Initial Publication Date: July 23, 2015

Run a Virtual Event

This page follows from information about Planning, Designing, and Convening a Cutting Edge-style Workshop. Much of the information in those pages is applicable to virtual events; the information may just need to be scaled down or adjusted to meet constraints posed by time and the virtual environment. This page provides information, tips and advice that applies specifically to running a successful virtual event, whether it be an hour-long stand-alone webinar or a multi-day workshop.

Running a webinar? See tips for designing a Cutting-Edge-style webinar.

Choose Technologies that Work Well With your Programming

Conferencing Technology 

Most virtual events will involve screen-sharing and audio. You may decide to use a program that integrates screensharing and audio, or you may opt to keep screen-sharing and audio separate through the use of a conference phone line. These decisions will likely depend on your budget, the technologies available, the number of participants attending your event, and what types of activities you are hosting during your workshop. Since conferencing technologies are ever-evolving, we recommend you do an internet search to find what options may work best for your situation.

Potential resources include:

Designing your Program

The advice provided on the Design your Workshop web page is relevant for virtual events, regardless of their length. While your participants do not meet face-to-face, many conferencing technologies allow for screensharing presentations, chats and other discussion tools, and for participants to participate in small-group discussions using break out rooms.

Consider the following as you create your program:

  • What are the goals of the virtual event?
    • Are you solely interested in providing information?
    • Will you have discussion and sharing of ideas amongst participants?
    • Do you expect to create new materials that stem from the event?
  • What are your time constraints?
    • Is this an hour-long event, or will you need to meet over several sessions?
    • How much time should you leave for questions (a minimum of 15 minutes is recommended)?
  • If you are meeting over several sessions, will you
    • meet for long time blocks or short time blocks?
    • once a day or multiple times a day?
    • every day for a week or once a month?
    • allow time for both synchronous sessions and asynchronous work time?
    • assign 'homework' between sessions?

Utilize the Website

Before the workshop or webinar:

  • Provide tech info (and strongly advise that participants test it before the meeting) - for example, see the Making Good Courses Great technical instructions page
  • Set expectations for participants - participate *fully* in all event sessions 
  • Solicit for website contributions, if applicable
  • Provide background materials/readings and related links, if applicable
  • Consider creating a discussion thread or email list to start conversations

During the workshop or webinar:

  • Use workspaces for collaborative materials development and to record small group discussions
  • Link to presentations and related resources from Program or event page

After the workshop or webinar:

  • Provide recordings of sessions for non-participants to view or for participants to refer back to 
  • Advertise the presentations and recordings to a broader audience
  • Transform big ideas from workspace pages into website content, if applicable

Tips and Advice

General Tips and Advice

  • Send a list of tips to presenters and participants before the workshop.
  • Have a set of "welcome" slides
    • The first slide should have instructions for joining the webinar (inclluding phone number/access code, if applicable) and itinerary on it. Be sure to note times in multiple time zones.
    • It is also very useful to have a slide with the leader's (or leaders') photo(s) to help put faces to voices. If the group is small enough or if meeting over several sessions, you may also consider asking for participants to submit photos for an additional slide. 
  • Make sure to set up a time to do a practice run-through with your speakers. This will introduce them to and get them more comfortable the technologies and should minimize technical difficulties during the workshop. A run-through may also aid in catching presentations that exceed the allotted time and in making sure the presentations complement each other and reduce or eliminate redundancies. 
  • Point people at the technologies instructions page and require them to test the software well before the event so that they have a chance to troubleshoot their local technology.
  • Small group breakouts work well and allow for peer-to-peer interaction.
  • Having a real presentation that can be posted post facto is valuable. If the presentation can be recorded and posted, it allows for a broader reach.
  • When using synchronous small group breakout sessions, using a timer provided by the web conferencing software is useful for participants to gauge their progress against the time remaining.
  • Headsets are strongly recommended for everyone, especially presenters. At some point (perhaps on the registration form) participants should be either instructed to obtain or asked if they have access to a headset for use during the workshop.
  • If at all possible, have a "Plan B" for both the audio and the screensharing portions of the webinar. This could be an alternate, free web conferencing program, setting up an alternate conference line, or emailing out the presentations. Unforeseen challenges often arise with technology, so it is always best to be prepared with an alternate plan.

For One-time, Content-focused Events

  • 20-30 minutes of presentation followed by a question/answer session works well.
  • For interactive events, build in at least 10 minutes of 'warm up time' before the speaker starts. This will provide a time buffer for late arrivals, dealing with technical issues, and can be used to introduce the facilitators and speakers through a short series of introductory presentation slides.
  • Recording these events is highly recommended, as you can easily post and share them with a broader audience and link out to them as a stand-alone resource.

For Multi-session Events

  • Assigning group representatives a specific follow up task can promote communication back to their group.
  • Send an email at the end of the day telling people their "homework assignments" and where to look for info on the page (discussion threads, the program page, etc. which have all the info from the email in more detail).
  • If you're going to have interactive sessions using the conferencing technology tools, you can run participants through a short icebreaker activity at the beginning of the workshop to highlight the tools that they will be using. It isn't necessary to show the whole suite of tools, just the ones that participants are going to use.
  • Send an email with specific instructions and itinerary each morning. Include "we will start at xx Eastern | xx Central | xx Mountain | xx Pacific" so people get calibrated to the right time zone.