How to host a virtual event quick and cheap
Want to make an online gathering look as legitimate as possible, without breaking a bank? Let me share some tips.
Before we start
In their article 10 tips for hosting virtual events, Zak Ramdani spelled out some general considerations, including:
- Why are you hosting the event? What do you want to get out of it? (To promote your brand? To have fun? To know more people?)
- Who should you invite? (Should there be co-hosts? Are audiences allowed to dial in and raise hands?)
- How should it be formed? (Who should speak first and who second?)
- Where should it happen? (Clubhouse? Zoom? Twitch?)
- When should it happen? (Consider time zones.)
These are important to consider when scoping out the event. Once you’ve nailed the basics, we can continue to some specific tools and ideas.
Schedule the event
Choose a platform. I always use Google Meet for online gatherings. It offers great virtual event control like Zoom does (breakout rooms, virtual backgrounds), and it can work in any browser like FaceTime can.
Make use of calendars. Particularly,
- If some participants are required to show up, coordinate schedules with a service like WhenIsGood.
- Create a calendar event. Invite participants who are going to actively contribute to the event.
- Generate an add-to-calendar link for your audiences to join. Since people uses different calendar software (which I’m sorta an expert on), use ADDCAL for maximal compatibility.
Prepare a starter pack for your participants
Catching your participants unprepared is detrimental to your event: It embarrasses participants and loses audiences. Always prepare beforehand.
If this is a play-together, make sure your fellow players know:
- how to connect to the right server,
- how to set up video feeds from their computers/consoles to your live stream, and
- that they should close their doors and kindly ask their parents to refrain from calling them “sweetheart” during the game.
Instead, if this is a book share, ask participants what books they are going to talk about. You can then tailor the theme of your event based on the genres of these books. This helps your event stay focused and your audiences engaged.
Examples continue. If this is a costume party, let them know what costumes are appropriate. (someone showed up in NSFW see-throughs in my first virtual Halloween event, in which my professors were also present.) If this is a wine-tasting session, mail out those sampler parcels… You got the idea.
Make a poster
Nothing can make things look better put together than a good poster. Be sure to include:
- name and time (including duration — no one wants to commit to an indefinitely long seminar),
- QR code from ADDCAL (don’t put full URLs on a poster; if you have to, at least shorten it), and
- nature of this event (free? online-only or mixed?).
Witty fine prints (optional)
Personally, I would try to be witty and leave a fine print like this:
All rights reserved like my grandma reserved water.
All rights reserved and seats too.
In Mandarin Chinese, it is customary to note,
We reserve the right of ultimate explanation.
in which case I’d say,
I reserve the right of ultimate explanation, though I’d be too lazy to make one.
At last, remember to distribute your poster. Don’t be too concerned with quality here: Even if it was a back-of-the-napkin doodle, share it. Originality is the key when it comes to artworks.
During the event
Play some background music. To avoid copyright infringements, use royalty-free music. Services like Chosic conveniently groups music by moods, which is quite important to keep the atmosphere consistent during the event. One thing I’m looking for is a playlist.
Screen-share a welcome screen. You can make one quickly with Google slides. Write explicitly if this event is being recorded or streamed. Let people know that if they turn on their cameras, their faces might appear on the Internet.
Feeling lazy? You can hit two birds with one stone. Just search for “loyalty-free upbeat background music” on YouTube.
Put on a virtual background. Use your poster to add a touch of customization. Now you know why you should keep your poster minimal.
As a community builder, I have tons to say when it comes to organizing events. I hope these ideas help you get things done easier and on the cheap. Let me know if you’ve got more to share!