A Guide to Virtual Events: Choosing Your Platform

In the current coronavirus crisis, we’re all adapting to the new reality of remote working. Digital tools have never been more important – we’re all becoming reliant on applications such as Zoom, Slack and Google Hangouts to allow us to keep working and, crucially, keep having that all-important face-to-face contact with colleagues and clients in order to keep projects, priorities and plans on track.

But what about events? Many organisations rely on conferences, seminars and other types of events as a way of engaging with new and existing customers. These events may involve tens or even hundreds of delegates. Can similar technologies to those we’re all now using day-to-day also be adapted for this challenge?

In this first part, we’ll be setting the ground work, helping you pick the best platform and finishing with some things to consider, whichever option you decide is best for you.

Technical Requirements

Before we get started, we’re going to assume that you have the following:

Reliable internet connection – everyone’s connection speed and reliability is different and there’s a limit to how much you can control this. However, it’s worth considering who else will be using your household’s internet at the time you’re planning your virtual event. The biggest consumer of bandwidth is streaming video, so you might want to ask others in the house to stay off Netflix during your event!

Computer or Laptop – everything we’re going to look at here is based on the assumption that you’re using either a Windows 10 or Mac computer/laptop. While you can use a tablet or phone, if you have the option of a ‘proper’ computer, it’s going to be so much easier, not least in that you don’t need to be holding it the whole time or propping it up on something.

Webcam – most modern laptops come with a webcam preinstalled. If you’re on a desktop PC, check if your monitor has one and if not, you can plug in a USB webcam (such as this one on Amazon). You can quickly test it’s working using Windows 10’s built in Camera app (or Photobooth if you’re on a Mac).

Audio – again, most laptops have a built-in microphone. If not, and you don’t have access to a mic that you can plug in, you could try using the mic that’s incorporated into most smartphone headphone cables.

Want to check your mic is working? If you’re on Windows, right-click on the sound icon in the bottom right corner of the screen (next to the clock) and click ‘Sound’, then click on the ‘Recording’ tab and you should see your mic input listed, with a useful sound meter next to it. On Mac, go into System Preferences > Sound and choose the ‘Input’ tab, and you’ll see a sound meter there.

Deciding on the best platform to use

We’re going to look at two options: Zoom and YouTube Live Stream. While there are other platforms and options available, we’ve picked these two because they’re both available for free and they’re both really straight forward to set up, both for you and your users.

To help choose the best platform for you, consider these questions:

Zoom
YouTube
Do you need to be able to see and directly interact with your delegates?
Do you need to be able to see and directly interact with your delegates?
Do you need to be able to see and directly interact with your delegates?
Does your event last more than 40 minutes?
Does your event last more than 40 minutes?
Does your event last more than 40 minutes?
Do you want to make your event available for people to watch later in their own time?
Do you want to make your event available for people to watch later in their own time?
Do you want to make your event available for people to watch later in their own time?
Might some of your users be apprehensive about downloading software onto their computer?
Might some of your users be apprehensive about downloading software onto their computer?
Might some of your users be apprehensive about downloading software onto their computer?
Do you want to be able to show PowerPoint presentations, or other content on your PC?
Do you want to be able to show PowerPoint presentations, or other content on your PC?
Do you want to be able to show PowerPoint presentations, or other content on your PC?
Do you want to encourage discussion between your audience after the event?
Do you want to encourage discussion between your audience after the event?
Do you want to encourage discussion between your audience after the event?
Is security/privacy an important consideration?
Is security/privacy an important consideration?
Is security/privacy an important consideration?

As that hopefully illustrates, Zoom’s main advantages are that (a) you can see your delegates as well as them seeing you, and (b) you can easily share your screen. For a lot of virtual events, these will be deal breakers, and so Zoom becomes the only viable option.

But if they’re not issues for you, you may well find that YouTube is the more sensible option, especially given the automatic recording of the live stream so people can watch later, plus the ease of access for your users, lack of software to download, and no limit on the length of your event.

It’s worth highlighting a couple of caveats specific to YouTube:

– You’ll need a Google account to be able to create your channel and live stream (something many people have anyway, especially if you use Gmail)

– Your audience will need to have Google accounts also IF they want to participate in the live chat. If not, they can just view as a ‘guest’.

– By default YouTube live streams are open to anyone to access. However, you can create a private channel and invite specific users to join. However, they will all need to have a Google account to access this.

At the end of the day, if you’re still unsure of which option is right for you, try them both! Neither will cost you any money (if you stick to the free Zoom package) and this gives you the best way to try them out. Maybe stage a dummy event before the real thing and invite friends or colleagues and get feedback from them as to which platform they preferred.

Regardless of the platform you choose, here are a few tips as you start running virtual events:

Explain how it’s going to work – to help reassure your attendees, explain in advance how the process will work. Give them the link (and password if needed) nice and clearly. Tell them you’ve spent time making it as straight forward as possible for them.

Consider your audience – some people feel really uncomfortable on webcam. If you’re using Zoom and you think some in your group fall into this category, explain that they can join the meeting anyway but with their camera turned off.

Get your lighting right – natural lighting is best. If possible, position yourself facing a big window. If that’s not possible, try to get some bright lights pointed towards your face. Avoid sitting/standing with a brightly-lit window behind you!

Agree some conventions – consider agreeing in advance some conventions on a Zoom meeting. For example, participants could pull an ear if they can’t hear you, thumbs up to show they understand. You might also want to mute everyone else’s mics for part of the session when you’re doing most of the talking, so background noise doesn’t become a problem.

Practice makes perfect – whichever platform you decide to go with, do a few practice runs before your first event. Both Zoom and YouTube let you record, so go back and watch. Could the sound be clearer? Are you sitting/standing in the best place? Run a practice session with friends and family and get their feedback too.

We hope you’ve found this an interesting first look at making your events virtual. In part two, we’ll be looking at Zoom and how to best use it to run your virtual event.

James Watson
James Watson
james@wearewellandtruly.com
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