How to keep your group engaged with a virtual event

COVID-19 has made a dramatic impact on conferences and in-person events being cancelled to protect people and "flatten the curve" of this virus, which is the right thing to do.

As we adapt our workplace and how we interact with each other, the need for virtual events has increased. In time there may be the option for blended events that mix face to face elements with virtual participation.

But in the meantime, we want to share our simple tips to help you embrace virtual events for your groups.

Over the last months, we have spoken to a number of group facilitators across Knowledge Hub to offer our advice on how to adopt virtual events, what technology is available to you, and how you can deliver an experience and engagement to your participants that are reminiscent of in-person events. Here is some advice to get you started:

You don’t need to compromise on quality

While an online event can only be possible with a laptop, tablet or mobile phone, in many ways, virtual events and live events have a lot in common with the same kind of preparation, planning, and after production required. You will still have to prepare the content and book the speakers. You will still have to promote the event, invite participants, build the excitement around it, share the information and follow up with members. The only thing that will probably change is the size of the room you will need to host the event. But it does not mean the number of people will have to be smaller. In some instances, it will be bigger.

Less is more

Since a virtual event is typically much shorter than a live event, it is best practice to stick to less than one hour for your event. If you want the event to last a bit longer, be sure to plan different sessions, breakout groups and talks that are well defined and timed into your agenda. Make sure you add in breaks for attendees to stretch their legs and grab a tea or coffee.

Choose your video conference supplier

With a variety of options including Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet etc. Your organisation is likely to have its own preferences. Chat with your members about which services they can access and what works best for them. Depending on what system you pick, it may determine the type of sessions and levels of interactivity you run.

Define the event format

Is it going to be live, recorded or recorded but with live interaction? There are pros and cons to all options.

Live events can be more engaging, with questions, polls and breakout groups, but also need more detailed planning. A support group to help run the session and a back up if there are any connection issues are worth considering to help the event run smoothly.

Recorded sessions can be done at any time by the presenters and can allow you to bring in presenters from different time zones. You can make them interactive if the presenter can be available to answer questions. You will need to test the recording to make sure it works when presenting and the audio is clean.

Promote the event

Any event you run you will need to be promoted well in advance. Virtual events do allow you to reduce the lead time in gathering the presenters and attendees as you are not constrained by a physical venue and travel arrangements. Look to promote the event in your group, via social media, newsletters or via a landing page if you are using a booking system. Generate enthusiasm and momentum and explore the possibility of any pre-event activities that can add value.

Be a good host and get support

With any event, you need someone to introduce the presenters and keep everything on time and to help the presenter and the participant feel comfortable in the session. Have a range of questions ready to ask the presenters. You will also want to try to avoid any disruptions during the session such as people waiting to join, or notifications appearing in the middle of the screen when attendees are joining. If you can, ask a colleague to co-host and help with any access and technical issues members have.

Practice and work out any technical kinks

We have all been on a call where something goes wrong and technology decides to play up And that’s okay, but practising it first it will minimise the chance of any technical glitches and allow you to resolve them quickly. Do a quick run through with your presenters. Make sure you check the system you are using in case there has been any updates or upgrades. Check your microphone and camera are working properly and adjust the settings if needed, and check your internet connection speed. If you have experienced slowness before, you might wish to restart your internet router an hour before you start.

This is just the start

When the event has finished, this is where the hard work starts - bringing all the content together, the recording, the chat etc. and then sharing it back with the group. This allows you to keep the conversation going, follow up on any questions, comments and conversation during the event, that lead into further discussions and activities. It also allows those that we're unable to take part in the event to catch up and ask further questions and be part of the longer term conversation.

What tips do you have for hosting virtual events with your online group? We would love to hear what works well for you and your members.

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