Please, don’t… a short guide on how NOT to do your online events

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Please, don’t… a short guide on how NOT to do your online events
Posted on May 19, 2020 by Iosetta Santini

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We have witnessed a proliferation of webinars, podcast interviews, training, video chats and online conferences that keep our calendars busy during these rather empty days. Online events are lockdown friendly and mostly hassle-free; you don’t have to worry about finding a venue, picking endless food options to please each attendee and offering a consistent amount of drink to make everyone feel like the journey was worthwhile. Yet again, digitalisation comes to the rescue. But does it?

While lots of event organisers and industry bodies such as ESOMAR, Quirk’s and The Insights Association are running valuable, interesting and well-thought through events, we’re all still learning and it’s easy to get lost in the busy crowd of links and Eventbrite invitations.

As communication experts, event organisers and seasoned attendees, we thought to note down our tips on what NOT to do if you’re running an online event:

  1. Don’t just put an offline event online

Don’t just keep going with what you did before offline. Do something original, new and different; in a time when online events are booming your message needs to be short, clear and relevant to stand out.

Just because online sounds easy it doesn’t mean that you can take it lightly. Set a target and profile for attendees and start promoting your initiative at least six weeks beforehand – and then keep on going.

Make sure your communications are specific about what attendees will gain that they won’t get somewhere else. Share it on social media and send tailored invitations to some journalists (or ask us to do it!) if you want your content to go further.

  1. Don’t forget your audience

Even if you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean that they’re not there. People are still listening to what you’re saying even if it’s on their headphones, so make sure you don’t become background noise. Keep them engaged and interested.

As Mark Bornstein, Vice President of Marketing at digital experience platform On24, points out, “In today’s digital world, making human connections with your audience has never been more important”. So, don’t talk at the screen, talk with your audience. Making online events interactive is still possible, even if you’re hosting a big gathering. Use a platform that allows you to pass the microphone to the audience for questions and make it really clear when and how the audience should ask them. Then give the audience time and space to ask questions and do answer them.

If you’re planning on going big you need to have more control of the audience, as you will not want interruptions and people talking at once. Pre-recording video questions from people who have signed up in advance can be a great way to get into the subject matter and give wide exposure to participants while keeping it real.

If you’re opting for a smaller more intimate event, you could simply use a casual conferencing tool and encourage people to use their cameras. If you use the chat box so people have the chance to intervene, with the help of a skilled moderator, a nice conversation flow can be established. ESOMAR’s Community Circles are particularly successful. These are participative sessions where each attendee has the chance to talk freely around industry topics and engage with others.

Online events don’t give people the chance to grab you after your speech. So, be generous with your email address and allow people to follow up, or you may lose the opportunity to engage in interesting and prolific conversations.

  1. Security issues? No thanks

You may have heard of or even witnessed “Zoomboming”. This is when “trolls” abruptly hijack an online meeting with often hideous graphic content.

This issue isn’t one to underestimate. Some of these images can be disturbing and the last thing you want is to leave your presenter or audience traumatised. Simply sharing the event URL only with trusted persons is not sufficient, as it can be passed on and registration pages can be found. You will need to add a layer of security to avoid unpleasant inconveniences. There are a series of technical procedures that can be put in place to keep your webinar super secure, but the easiest and most actionable solution is to simply set a password. Event organisers can define a password by setting it on the platform’s backend. All they then need to do is to share it with the attendees.

Don’t leave anything to chance and make sure security is your number one priority.

  1. Don’t run over time

Although we’re all at home, it doesn’t mean that we have nothing to do. People are still busy (some even busier) and will expect you to stick to the time frame that you’ve indicated. You also need to remember that staring at a computer screen is not something anyone can do for hours and hours on end. Eyes start burning, the mind starts running and what about that email that just popped up? Online events are much more difficult than physical events for keeping the audience’s attention.

So, keep it short and varied. Mix up content so you have a range of interviews, panels, and presentations.

  1. Don’t get FOMO

Just because everyone’s doing it, it doesn’t mean that you have to. If you don’t have compelling content or any experience with online events don’t automatically jump on the bandwagon.  There may be easier ways to get your content seen that might be better for you.  Be proactive with your marketing and try new methods, just don’t underestimate the amount of planning, coordination and sheer person-hours needed to make an online event successful.

Hopefully these quick tips will help you navigate the intricate world of online events, so if you decide to start planning one please don’t

1)  Forget to engage with your audience
2)  Skip the Q&A
3)  Be too long or too serious (we all need a laugh at the moment)
4)  Be the only one talking
5)  Pick your guests randomly
6)  Plan your event on Friday at 6pm (in any time zone…)
7)  Present sloppy slides
8)  Improvise
9)  Underestimate the importance of security
10) Forget virtual guests are real people