9 tips for hosting a successful virtual event

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly transformed the everyday lives of people around the world. The ongoing pandemic continues to challenge people – making physical distancing the new reality for social interaction, and this includes education which has now shifted to an online mode

With events moving online geographic distance becomes less of a barrier to participation.  Now attending such events does not require much of a budget – there are no travel, food, or lodging expenses.  Event organizers also experience a decrease in the administrative burden – there is no need to arrange visa invitations, hotel bookings, or other things for your event participants.  Now participants can more easily enjoy events just by turning on their devices and virtually entering the platform.  

Beginning in late March 2020, Kazakhstan entered quarantine, and organizations across the country were encouraged to use online modes of interaction.  Since this time, the NU Department of Student Affairs (Leadership & Involvement Team) shifted student life from on-campus (in-person) to online events. Starting from the organization of the first-ever Virtual NU Student Government President’s Online Elections, they sharpened their virtual events organization skills by supporting student clubs and organizing their own events. After having gained some good experience in conducting student life virtually, they now offer a set of recommendations on how to organize well-planned online events.

Platform. To organize a good event, choose the correct platform. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Instagram, YouTube, and many other options are available for event organization like concerts, conferences, competitions, etc. However, not all of them are good for every event. For example, Instagram is good for having guest lectures. YouTube is a great option to conduct a concert, which has been recorded in advance, or you can use Zoom for competitions using the option of “Session rooms”. Identify the features you need and choose the perfect online platform based on these criteria.

Internet connection. The main priority of all online events is a good Internet connection. If you lack a stable Internet connection and are the event organizer, you should find a cohost who has a good connection.  This person can then help you to conduct your event. 

Background. The background should not be too distracting to your audience. Choosing the right background can really set the tone for your event, and different online backgrounds can have a more professional look. However, if your device is underpowered or does not have good video options to use a virtual background, you can still create a professional effect by just thinking about your physical space and lighting. In this case, we recommend that you sit in the part of your house which has a plain or suitable background (e.g., a pale-colored wall, a tidy bookshelf, in front of a pleasant piece of art, etc). Depending on the event and audience, you might make different stylistic choices. For example, if you are a teacher for kindergarten, then you might use a more colorful background or put some toys around you.

Dress code. Pay attention to what you wear and your overall appearance.  Even though you are online, you should still look professional.  Quarantine and the work from home regime made many people less concerned about their appearance.  You should not wear clothes that are too casual or sloppy during the meetings. It does not matter how small your event is, make sure that you look neat and are dressed nicely.

Plan “B”, “C” and etc. It is hard to control the Internet connection or to plan for electrical outages as well as other problems that can happen during events.   Therefore, make sure that you have a backup plan. In case an organizer gets disconnected, someone else from your team should be designated a cohost who is allowed to share the presentations, videos, scripts, etc. Please note, this should not necessarily be only one person, but rather, at least two or three people depending on the event.

Good host. A good emcee who will host your event is one of the most important factors. A good host can keep people’s attention for the entire event, and this is not an easy task.  The online context is a new one, so it is important to remember that not every host will succeed in this new format –  some emcees who are great offline may not be as successful at hosting online.  You should interview your potential MCs before deciding to use them as a host.  Set a trial performance for 20 minutes where potential hosts will demonstrate their online performing skills.  This trial should test their knowledge of how to work with camera and whether or not they have good eye contact with the audience; if they have a good and stable Internet connection; their ability to entertain the audience during technological or other difficulties (i.e., what they do when something goes wrong).

Creativity. Be creative and make your event special and different. Try not to let your current capabilities limit your imagination.  Do not think that you cannot do something, give a chance for your craziest ideas, and “google” them if you cannot think on how to implement them.

Technical superiority. It is great if you are good at making videos, posters, and any other things, which show your technical skills. If you do not have such skills, you can always learn them or find people who can help. Some cool promo videos or technical transitions during the event will only make it better.

Rehearsal. Even if you have hosted hundreds of online events, do not forget to hold a rehearsal. It is important to have at least 2 rehearsals of your event in advance since you can find some issues while practicing.  Hopefully, you will be able to fix any problems before the real event.