Responding to coronavirus: could you avoid cancelling your event by making it remote?

Though it is mostly larger events affected by government guidance on group gatherings, we understand that event organisers of all sizes are putting contingency preparations in place as the situation around coronavirus unfolds. With that in mind, we asked one of our Ticket Tailor clients, Judy Rees, who is an expert at hosting remote events to share her tips and tricks on taking your events online.

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Judy writes…

All over the world, in-the-room events are being cancelled. Organisers are filling my inbox with a single question: how can we do this online?

Luckily, that’s something I know a bit about. I’ve had several years of running my own “unconference”, Metaphorum, and supporting organisations to take their highly-participative events online. 

With Steve McCann I recently published Webinars That Connect, a guide to staging short online learning events. The central principles apply more broadly.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Don’t panic! Nobody’s born knowing how to create a great online event. At some time in your life, you had to learn how to make events work in the flesh. Many of your most important skills are transferable.

  • Creating a great online event requires a blend of hosting skills and technology. Of course, no online event can happen without the tech. But the tools aren't going to make this amazing: that’s your job.

  • When it comes to events, online or in-the-room, it’s the people that matter. Support them to have the best experience that’s possible in the circumstances. Follow TicketTailor’s advice and keep them informed.

Maximise participation

Your event’s “people” include both the stars of the show - the speakers or entertainers - and the audience. The audience aren’t silent, invisible observers: they matter. As you plan the online edition of your event, make sure audience members can really participate. 

For many small-to-medium-sized online events, the ideal scenario is that audience members can be heard and seen just as easily as the stars, and can break out into small-group conversations before the official start, during breaks and at the end. If you’re used to hosting that kind of thing in the flesh, you’ll find it fairly easy to copy using Zoom

Initially, your audience members may find the idea of online participation surprising or challenging. They’ve spent so long trapped in dreadful talk-over-slides webinars that their expectations are pitifully low. They may need encouragement and/or some set-up help, such as Lisette Sutherland’s guide.

The technology for event participation is developing fast. Zoom is by far the best at the time of writing, but other systems in this space - each with their own advantages and disadvantages - include:

Managing speakers

Your speakers and other solo “stars” should be able to present from home, as long as they have a decent video conferencing set-up, including good broadband and an excellent headset.

People find it much harder to focus online than in the room, because they aren’t surrounded by the event. Because of this, ask your stars to break their presentations into short sections - ideally, under ten minutes at a time. In between sections, use breakout-room activities, Q+A or an energiser.

Making it happen

Many of your in-the-room hosting skills are transferable. You know how to bring a great bunch of people together, compose and send compelling messages, and get people talking. All that stuff still works.

And, there are some new skills to develop. For example, some of your body language “tricks” work differently on a video call. You’ll also need to develop some new ways of tracking the energy “in the room”. 

You know how learning works: it’s good to start with some small experiments and then gradually build up. Getting good at online events works the same way. I recommend starting with small “friendly” groups: for example, you could invite a bunch of your booked participants to a special bonus event in the form of an online meet-and-greet with one of your stars. To speed things up, you could join a class.

Big events of more than 50 or so people count as diving in at the deep end. There’s a lot that can go wrong, and it probably will. If you’re taking one of these bigger events online, especially with a tight deadline, I recommend that you ask for help!

About Judy Rees

I facilitate online meetings, workshops, conferences and unconferences all over the world from a garden office in Brentford, West London. I also do a lot of training online, helping great-in-the-room facilitators and trainers to do their thing remotely.  

As a former news journalist and media executive, I have been working with geographically distributed teams since long before it became mainstream. I've been training online for more than ten years. 

I'm the co-author of a niche bestseller Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds, and for the last four years have hosted an annual 12-hour marathon online unconference for the global Clean Language community, Metaphorum.

I've created quite a few ebooks and online courses, including Virtual Leadership Secrets. The latest of these is a how-to guide for participative online events, Webinars That Connect.

For more about me, as well as lots of remote-events tips, please see my blog here