As countries in Africa and the rest of the world begin to lift lockdown measures, with the hope that things will go back to normal, the reality is we may have to adapt to the “new normal” for a little longer. This applies to all facets of live right now, including the hosting of gatherings such as concerts, conferences, seminars and the like. With many events having been either cancelled, or postponed, some organisers are exploring digital avenues, with the possibility of retaining some form of an on-site iteration for later in the year.
There are countless resources to guide you to hosting your first online conference or event successfully. The important thing to remember is meeting the needs of your attendees and giving them that value add for attending your event.
Here are some ideas on how to switch from what was previously planned as an on-site event to online:
The key thing to remember when organising an online event is that there will be a completely different set of logistics for attendees. On-site events traditionally required attendees to book travel, accommodation, and plan how to get to the venue. With online events, the experience is entirely different. Many people are working from home and this presents a whole new set of logistics. An attendee would more likely be following the event from home surrounded by family and personal commitments and therefore as an orginiser you need to remember this to ensure attendees circumstances are considered throughout the event.
Jakub Górnicki from Outriders says that when transferring your on-site event to online, you should not think of it as a poorer version of an offline one. Firstly, think of the actual opportunities that online interaction can bring. An event that only targeted a niche group of people now has a chance of attracting a global audience. Another added value is that you can get exceptional speakers without having to pay for expensive international flights and expensive logistics. Thirdly, what may have been a three-day event, can now last for ten days or more with fewer sessions within a 24 hour cycle thus allowing for increased flexibility for both attendees and participants.
Before the event, try to survey previous participants and attendees to figure out why they are interested in attending your event. This will help you in meeting their needs as you plan for the online iteration of the event. Meeting the needs of attendees is important as this will be the main driver for building a long-lasting audience. In most cases people attend conferences and seminars for the content so it is important to spend time curating your event (selecting speakers, briefing them, topics etc).
There are other various resources that others have shared in an attempt to help map out the transition to virtually hosted events. Alan Soon, co-founder of Splice Media in Singapore emphasizes why it is more important to understand the value your event brings and what you want out of it. This is a great resource, for those thinking of hosting their first online event. This is a short thinking and planning process of how Splice Media organised their online event called, Splice Res.
This postmortem of the 2020 Collaborative Journalism Summit is worth reading if you want to know how an annual in-person journalism conference hosted by The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University in the United States was moved to online. Eventbrite put together this collection of resources on hosting an online event.
There are several online platforms to consider when choosing how you would like to host your event. The Zoom webinar platform is a leader in this arena — it is familiar and widely used whilst allowing you to integrate with Facebook and YouTube. Other platforms include Google Hangouts, Twitch, and YouTube Live. Lesser-known platforms which are also widely used are Blue Jeans, GoToMeeting, Livestream, or Microsoft Teams. Offline conferencing platform, a relatively newcomer to online event hosting is Whova who had to pivot amid the escalating covid-19 crisis and have since introduced a secure online platform within their application for exactly this. The above-mentioned list of hosting platforms is not exhaustive. There are many more other hosting platforms.
Once you have given thought to the above, think about if, how and where you would like to broadcast your event. Several platforms such as YouTube; Facebook Live; Twitter’s Periscope; Instragram Live and LinkedIn are platforms that have functionality that enables broadcasting to a wider audience.
YouTube is reported to be one of the most versatile and well-known platform, known for its simplicity and quality streaming. However, the challenge with YouTube is that if you do not already have a community or a following on the platform, you are less likely to get a large audience for your broadcasted event. A good alternative to this is to use Facebook Live. This is a platform that many organisation already have an audience on and therefore easy to reach them during your online event.
It is an ever-changing landscape in the world of online hosting, and recently Instagram allowed users to view live feeds on desktops, where previously, the function was limited to mobile phones, further creating opportunities for organisations to reach their existing audiences.
An important aspect of hosting an online event is that your speakers and panelists understand the tech that you will be using during the session. A good suggestion is that you run practice sessions with your speakers and panelists before the start of the sessions to ensure exactly this.
As online events need to be visually pleasing, have good audio and a smooth execution, it is important to make sure you have the correct hardware and equipment. This especially applies to the speakers, and panelists. Based on personal experience, the suggestion is that you use a computer with stable internet connectivity with a clear camera. If you are using a laptop, use a laptop stand, which means the camera will be at your eye level. If you are a speaker, for instance and can only use a mobile phone, make sure that it is on a stable surface and at eye level.
Another good investment you can make in terms of hardware is a high-quality microphone to ensure clear audio during discussions and presentations. Another simple but effective tool is that addition of a LED light. This would help to make your home or background look more like a studio and set the scene for a professional setting.
And finally, do not hesitate to charge attendees a fee for the online iteration of what was formerly an on-site event. Like most hosted events, whether online or on-site, if there is value being given to the attendees then charging a fee in line with costs of producing the event would be acceptable.
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