A quick guide on how to organise a virtual event 

15 April 2021

Virtual events have been happening for quite some time now, but they have taken centre stage in our life the past year or so. There is an ongoing discussion on their advantages and disadvantages, but we will get to that in another post. In this blog, we want to present five steps that can help you organise a virtual event.

A virtual event is any event taking place online rather than in a physical location. There is no size restriction, it can range from a small Q&A session to a large-scale conference with thousands of attendees.

There are several ways to host a virtual event. It can be an online discussion on Twitter where all participants are tweeting live, or a live stream on a social media platform, such as LinkedIn. There are also more formal formats for online events. A webinar is an online presentation held in real-time that can also be shared and viewed afterwards. Usually, a presenter shares their screen and goes through slides. Participants can interact by voice or through a chat feed. And of course, you can host a virtual conference on one of the hosting platforms available. There is a plethora of hosting platforms like Remo, Gathertown, Zoom and others to choose from based on your needs and their functionality.

A virtual event is only a little bit different from an in-person event. At least in terms of steps you need to take when planning it.

Step 1: Define your event goals
Similarly, to when organising an in-person event, you need to think about what you aim to achieve by your event. Start by considering the following questions:

  • Why are you having this event?
  • Who would you ideally want to invite?
  • What do you want your attendees to walk away with?
  • What do you consider as a success and how are you going to measure it?

Step 2: Choose the right event platform

Now that you have your goals, it is time to choose how your event should be structured. As we mentioned above, there is a variety of formats. Some examples of format and respective platforms are:

  • live discussion – Twitter, Discord, Reddit, Slack and many more
  • social live streams – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and others
  • webinar - Crowdcast, Livestorm, Zoom, YouTube Livestream and others
  • conference – Remo, Brella, HeySummit, 6Connex, Run the World, Vfairs and many more

There are a lot of options. Keep in mind that when it comes to choosing your platform, functionality is important. This means you’ll have to think about what you want to offer to your attendees, for example chatting options, breakout rooms, whiteboard options etc. Prioritise your needs: do you want a ticketing system, a pre-registration space, web or mobile content, an event page, security features, exhibitors’ booths, etc. And, of course, think about your budget and how easy you find the navigation of each platform.

Step 3: Structure your event
Develop your schedule, invite your speakers, and send out invitations. All events need a coherent structure that keeps attendees engaged and offers networking opportunities. You have chosen your platform based on your goals, so now it is time for its functionality to achieve them.

Creating your content is crucial for delivering the online event experience you want for your attendees. Promote the themes of your event and your speakers in advance, and make sure you capture those interactions so that you can feed them in your event. Events are like a living organism, they have their first conception and structure, but they evolve. This brings us to our next step.

Step 4: Expect the unexpected
It is a bit of a cliché, but the truth is that no matter how well prepared you are or how many hours you have spent planning each detail of your event, there can always be hiccups. Last-minute changes, delays or technical problems can happen in any event. Prepare contingency plans and arrange a back-up plan.

Things will go significantly smoother if you share your platform with all attendees well before the day of the event. Sharing a demo or a tutorial can help everyone familiarise themselves with the platform and lower the chance of people asking for help. Do a specific session for your speakers since they will see a slightly different side of your platform. That being said, it’s always a good idea to have someone dealing with issues on the day. Ask your platform provider if they have any tutorials or if they can offer support during your event.

Step 5: Get feedback
Although this step usually happens after your event, it should be part of your planning process. Ask for feedback, run surveys or polls during and after your virtual event. It is meaningful data that can guide you to make changes and help you keep track of best practices.

Organising a virtual event takes time and effort, but it is not that much different from an in-person event. Virtual events are an effective way to reach a bigger audience, and they are also more environmentally friendly.  Have you got an innovative idea that enables biologists to collaborate productively while minimising their impact on the environment? Apply for a Sustainable Conferencing Grant.

We want to start a discussion with our community on sustainability and new event formats. Do you have an idea, question, or experience you want to share? Contact us via email at sustainability@biologists.com.

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