The right tools
The streaming platfotm
In order to organize an online conference, first of all you need tools. A virtual conference platform is a bare minimum. Its job is to transmit audio and video. And that alone allows you to host an online event. However, it is worth investing in solutions that will make our work easier and more efficient, and increase the quality of your event. I mean both the features of the streaming platform itself, and the features of your event registration platform.
As an organizer, I would expect my webinar tool to offer such features as an online chat for attendees (optionally moderated) and live polls to keep attendees engaged. I would also like to have the option to record the entire conference and be able to show it to people who bought tickets (or wanted to participate) but for some reason were not at the conference.
If you want to look really professional, try employing a recording studio. They can mix audio-video feeds from speakers live, as well as add some elements like jingles or branded still images. Event better if your speakers can be in the studio in person. It will allow you to take advantage of great lighting and high quality recording equipment.
Event registration software is a tool used for easy and secure event attendee data collection. The registration takes place via a form on a website and the data is stored in the software database. Most such platforms allow you to automate accompanying processes, such as payments, billing, or attendee communication.
Such software is very helpful for online event organization. First, attendee registration integrated with an online events platform allows you to easily sell participation and prevent third persons from accessing your stream. Our event management platform can also be used to build and host a dedicated event website, where your online event will be available to attendees.
There are two ways to ensure that. You can find speakers who already have experience in online events. Alternatively, you can train speakers who have no such experience or simply don't feel up to the task. True, you will never be absolutely sure that all speakers will manage to correctly connect their headsets or that someone doesn't close their browser. These things unfortunately happen and you cannot fully avoid the risk. Well conducted training will allow you to minimize that risk.
Mr. Bean on the air
As streaming technologies gained popularity, we started seeing more and more mishaps at online lessons and other meetings. One of them features a half-naked professor unaware that his webcam is on, while another one shows a person straming from their toilet. Noisy kids and vacuum cleaners are very common.
Tell your speakers to be aware of their surroundings and sit in a place where thay have a window in front of them. This will guarantee great lighting. Proper posture and camera position are important too. The speaker should sit straight and have the camera at eye level. Windows should be closed, phone silenced, and other residents or coworkers notified that the speaker should not be disturbed.
Make absolutely sure that all persons taking active part in the webinar have working microphones, headphones, and, if applicable, webcams. No matter what, test the setup a few days before the event. Worst case scenario, these few days will give you time to post a spare headset to the speaker. Then, test everything again on the day o the conference. The IT infrastructure currently in place comprises a multitude of elements and each one of them could suddenly stop working. All it takes is an update of the operating system or the browser. It is of utter importance that the tests are carried out using the same equipment, software, and physical location as the actual online conference.
It's not always something you can avoid but it's always good to leave yourself some time to react and set the equipment properly. Every minute of delay caused by technical issues affects attendee experience.
Plan the conference
Moderated or open chat? It's a very good question without a single good answer. A moderated chat will allow you to block unwanted (offensive or off-topic) messages. However, it requires you to designate moderators and can hinder communication between attendees. Open chat, on the other hand, can be a value in itself. If it leads to an on-topic discussion (we can guide it by asking questions), it's added value for the attendee. The drawback is that we can never fully control it.
You can be confident that your event is so exciting that attendees will be glued to their screens. But it's much safer to assume that you need to compete with numerous distractions in the form of other websites and each attendee's immediate surroundings. To keep attendees engaged, you can use the online chat, varied methods of presenting the subject matter, and attendee interactions with the software, e.g. surveys, quizzes, or polls.
Don't rush it
Remember that just sitting in front of a computer is tiring. You won't notice it because you're working. Speakers won't notice because each of them speaks for at most an hour. Attendees will notice but only after they see the agenda or their backs start to hurt. And they will either tell you about it or suffer in silence. Most online event attendees prefer sessions lasting up to 45 minutes. You can extend that time but don't expect your attendees to last 6 hours in one go. It wouldn't be a problem at an offline conference but here, it is.
Luckily, online events have one important advantage that will help us solve this problem. Attendees don't have to travel to the event. Instead of devoting entire three days for a conference, thay can just log in to attend the webinar for two hours each day over a week. First, it won't be as exhausting as long sessions in front of the screen, and second, it will seem that there is more content, convincing your attendees that they got more value from your event.
For instance, let's say the participation fee is $80. For that amount, you can either choose a 7 hours long conference on Saturday, or an hour a day after work (or at work if it's training) over a week. The second option is more attractive because it doesn't take away your valuable weekend and it seems that there's more content. An added bonus is better knowledge assimilation by dividing it into smaller pieces and systematically building upon it.
A questions and answers session. The lack of questions is an awkward and unfortunately common situation. You can hedge this risk in two ways. First, prepare a couple 'stock' questions before the event. They will let you fill in any pauses and serve as fallback questions - a safety margin. Second, encourage your attendees to ask questions from the beginning of the conference. Gather these questions in a document that you will later share with the host. By using the online chat, attendees can ask questions without disturbing the flow of the session. This approach will also prevent situations where an attendee has a question but simply forgets it when the QnA session comes. Note that both these solutions are not exclusive - it's best to combine them.
Better late than never
If someone misses an offline conference, it's their loss and they should own it. You're not morally bound to return the fee (you incurred expenses for holding a spot) and you won't organize the event again just for those who missed it. However, in the case of online events, you have no reason not to give them the recordings of your conference.
To some, the ability to watch the conference later can be an excuse to miss the event. On one hand you want as many people to attend live but on the other hand, you still want to provide value to those who registered. You can always inform your attendees after the event that they can watch the recordings. This way, they will be motivated to attend, and the absent will not lose on the knowledge.
The article Case Study: Galderma Webinar tells about one of the first online conferences we helped manage.