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When you choose an online event over a live one, be sure to avoid the most important pitfalls: invest in making it interactive and engaging, instead of going back to ‘sending only’. Make participants feel that you genuinly reach out to them, even though you can’t touch them physically. Show your viewers that they are part of the show, not just spectators. Basically: do everything you would ‘on stage’, but then online.
Here’s some ideas, to make your virtual event about people, not about technique only.

Design for digital

Treat online events, just as you would go about a live meeting: start with defining the objectives, then design the most effective formats. And then trust in the fact that whatever wild ideas you come up with, there will be a solution to make it happen. This also means not doing it the other way around. So don’t start with the choice of platform, tools etc. before you know what you need.

What you shouldn’t do, is simply copy the face2face format to online. The human experience should be equally engaging, the design should be broken down and rebuilt specifically for online.

Design a great opening

Just as in live-events, you do the ‘coding’ in the first few minutes of your virtual meeting. On a subconsious level, you need to show your participants what kind of meeting this will be, what contribution will be expected of them and what rules apply to this temporary tribe.
That means that if you want the session te be interactive, you should start right away. Skip the endless introductions and start making a real connection. This will allow you to set the tone of voice, the pace and the objective of the meeting.

Starting interactively can be anything. Be creative about it: play a game. Have everyone scan all camera’s and post how many of those people they already know. Do a quick poll or wordcloud. Have 100 camera’s together form the logo of the company, by using coloured papers in front of the lense. Be playful.

Plan for designated interaction moments

In general, with online events we tend to allow participants to constantly post questions or remarks. We prefer to work with specific timeslots, so people can listen first and respond later; or think and give input first, and then listen.
A suggestion might even be, to ask for specific responses or a specific kind of questions. This will give your event the structure it needs and helps participants understand what it is you want them to do.

Keep them on their toes

When online, minds drift even more than in real live. So it’s key to engage the participants on a regular basis. We advise to actively involve them at least every 3-5 minutes. And note: actively involve is more than just saying ‘if you have a question, please post’. Actively involving means: making them think, move, act.
On top of that, it’s important to change formats regularly. Every briljant format gets boring after a while. So cut your virtual event up in pieces and for each one, decide what the most effective format is. If you need inspiration, send us your specific question and we’ll come up with some suggestions. There’s an endless amount of ideas out there, that will also work online.

Get to the point

In real life, a long rant by any speaker is horrible and will make participants switch of. Online, the attention span is even shorter. So if you present: get to the point, cut the crap.
This might mean doing a short summary only and posting a document with further details in the chat or sending it by email. Or you could put some info on-screen and give people some time to read and understand, before you go on.

Change groupsize

Every part of a program requiers a different dynamic. So if you can, have people work in groups of 2-4-8-10 people. And yes: that may be a challenge, when everybody is at home and is participating from their individual screen. But fear not and be creative: there are platform that allow breaking up in smaller groups, you could have people cooperate in a whatsapp group, arrange for conference calls or shout at each other from balconies.
You can have these groups dig deeper into content, tell each other stories, prepare questions, come up with potential solutions, work on an assigmnent. Once you start thinking, there’s a million of options and formats. We will most gladly help you find or design the one, that perfectly matches your online event.

Use multiple streams

Not everyone is interested in the same content. You can communicate what will de discussed at what time, so participants can choose when to log in. Or you can have a number of sessions simultaneaously, for people to choose from.
And even when you want all participants to attend all sessions/speakers, there’s the option of splitting the group. Instead of having – let’s say – a 100 people listen to four speakers in a row, you can ask the experts to do their presentation 4 times: you can imagine how a group 0f 25 will bring a different dynamic than a team of 100.

Allow them to switch of

Human beings need time to themselves: to think about a question/problem, to prepare for a next session or to digest information. It may feel strange not to broadcast anything for a few minutes, but believe us: there is a lot of power in asking participants to individually write down a list of challenges, take a five minute walk around the garden to think something over or to make a drawing of ‘the future’. It will revitalize them ánd make them more carefull listeners.
And obviously, people have other stuff on their minds. So why not do regular breaks, for toilet, email etc?

Use tools

When online, it is kind of hard to do oldskool stuff like bodyvoting, raising hands etc. So look for tools that will have the same effect, but online.
First of all, there’s the option of polling/voting, using tools like Slido. They will help you get a quick insight in to what people think, need and want. Some of these tools are also great for crowdsourcing the most important question. And a quick wordcloud works wonders to get a grip on the most important challenges, solutions etc.
If you’re looking for more functionalities, like networking and all kinds of playfull stuff, take a look at Presenterswall.
And might you want to dig deeper, we suggest looking into our own tool ConsensIQ. It allows groups to do more accurate forcasting, have more thorough dialogue on dilemma’s and take more balanced decisions, backed by all.
All in all, there’s a tool out there for everything. So don’t hold back, come up with crazy ideas and start searching.

Have fun

Also online, people love to play around. So why not do a quiz or other games? Or look around for fun stuff like ‘the wheel of names’. Give them crazy assignments, like googling do the most stupid solution ever. Or whatever you can come up with.

Prepare and get your tech right

Sure, a certain degree of improv will make your event better; more human, if you will. But only in preparation you will find room for flexibillity.
So please, prepare content! Make sure that participants feel that you are on the game and that they don’t find you searching for the right information, document etc.
And get your tech in place. This means being on the designated platform, way before the participants come in. Especially the opening is vital and asking people to give you 5 minutes to do the settings is deadly.

Know who is watching

Just as in real live events, it is crucial to know who your participants are, to avoid you telling them stuff they already know or things there’s not interested in. The most simple way to do so, is by asking; before the meeting an/or during it.


If you switch from live to online, it changes … nothing! It’s just another medium, with different dynamics and tools. But the participants and their needs stay the same. Be creative and everything is possible.

And if you want learn more, take a look at our Workshop Online Moderation & Meeting Design.

Jan-Jaap In der Maur

(Picture by Alfred Rowe on Unsplash)

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