RSC London has run quite a few online events over the years and while we do not claim to be experts, a few things have struck us as important considerations for running these. We have collected these together in the hope that you will find these tips useful in planning online events of your own.
There are many platforms available for hosting your online event. I have used Blackboard Collaborate, Wimba Live Classroom and Elluminate and also Skype for certain types of events.
This collaborative Google Doc initiated by Julian Prior (Learning Technologist University of Bath) compares the features of 10 of the most popular web conference tools: bit.ly/NVOf6G and this guide, http://www.jiscrsc.ac.uk/media/169816/web_conferening.pdf has been compiled by our colleagues in RSC Southwest.
This is the key to a successful online event. It involves:-
- publicity for the event
- sending out clear delegate instructions
- sending out information for participants to test their audio and set-up beforehand
- planning the content
- planning the activities
- planning the timings
- briefing speakers
- having a backup, if things do not go to plan
There are successful all day online events but you have to have a very well organised event and a dedicated set of participants for this to work well. With online events you have no travel costs or travel times so you have the option to spread out the material over several days or weeks. This enables you to have a series of short 30-60 minute sessions rather than a long on line event. Having headphones on all day makes your ears hot!
You may want to consider a pre-event activity to get your participants prepared for the online session. This could take the form of a questionnaire or survey, a task, or forum. What you actually decide to do will depend on the purpose of your event but getting your delegates primed before your event could help them get more from the online session.
On the day
It is a good idea to start your online event with an ice breaker activity. This meets several objectives:
- it puts delegates at ease
- it gives confidence that the online tools are working
- it shows delegates that the session will be interactive
- it starts the session off on a positive and fun note
- it gives anyone experiencing technical issues time to sort themselves out before the main content of the session begins
The facilitator role is key in any online event:
- welcomes the delegates
- explains the protocol for delegates, how to ask questions, what to do if you have a problem
- gives an overview of the session aims
- introduces the speaker/s
- manages the time
- manages any question and answer session
- closes the event and refers delegates to further information
Role of the presenter/briefing the presenter/s
The presenter/s are the main content of the event. These are just like the presenters at a face to face event, except that they may need to be briefed more carefully. This is particularly important if they are not experienced at presenting at online events. In an online setting people have a much reduced attention span. They have many more distractions (their office, home, e-mail, web etc.) than do delegates at a face to face event. Furthermore the normal human social protocols, such as eye contact, body language and the manners of live human interaction, do not apply online. Delegates unfamiliar with online activities may not have adopted the social protocols of the online world. For these reasons all presentations should be viewed with an eye to keeping the content delivery lively, interactive, delivered in short chunks and engaging. Think in terms of 4-6 minutes as the maximum time a presenter will be speaking before you ask the participants to respond to a question, quiz, survey, Q&A, dialogue with the facilitator or some other break in the proceedings. You can then continue with the presenter. This gives the delegates the message that their active participation is required. It also gives them a chance to absorb the information given out.
Technical support/separate rooms
One of the inevitable consequences of an online event is the delegate with technical issues. You can reduce this by sending out instructions and encouraging people to test their set-up beforehand. With Elluminate for example, we advise people to update their computers before the event and run a little built-in wizard to test their audio. It is advisable to have a person available on the day to assist anyone with technical issues. The ideal option is to have a separate room or channel to use for tech support. This way the main event is not delayed by the technical problems of a single delegate.
One way to assess the success of your online event is to count the delegates at the beginning and at the end. The fewer the drop outs the better the event. This is a real challenge as participants will be sitting at a computer with all the distractions that involves. There are many ways to make the event more engaging. You can deliver the content via a dialogue between two people, pause a long talk every few minutes with a question to the audience, incorporate activities throughout, or pause for questions from the audience every few minutes. What you choose will depend on your content and the aims of the session but I would strongly advise you do at least one of the above.
You have various options for handling questions. Some people take questions from delegates via the microphone. This is good but it does mean participants have to have a working microphone and a good connection. You can also ask delegates to post questions in the chat box, the facilitator can then put the questions to the speaker/expert. It is good practice to explain how you would like participants to interact and ask questions. You can take questions throughout or you can have a dedicated question and answer session built in to the event.
Making it fun
To help increase the engagement of the audience think about how you can make your event fun. A lively and light hearted delivery style for both presenters and facilitators works well. You cannot smile on line so you need to find other ways to make people feel at ease and ready to concentrate on the content of your session. The various platforms have tools you can use to create activities which might help this process. One example I saw was a map placed on the whiteboard and participants were asked to make a mark on the map to indicate where they were based. There are many such activities you can use to help make your online event fun.
My final bit of advice is, do not be afraid to try out new things online, be creative.
Good luck with your online events.
Martin Sepion is a Senior Adviser with JISC RSC London