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10 things we’ve learned from organizing online events

10 things we’ve learned from organizing online events

Fuckup Nights is a beautiful movement: more than 300 cities in 90 countries, creating unique meeting places for people to listen to  failure stories, reflect on their own, and feel simultaneously vulnerable and safe.

Before the pandemic, around 2 Fuckup Nights events were hosted each day,  somewhere on the globe. Obviously we couldn’t just wait for COVID to pass (will it anyway?), so we invited our communities and speakers online! How original, right?

However obvious and unavoidable this transition may seem, it still came with its fair share of fuckups. Looking back on the past 4 months, we wanted to share 10 things we’ve learned from organizing online events. May it inspire, and perhaps help you with hosting your next/first online event:

1.Make it FUN! 🎉
It’s already bad enough for your audience to have to watch an event on a screen, after spending all day on it, home officing, so grab their attention! Joking around, using images (preferably fun and eye-catching) rather than text on your slides, alternating between your presentation and human faces, leaving room for interaction, inviting a guest musician, … all of these things can make your event stand out!

2.Keep it simple and short 💥

Simple, as in:

  • Using a platform you might already know, vs. trying out an innovative and complex one that you haven’t mastered.
  • Adapting your regular in-person formats, going with something you know works.

That said, simple doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare your event. Even a casual live interview with some Q/A from the audience requires preparing your guest beforehand. Together, go over the topics you plan to discuss, prepare the event flow, and get some questions ready in case you end up with a quiet audience.

While going for a known platform makes it easier, do keep in mind that every tool brings different advantages and formats. For example, Zoom webinars/meetings and live streamings on social media through StreamYard or OBS , will require (or not) registration, encourage audience engagement, provide more or less control over your attendees, give you detailed after-event reports, etc

Short, as in:

  • Adapt the length of your event to your audience, and to the type of content you’re delivering. A masterclass-type of content with paid registrations could easily last 2 hours for example. But say you’re hosting a free speakers series on social media, try to keep it short: we live in a 280 characters and infinite-scroll world.
  • In our experience, people appear to be getting tired of webinars. Blame it on the lasting quarantine, on the rising screen-time we all experience or on the season. Whatever it is, we’ve been seeing lower registrations and lower show-ups at our events recently. Which is why we now want to try shorter formats (vs. 1h30 or more sometimes), and perhaps make them more engaging (vs. a webinar where people only have a limited time for Q/A.)

3.Choose your platform and format wisely 🧐
OK, we did say to keep it simple. Yet the choice of the right platform and event format is key. What do you want your event to look like? How much do you want to engage your audience?

If you want to see everyone’s video and enable them to turn on their microphone, then the “meeting” format is for you (on Zoom for example).

Or do you want to restrict your audience to a chat/comments/Q&A section? In that case, the “webinar” format, or a simple social media livestream might just work for you (directly on Facebook, Instagram, or through a platform like StreamYard or OBS for ex.). 

Are you the only person presenting, or do you have a “panel” of speakers and guests? Do you need to share your screen, or will it just be your pretty face? Asking yourself all these questions will help you make the right decision!

4.Set specific roles 🧢
Understanding what each person within your team is responsible for during, before, and after the event will help you work better as a team and deliver a great virtual experience. Some roles may include:

  • Moderator
  • Q&A responsible for reading and answering live questions
  • Technician responsible for solving any problems with the platform, audio, etc.
  • Social media interaction to keep the conversation going with the community

5.Take care of (technical) details 🔎
Let’s take the example of screen-sharing. Close all of your computer tabs and apps (especially the noisy ones), clean your desktop, open your presentation software in a specific window and make sure you know how to properly share your screen and/or your music, if needed. Oh, and try to have the best internet connection possible! Connect your computer to your modem via cable, if possible, or at least stay close to your router! 😉

These small things can actually make a difference, and make the whole thing flow nicely.

6.Test & rehearse 🧪
Testing will help you figure out these small things. Have a look at the platform you want to use, and try it out for yourself! If you’re using social media, what about creating a fake profile/page, without any followers, to test live streaming for real?

Also, have someone on the “other side”, watching the live, to give you feedback on the whole “look and feel”, post a comment, ask a question, etc.

Let’s say you have external guests during your event: set up a rehearsal with them. Go over the event flow, listen to their presentations, give them feedback if needed, and check technical details: does everyone have the software? Good internet connection? Do the speakers have high-quality video and sound? Is the screen sharing/ remote control of the slides working for them? etc.

Story time: one of us was supposed to host one of our very first online events, yet his Internet/computer had issues during the rehearsal, so we switched to someone else for the real event! Phew! 😅

Finally, on D-day, log in early with your speakers and go through all  the details one last time before going live!

7.If you take yourself too seriously, don’t! 🤪
But hey, don’t worry. Even if after all these tests something fucks up, that’s ok! We’ve found that people are forgiving when it comes to technical Fuckup’s and online events. If you have a hiccup, laugh it off and keep going. At least, that’s what we do at Fuckup Nights….

Story time: during one of our private events, our most anticipated speaker, who was supposed to talk last, suddenly lost his internet connection and disappeared! Improv time! We asked people to share their failures instead, and we ended up having a great time!

8.Look good on camera! 😎
Yes honey, look your best! Here’s Tom Ford’s message for you:

  • Position your computer slightly higher than you head (a stack of books may help)
  • Put a lamp next to your laptop, pointing at your best profile (note from us: you could also try a threequarter view!)
  • Put some white paper/cloth on the table right in front of you
  • And apply some powder! ✨

Depending on your audience and the type of event, if you can host it during the day, the light will obviously be much better!

9.Engage your audience! 🙌
Well, what’s the point of streaming live if you don’t engage them? You might as well pre-record something and take the time to edit it nicely. 🤷‍♂️

How to engage a virtual crowd? Have a chat/comment section, a dedicated Q&A moment, launch a poll, have some live music performance, host an icebreaker at the beginning (through smaller rooms like Breakout Rooms in Zoom Meetings for example, or using a third-party like Icebreaker), …

Our favorite/random moments during our “after-event parties” online were when the UK event turned into drinking games, or when we watched a full movie at the end of one South African edition!

10.Be 1% better every day 💎
You’ve now tried your first online event, and it went well? Congrats! But don’t stop there tiger. Get feedback, be receptive to what your audience and speakers have to say, what they’d like to see at the next one! Try new things, innovate, … One of the great things about online events is that small and easy tweaks can make a big difference to the whole experience.

Now, what does the future hold for the event industry? To be honest, we don’t really know. You know us, pretending to be “gurus” is something we want to avoid at all costs!

But seeing what’s happening in the 90 countries where our community is active, and the evolution of the pandemic, it seems clear that the comeback of medium to large events is not really around the corner… Depending on the country, some of our local organizers started to host small events again (up to 50 people in most cases), while others still have no other choice but to keep it digital.

One trend that we’ve observed though is the rise of “hybrid” events: hosting it in a physical venue with a small crowd, while also streaming it online, engaging both off- and online participants!

One last thing before you leave: come and hear some failure stories at our next Fuckup Nights Quarantine Editions, and join our Live Experiences from the Failure Institute!

PS: One of the platforms we’ve been using a lot is Zoom. If you want more info and specific tips about it, here’s their training page! (No, this post isn’t sponsored) 😁

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