Digital events are the future: how to make the most of this opportunity
30 Apr 2021 | Published by Cécile Guezennec & Karolina Poltorak
Transforming a seminar into a webinar is about more than just switching two letters and installing Zoom. As the shift to a digital format swept over many of the meetings and conferences held in 2020/2021, a trend especially relevant for international arrangements and networks, we had to change our international 2020 summit in Antwerp, Belgium, to a series of three online sessions. Going digital, even though it might seem ‘easier’ than organising a physical conference, brings completely different (and sometimes unexpected) challenges and opportunities. In this blog post, we share a few tips and insights, based on our experience.
- Find your audience. The ‘one-size fits all’ rule works even less when it comes to organising online events. Who would benefit the most from your webinar? Under the TROPICO Online Series joint theme “Collaborating for Digital Transformation”, we organized three separate sessions, each with a different focus. As we realised that they might be relevant for different audiences, we adapted our dissemination strategy to make sure we reached the right people. Without the need for costly travel, targeted invitations may prove even more successful than for a physical event.
- Solve technical issues. Even though many of us have become “expert users” of Zoom, MS Teams or Skype for Business, surprises can happen – and most likely will. Some platforms for online meetings may be blocked or prohibited by certain organisations. New complexities may arise when large audiences join a session. Functionalities might work differently for the host and for the participants. Our experience showed how important testing is – and that it should be performed well in advance. If you have never tried the “together mode” on Skype or MS Teams, testing it with the speakers and moderators involved is also your chance to have a laugh.
- Be formal… An explicit “code of conduct” for the event – how to engage in the online sessions, how to use the microphone, camera, and chat functions, etc. – creates mutual expectations and makes attendance more comfortable for both participants and organisers, especially as invitees (and their pets) may join or leave in a more flexible way. The online format, especially with clear rules that help avoid blunders, may even change the dynamic of the discussion, and empower more participants to contribute.
- … but not too formal. Informal interaction is also needed in parallel with explicit rules, to increase the involvement of participants. After all, the event is organised for them. Using a moderator can make all the difference. Keeping the chat active and including polls creates a good interactive setting. Real-time feedback, sharing of resources and a lively interaction between the participants themselves while the presentation is still ongoing, has been a surprising highlight of our digital event.
- Keep it short. A full-day physical conference can go quickly, as participants have the freedom to take breaks and socialise. When sitting alone behind a computer, time may go slower, and concentration plummet after the third presentation. Long online meetings or events are very demanding on the audience. For each session in the TROPICO Online Series, we set a short time duration, invited a small number of relevant panellists to increase focus. We tried to make high-quality visuals, and engaged the participants and speakers between topics with the help of a moderator.
With invitations to online events multiplying, organisers need to ensure that the topic of the webinar or conference is relevant for their audience, and provide added value for the time shared with the participants. Opting for a digital format is a well of new opportunities; it does not necessarily mean sacrificing quality human connection in order to adapt to a difficult context or to improve convenience. The future is full of digital events, let’s commit to making them efficient, engaging and fun.