COVID-19 masterclass: how to make sure your online event is a success

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The coronavirus outbreak is hurting association meetings. While some organisers are taking the nuclear option and cancelling events altogether, others are rescheduling or turning to online solutions to ensure delegates  don't miss out completely. Here William Thomas, of Gallus Events, remembers the first online event he ran and the lessons he learned...

Set measurable objectives when running an online event

An online event is no different from a physical event. You have to know (and be able to measure) why you are running the event, and you have to be sure that running an online event is the BEST WAY to achieve your objectives. Here’s a link to help you think about objectives

Look around for the right platform

We started looking for the right platform a month into our six-month planning period, knowing it would be the most important decision we would make. We investigated live production platforms and spoke to live video agencies to understand what we needed to deliver the content. During these conversations we realised that, actually, a good webinar platform would be the best option for us.

Choose the right platform

There are hundreds of available options for someone hosting an online event. The platforms differ in a few different ways, so it is important to have a  clear idea of what your event will look like before you choose a platform. It’s crucial to have a very good idea of the number of people likely to join as well as the amount of content you will have at your event.

For us the interactive element was a crucial too. We went for the Cisco Events Centre platform when someone described it as “bullet proof”. For our first event we really couldn’t take any chances with the most crucial element: getting the content to our attendees. We have since moved to an equally bullet proof but, for us, much better platform called CrowdCast! Check them out.

Wifi is crucial

No surprises here. You have to have as good a connection as possible. This trumps everything else when selecting your venue.

Have a dedicated computer running the session

This is similar in a way to the wifi advise above. You have to do everything you can to ensure what is being broadcast is 100 per cent. We had a dedicated computer doing nothing more than broadcasting the event.

Have at least one, preferably two, test computers running the live webinar

We had two computers running the event on two different internet browsers. These were our lifelines to what was being delivered. If our two feeds were working then we could be sure that we were doing all we could with the feed. During the first 10 – 15 mins when the event went live we were receiving messages from attendees unable to join.

Having those two computers playing our feed without any issues, allowed me to have the confidence to aks attendees to ‘double check things at your end’.  I was able to focus on offering help to those unable to join, knowing we had a 100 per cent perfect feed going out.

Make sure you have genuine interaction

During the live event we encouraged comments and feedback. We didn’t get to master the polling feature, which I know would have added to the interaction. We did have live sessions and this encouraged questions for the panels. Crucially, we had someone dedicated to thanking attendees for questions and comments and generally engaging with our audience – a kind of social sidekick.

Texturising content is crucial

As a firm believer of ‘meeting design’: the principle of texturising content to avoid it being stale and boring, we made sure we integrated meeting design into the programme.

Obviously there is little you can do to affect the environment (as they are watching from their home or office) so you have to concentrate on keeping the content varied in pace and delivery.

We had no session longer than 30-mins, with our average sessions length being around 18 mins (kind of Ted Talk length). With the odd exception, this is what you should be aiming for.

Make sure you have content available post event

Not everyone is going to be able to make your live event or attend for the whole event. Our event was eight-hours long so we knew that people would likely be dipping in and out of the content.

We also charged for the event so we felt we HAD to make it available post event. It’s really a no-brainer making the content available post event as you have done all the work in preparing it and at the very least, it can provide a great marketing tool for your next event.

Brief and support all your speakers

We had seventeen speakers: sixteen were top notch.

We put that down to paying some brilliant speakers and spending time with them, talking through their content, before the event.

We gave them a tutorial in recording their session and made sure they stuck to the time we offered them. We also provided access to some screen recording software to make the recording process as easy as possible for them. This is crucial, especially if you are going to go for quite a lot of short sessions for your event.

Be prepared and able to edit videos

Not all of the videos will arrive ready to be broadcast.

It is likely that you may have to raise or lower the volume, zoom in or out to make the recording a bit more dynamic, add slides, text or titles, to provide more information, shorten the session or even perhaps crop images.

At the very least you will probably have to reduce the size of the files you receive to optimise them for your broadcast. So investigate some good video editing platforms.

Run a test event

This is as much for you and your team as it is for your attendees.But this is really useful for attendees, too, as it gives them a 'live' opportunity to feel confident that everything will be alright on the day. You should run it with some of the recordings you will use during your actual live event and you should run it from the venue you will use on the day. Try, as much as possible to run it in conditions as close to your final event.

Put in place a process for offering ‘live’help / support

No matter how much preparation you do, there will always be issues on the day. Most (if not all) will come from your attendees unable to access the online event, or having issues with your broadcast. Even though they are ’their’ issues, you have to provide as good and useful advice as possible.

Having text ready for each issue is a great tip to speed up your response and get people online.

The broadcasting environment is important

If you are going to spend any more than a couple of hours overseeing, hosting or perhaps chairing your online event, it is important you choose the right environment.

We choose a big, bright and well lit meeting room. It was on the ground floor so one of the team was able to nip out for coffee, and we could all take a break and get some fresh air.

The technology has come along way from cracking and buffering feeds and most people (especially our on line audience of Executive Assistants) had used some form of video/seminar conferencing facility before.

James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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