Three tips when planning your online event

Planning an online event can be tricky, but don't fret! Here are our three top tips for maximising participant engagement in your virtual event.

In spring 2020, at the height of Europe’s Covid-19 pandemic, when shifting to the digital seemed like the most reasonable option for any and all events, planning Intercult’s social innovation lab seemed almost farfetched. In a sector that thrives on face-to-face interaction, how could a virtual gathering hope to replicate the engagement and interaction of collaborating in a physical space. 

This was a challenge which Alice Dryden set out to meet when organising a digital social innovation lab themed ‘theatre as a space for feminist issues’, in collaboration with the changemaking organisation Livet Bitch!. In conversation with I_Improve’s informal educator, Alice gives her 3 top tips for maximising participant engagement in your own virtual event. 

1. Personalise your communications

Participants are people, not just numbers on a checklist! If you want people to contribute during your event, then you have to let them know that they are valued beforehand and one way of achieving this is to give them your attention through personalised communication.

Make sure to reach out to potential attendees in a way which communicates that their presence and participation will have value for you. In essence, this means no standardised group emails. Think of why you would like each person to attend: what personal and professional qualities do they have; in what ways do you find their work interesting; what is it about their perspectives that made you think of inviting them?  

This way potential attendees know your expectations in advance and are reassured that they, and their points of view, are welcome. Making sure that your communication is genuine helps to assure people that the space you are creating is a safe one in which to express themselves. These are factors which can help to activate voices in a discussion and so raise the interactive quality of your event. 

2. Encourage people to have their videos switched on

We communicate so much through body language, sending information to each other that we are not always aware of. Peoples’ facial expressions are important nonverbal clues as to the level of their engagement. For facilitators, staying tuned in to unspoken communication and behaviour is a way to get feedback from the group. This feedback in turn helps a group leader make spontaneous decisions about whether they need to modify their behaviour or prepared exercises in order to maintain a certain atmosphere and energy overall. 

Imagine trying to encourage people to take part in an activity, and reach certain outcomes, in a dark room where you can’t judge how engaged they are! Sharing video isn’t a replacement for bodies interacting together in a physical space, but it is one way to get closer to that feeling and make the most of our nonverbal communication channels.

3. Dedicate one person to managing the chat

If you want people to engage in virtual environments, it’s especially important to provide structured opportunities for them to do so. Tools such as chat functions are part and parcel of video conferencing software, however they need to be referred to if they are to be of any practical use. This means acknowledging and replying to written participation there. It can be tricky for a single facilitator to keep an eye on a stream of messages while also staying in flow in front of the camera. Having a staff member dedicated to the chat means that one person can focus on responding to written questions and lift relevant ones to the attention of the main facilitator. 

Attending to the chat, showing that it is a live and immediate communication channel, can motivate people to contribute there. This opportunity can be lifted even further by the organiser if they ask questions and thus model the behaviour which they would like to see. It can even stimulate inter-activity between the participants themselves as people respond to each other and lead to lively discussions without disturbing the main content of the event.

If you would like to read more about the Intercult’s social innovation lab (E5), click here!


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