.

Only one mic and speaker per room

If you have multiple presenters and/or participants in one room, make sure you only have one active sound system. If others are going to connect via laptops, that’s fine for video, but they should make sure they do not connect audio. Muting is sometimes not enough to prevent ear-splitting feedback.

Have a chat moderator

Assign someone who is not presenting the role of chat moderator. Their job is to focus on the chat during the presentation, help participants with technical issues, answer process questions, and let the presenters know when there are questions. Many participants feel more comfortable asking questions in the chat than they do coming off mute. Speaking of which…

Mute liberally

Most conferencing platforms have a mute all function. Tell people you’re using it, and use it! You don’t want your presenters to have to fight to be heard over honking horns or crying babies. Invite people to unmute to ask questions or participate, and be ready to mute them again when they’re done. Everyone will be happier with less background noise.

Do a run-through in advance

Get the presenters, moderators, and a couple of test participants together to practice the event. Take the time for each presenter to ensure they have a good internet connection, have a professional background with good lighting, know how to display and advance their slides, and get used to presenting when there may be a visual of themselves with a slight time delay. Encourage the test participants to ask chat questions and make sure the chat moderator is comfortable with the process.

Learn for next time

Schedule time immediately after your event for a debrief with presenters, moderators, and facilitators to talk about how it went. Have everyone write down their top 2 or 3 learnings and 1 or 2 quick actions you can take for the next event to go even better. Send a survey at the end of the event to get participant feedback.

I'd love to learn from you as well, so please reach out with questions or thoughts. How did your last event go? What did you learn? Share in the comments!

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