5 minutes with an expert on online events

CIM spoke with the CEO and founder of Redback Connect, Jeff Downs, about the new environment of home-based working and social distancing and how to successfully transition conferences to an online format.

How has the timetable for conferences changed? When we commit to attending a physical event, we have our calendars cleared, have fewer distractions, and are ready to engage with our peers. Now, things are working differently – we’re adjusting to working from home, our children or partners may also be working with us, and uncertainty surrounds us on so many levels. Therefore, sitting behind a computer screen for an entire day is probably not a viable option. Secondly, many speakers may be in high demand and time-poor – if you can work around them, then you’re winning.

We don’t have control over much right now, so why not give your audience and presenters some control over content? Live content, or a mix of live and pre-recorded content, allows for interactivity. If you make it available on-demand, attendees can be redirected to the pre-recorded content, once the conference is over. The audience has the entire week to watch the rest of their content and earn CPD Points.

How do you adapt break-out spaces in an online context? When you’re considering a remote conference, look at your program and explore the different types of formats. While keynotes, presentations, and even panel discussions work great, break-out rooms and other collaborative sessions may not.

Your online stream should be one-way communication with the ability for your audience to ask questions via a private or open chatbox. Not only is the risk of technical issues smaller, but it is the best way to replicate your physical event. Also, consider redirecting attendees to video conference rooms or online communities to continues the discussion in a more interactive formation.

How do you set speakers up for online success? Presenters are critical to your online events – you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you want to get it right. Therefore, as soon as you commit to taking your conference online, reach out to speakers and familiarise them with the platform you’re using. Organise online briefing sessions to test the following:

Internet connectivity – Is their audio coming through clear? Is their webcam grainy?

Functionality – Do they understand how to take questions and use other features?

Back-up options – Do they have a telephone nearby in case issues with internet connectivity occur?

It’s important that testing is conducted in the same environment that the live event will take place. For example, if your speaker is presenting from home, make sure they conduct the testing from home. For panel discussions, consider running briefings with all panelists and ensure you have a facilitator, or even an MC, to keep these sessions on track.

How can you make sure the technology will work? How we work has changed dramatically over the past few weeks, and while most online webinar platforms are stable, the reliability of our internet is unknown. As home-based working continues, so will the pressure on our internet bandwidth. Your speakers will most likely be presenting from a home environment, so it’s vital to have a back-up solution in place. Ensure speakers always have a telephone nearby while presenting, so if their internet drops out, your provider will be able to call them and bring them into the event. Also, think about what’s more relevant to you – content or video? If you think your speakers are presenting from risky locations and you would prefer to deliver seamless content, drop the webcams, and run your event with audio, slides and a headshot of your presenter.

How can online events still make money? Hosting your two-day conference online means you have created at least 12 months of on-demand content. Remember, taking your event online is not just a back-up, it’s a revenue stream. Many also question whether they should charge delegates for online content. The answer is yes. Your attendees are still receiving the same content and will also be able to access it once your event is over. However, consider providing a discount as you will no longer require social activities or catering. Finally, reach out to your sponsors and ask if they would sponsor your online event. You can create online trade halls, one-on-one meetings between sponsors and delegates, and ensure sponsorship dollars live beyond the live event itself.