How to make an online event more engaging

These days, if you’re planning to bring people together for an important meeting or workshop it’s a good idea to be thinking virtually, whether your event will be fully online, in person with an online back-up or a hybrid set-up to accommodate a mix of both.

However you choose to tackle your event, our top piece of advice is to carefully consider how it will work best online, rather than simply using the same approach you would have used for a face-to-face meeting. Here are five tips for making the most of the online experience so that your participants don’t start zoning out midway through.

  1. Choose the right format

Consider your purpose and audience before deciding on a solution. Is it a simple team meeting being held online because people are working remotely, a large-scale corporate event or an interactive workshop?

What accessibility issues do you need to consider? Your participants might include people based in different locations, elderly participants with limited digital connectivity, or guests with particular vulnerabilities to COVID who need to avoid group settings.

Answering these questions will help determine if your event should be held in person, exclusively online or a combination of both, and whether additional virtual tools or platforms are needed or appropriate.

  1. Consider your technology

Most of us have a decent grasp of the major platforms from Microsoft Teams to Zoom and Webex, but there is a whole host of additional options for making events extra interactive, most with both free and premium paid versions available.

Microsoft Teams Live is more suitable for larger audiences than a standard Teams meeting. The host actively manages the event and can mute participants or restrict screen sharing. Hosts can also set up breakout rooms for small group activities or run a moderated Q&A with anonymous questions from participants.

Miro is a virtual whiteboard suitable for workshop-style sessions that can run within Webex or Teams. It offers different templates ranging from simple sticky note boards to more complex flow-charts, timelines, Agile scrum boards and customer journey mapping. Participants can add notes and make changes live, which keeps the session moving quickly with maximum engagement.

Mentimeter is a useful plug-in for virtual focus groups that syncs up to platforms like Zoom so you can access your presentation library, share slides, and conduct live polls, Q&As and quizzes. Data can be easily exported and compiled into a report collating the insights gained from the session. Kahoot is another platform with interactive presentation tools to run polling, word clouds, brainstorms, quizzes and puzzles.

FocusGroupIt is a different type of option as a standalone program which allows you to set up a focus group with discussion points, questions and surveys. Participants can respond in their own time by text or video so it’s a good option when you’re happy for people to participate at their own pace rather than during a specific session.

  1. Practice beforehand

Do a practice run before your session with a group of test participants to check how your background, sound and lighting are looking and practice functions such as sharing your screen, requesting control or recording the event (remembering you’ll need to let people know at the start of the session if you’re doing this).

This also helps identify any issues with executing your agenda, such as people participating online who can’t see or hear well what’s happening in the room or people talking over each other if they’re not being moderated. Another element to think through is the acknowledgement of country, which you may wish to adjust to account for participants located on different lands.

  1. Keep it interesting

We all know how exhausting it can be to stare at a screen for extended periods, so think about ways to keep your participants interested throughout.

A few simple options to consider are icebreakers or energy breaks where you might run a short quiz, do an emoji check-in to get an idea of how everyone is feeling, or play an online team-building style game such as “Two truths and a lie” or bingo. If you can get people to download an app ahead of time, consider something like Psych, a free game where participants vote on the funniest answer submitted to a group question.

More involved ideas include sending people on a virtual scavenger hunt or organising an Airbnb virtual experience like a cooking class or hosted online game. Companies like Banana Life can be enlisted to host virtual escape rooms, murder mysteries or an Amazing Race-style activity.

Another idea is to organise a special delivery before or during the event, such as a meal, gift or items to use during the session – ranging from standard conference materials to a wine-tasting kit or yoga mat.

  1. Think through the details

Get as granular as possible when planning so nothing is left to chance. Make sure everyone is able to access the technology you’re using and give participants clear instructions if they need to download anything ahead of time, check their connection speeds or use a password. Free versions of some programs will restrict the length of your session or the number of participants so check whether this could cause an issue.

Consider the meeting etiquette, such as whether participants’ microphones will be muted or left on to facilitate interactivity. It’s normal to ask everyone to leave their cameras on, but this could cause issues for people with limited internet connection.

Make sure you have a plan for handling tech issues – this could be as simple as providing a tech support person for participants to contact if needed or having a back-up teleconference number for anyone who can’t access the online platform so they don’t miss out completely.

Running events online doesn’t mean you can’t get creative and keep things interesting. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, so contact CGM if you’d like to discuss virtual options for your next workshop or meeting.


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