Your physical events don’t have to cancel – how to make Online Conferences Work

By Sara Drury

For some of us, it can feel like months worth of work is about to be lost. All that time spent gaining sponsors, attracting delegates and working with venues suddenly means nothing due to COVID-19.

So much time, budget and energy goes into organising our physical conferences and events – not to mention, they can be be a huge revenue generator. But, even with everything happening, your conferences and events don’t have to cancel.

Taking your physical event online has always been an option, but we’re now seeing a huge increase in remotely delivered conferences that are organised with a quick turnaround time. So, what options do you have, how does it work, and how can you make sure you’re prepared?


How it all works

Online Conferences can be delivered in two ways:

  • Your speaker presents on camera with their presentation alongside them – allowing the audience to watch, listen and learn
  • Your speaker presents via audio only with their presentation alongside them – allowing your audience to focus on the content

You also have the option to use a range of online tools to help build engagement. Think polling, Q&A sessions, chat rooms and surveys.

These events are not video conference meetings where everyone joins on camera to discuss a topic. They are sophisticated, planned webinars designed to replicate your physical event.

Speakers are trained on the platform, a registration process still takes place and attendees remain on mute for the sessions.

Watch an on-demand remote webinar – view an example


My conference was due to run for 2 days – how is this possible?

It is possible, you just need to think outside the box and think with an attendee mindset.

Firstly, would you sit behind a computer screen for an entire day?

When we commit to attending a physical event, we have cleared our calendars, have less distractions and are ready to engage with our peers. Compare that to how we’re all currently working now – we’re adjusting to working from home, our children or partners may also be working with us and we’re surrounded by uncertainty on so many levels.

Secondly, many speakers may be in high demand right now and time poor – if you can work around them, then you’re winning.

We don’t have control over much right now – why not give your audience and presenters some control over content?

Live content is great and allows for interactivity. So why not offer a mix of live and pre-recorded content. We’re currently working with an organisation who is running three back-to-back live speakers which will run from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm. Once the final session is over, attendees will be redirected to a bunch of on-demand content that was pre-recorded days ago.

This has meant that they were still able to get the speakers they wanted, and their audience have the entire week to watch the rest of their content and earn CPD Points.


I was planning to have breakout rooms at my conference, will this work online?

When you’re considering a remote conference, look at your program and consider the 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 chat box. This decreases the risk of technical issues and is the best way to replicate your physical event.

Consider redirecting attendees to video conference rooms or online communities to continues the discussion in a more interactive formation. Check out Higher Logic for more information.


How can I set my speakers up for success?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, your presenters are critical to your online events. You only get one chance to make a first impression and you want to get it right.

As soon as you commit to taking your conference online, reach out to speakers and get them familiar with the platform. You want to organise online briefing sessions to test the following:

  • Internet connectivity – is their audio coming through clear? Is their webcam grainy?
  • Functionality – ensure they can move the slides and understand how to take questions and use other features
  • Back up options – ensure they have a telephone nearby in case issues with internet connectivity occur

It’s important that testing is conducted in the same environment as where the live event will take place. For example, if your speaker is presenting from home, make sure they conduct the testing from home.

Here’s some other ideas to ensure your speakers are setup for success:

  • Ensure you have at least a 5-minute break between sessions – you want speakers to get online and quickly run a test before they go live
  • For panel discussions, consider running briefings with all panelists. Ensure you have a facilitator to keep these sessions on track
  • Have your webinar provider manage this for you – it can be very time consuming and you should be focussing on comms, rather than training sessions
  • If you had a conference MC, you can still have an online MC! This will keep your sessions on track and attendees engaged


I’m really worried about the technology – how can I make sure it will work?

The way in which 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 online education and working from home continues – so will our pressure on our internet bandwidth. Your speakers will most likely be presenting from a home environment, meaning Netflix may be streaming in the background and their children may be home schooling.

While you can’t control this, you can have a back-up solution in place.

  • Ensure speakers have a telephone nearby at all times while presenting – if their internet drops, your provider will be able to call them and bring them into the event
  • What’s more important 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 – content is content.


Ok, this sounds great, but can I still make money?

Yes, in fact you open up more revenue streams.

Hosting your two-day conference online means you have just 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.

Charging – many question whether they should still charge delegates for online content, and the answer is yes. Your attendees are still receiving the same content and will also be able to access this once your event is over. Charge, but consider providing a discount as you will no longer require social activities or catering

Sponsorship – reach out to your sponsors and ask if they would like to 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.

Take a look at our Sponsorship Guide for more information


While we’re all living in certain times, it doesn’t mean everything should be put on hold or even worse, cancelled. We can still continue to engage our members, customers and employees with online events, we just need to think differently about how we go about it.

For more tips and ideas on gaining sponsors and marketing your events, take a look at this 30 minute webinar.

Take care,

TAG: digital marketing, hybrid events, meetings, presentations, web conference benefits, webinar, webinar attendance, webinar engagement, webinar marketing, webinar tips,