Sarah Halfpenny Events

12 handy hints to creating engaging online events

by Sarah Halfpenny

Having supported clients with their online events journeys and witnessed many (especially in recent months), I have penned a few handy hints and tips that may prove useful for those embarking upon the planning and delivery of a virtual event experience. This is not an article about what platform to use for your next virtual event!, that’s another blog!

1) Clear communication pre event
Just as you would do with planning a physical event, your virtual event attendees will certainly benefit from a clear set of “joining instructions”. This piece of email comms , sent a few days before your event, should include headline details such as the date, time, links and passwords etc. It should also include any online housekeeping such as how microphones will be managed and instructions on any additional functionality such as chat rooms and breakout groups.

2) Test the tech! and Rehearse
A rehearsed event is an event that rarely goes wrong. The same applies for online events. A rehearsal will provide all contributors the opportunity to test the tech and talk to each other. It will establish a sense of teamwork and enable everyone to feel confident of the agenda and how the audience will interact.

3) Visually set the tone
If you are presenting, your environment and background should help set the tone for your event. Think of it like staging. Consider where you will host you’re online event. What decor and room accessories do you want on show? Branded pop up banners to position behind you are also a great way to disguise where you are and add visual branding.

4) A warm welcome
If you think about how you would manage a live event, more often than not, there is someone to greet you, registers your attendance and informs you of key information. Online events shouldn’t be seen differently. Successful online events have a ‘host’ person to welcome each guest as they are admitted into the virtual ‘meeting room’. A recognition of their presence is really important. It’s also a good time to introduce others and help people settle into the event. This can also successfully be achieved through sending private chat messages to participants as they log on.

5) Housekeeping and manageing expectations
Once everyone is online, a reminder of how the event will run, timings and how they wish attendees to engage and ask questions should be covered.

6) Engagement opportunities
The chat box functionality within any online meeting is a great way to engage your delegate. Delegates can ask questions and share their experiences. You can easily do a virtual show of hands with simple yes and no answers or quick polls of opinion with a simple 1-10 scale. A chat box needs to be manged and I would delegate responsibility to one person who’s role is to monitor what’s coming through and comment when appropriate.

7) Breakout rooms
Virtual breakout rooms are a fantastic way to allow smaller groups to have a discussion, share thoughts, ideas and for people to get to know others more intimately. I have used breakout rooms during both networking events and training sessions with considerable success.

8) Facilitate networking
One of the many benefits of attending an event is to meet new people. Online, the host has a real opportunity to try and introduce and connect people who they think would benefit from connecting. This can be done in public, via private chat or through placing them in breakout groups together.

9) Visual aids
Slides to accompany any presentation can be super helpful. They provide structure to a presentation, highlight key data and information and act as a talking point for discussion etc. They can also support your online branding efforts by reinforcing your brand, product or service without being a sales pitch. Crucially they can be sent to delegate post event as a way of follow up and further engagement.

10) Real life applause!
To enhance the “in-person” experience, encouraging everyone to applause after presentations and performances is really important to provide the sense of togetherness.

11) Record!
Recording your online event can add huge value. Either as an internal reminder to ensure written post event content is accurate or to monetise through selling it to a wider online audience. Even if you’re not sure how you will use it, record it anyway to give yourself some options.

12) Don’t go it alone!
Managing an online event alone isn’t impossible but it can prove challenging when you want to encourage audience interaction and participation. If viable, dual hosts enable you to share the load. Co-presenting can also help with keeping momentum and providing variety in tone of voice and personal perspective.

With an emphasis on technology rather than venue logistics, hosting an event onlone really has all the same ingredients as an in person live event experience. From deciding the topic, format, speakers and hosts to marketing and sponsorship. Curating content and experiences still all need to be project managed. I use the same event management planning tools and run through the same operational planning process organising an online event as I do a live event.

Embark on the journey with the same attention to detail and emphasis on customer service and you will curate a virtual event experience that feels professional, effortless and above all authentic.