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When it comes to hosting a virtual conference, event organizers have a unique set of responsibilities to consider. To begin with, nobody who’s running a virtual conference wants technical hitches.
Additionally, an organizer must think about preparing themselves and their speakers to share their thoughts with attendees. But with some precise planning, you can easily reduce risks and focus on the more important aspects of your event.
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This guide to preparing for virtual conferences is split into the two main areas every planner should consider. First among these are the technical aspects. The practical elements run a close second, as these ensure your online event runs smoothly.
Technical Aspects to Consider for a Virtual Conference
You might think that most of your speakers will have used video conferencing software at some point, especially in the last few months. However, it’s best not to assume that they have high levels of technical proficiency.
Many people of all ages find the process of online conferencing stressful. It is your job as an event organizer to minimize that anxiety by offering a helping hand.
Basic points to include in your notes for your virtual conference:
- Your video conferencing tool of choice (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and so on)
- Download and installation guidance for this software
- Links to helpful websites with articles on how to use the software
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Further tips to help improve the technical success of your virtual conference:
- Participants should check where they can get the most reliable Internet connection in their homes. This is usually near their routers.
- Other members of their households should be asked not to use the Internet during your virtual conference to maximize available bandwidth.
- Ask participants to close non-essential apps or software connecting to the Internet. This will free up space and allow the video conferencing software to run more smoothly.
Video and Lighting for Your Virtual Conference
- Most modern laptops have a well-positioned webcam. Participants should aim it at or just above eye level. This might require stacking a laptop on top of a pile of books. Better yet, use a laptop stand.
- Avoid backlighting when possible. Instead, participants should position themselves in an area of balance and ideally natural light, as strong lamps will cast unwanted shadows.
- Again, avoid assuming that your dream speakers are as tidy as you are. Encourage them to aim for an uncluttered backdrop to avoid distractions.
- Alternatively, you and your speakers can use the same Zoom virtual background. Added benefits include a consistent image that ties your event together. Additionally, you’ll all have increased privacy. Your speakers, in particular, may not wish to share their homes with all your attendees.
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- Again, most computers have a built-in microphone suitable for most virtual conference calls. Other good alternatives include mobile phone headphones or headsets.
- Reverberant and resonant acoustics should be avoided as this can make it difficult to hear speakers. Rooms with carpeted floors and curtains are best for a dry acoustic.
Live vs. Recorded Video Conferences
Another question to consider when planning your virtual conference is whether the whole thing has to be live. Some of your speakers, however eminent, may feel uncomfortable on a live stream. They might prefer to record their statements via a one-on-one call in advance.
With some careful preparation, these pre-recorded elements can be incorporated into an otherwise “live” conference call. This material could also come in handy if you have any last-minute cancellations or technical disasters that no amount of preparation could cover.
Practical Elements to Keep in Mind for Video Conferencing
As an event organizer, you have a responsibility is to make sure that everybody involved in your virtual conference is on the same page. This should start with your team, if you have one. For example, ask team members to bring to your attention anything you might have missed.
Here are some areas to cover before the virtual conference:
- Timeline: Be sure to have clarity around deadlines for specific tasks, scheduled practice sessions, key marketing tasks, and more.
- Roles: If appropriate, allocate roles to members of your team. A good example would be somebody managing the “Chat” area of your call. This person could list interesting points and forward them to you or whomever is moderating the conversation, using a separate messaging tool.
Rehearsing and Recording a Virtual Conference
Depending on the scale and level of formality of your event, running one or two short practice sessions can make a huge difference. These sessions should include all the technical aspects that you want to use in your event. They are an opportunity for speakers to test all of the technical points above.
Consider this process your dress rehearsal—literally. Suggest people wear what they are going to wear for the real thing. If appropriate, suggest changes. Generally, solid colors that contrast with skin tone and backgrounds are best, especially if using virtual backgrounds.
Practice sessions are also a great way to capture backup material for your event. Check in advance that your guests are happy for you to record. Then make a note to set it up. Your practice session will also provide an opportunity for you and your team to review your presentation style and make any changes in advance of the real thing.
If you capture a practice session, consider cutting it into small sections. You can use these either to promote your event, perhaps as short “teaser” clips, or to have in reserve in case of last-minute cancellations. A short statement by a key speaker whom you have selected in advance can be dropped in at an appropriate point if this should happen.
A Final Word
Feel free to use this post as your own virtual conference handbook. It will allow you to share guidance with team members and speakers in a single step rather than by way of multiple unorganized emails.
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