Making Online Events Work

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A still from a promotional video for the 10th MD Student Conference, the first held completely online.  

Around the University and the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct, feedback from event organisers is that seminars and other events are attracting many more attendees now that they are online. The learning curve can be steep and as with anything disrupted by the pandemic, there have been teething problems.

You'll need to make decisions early on questions such as, Will my event be best run as a Zoom meeting or Zoom webinar? There are some practical implications for this choice. Every University account holder has a meeting licence (for up to 300 people), but webinar licences need to be requested (these are usually for up to 500 people, but a 1000-person licence can be requested), and these are often granted as a one-off for a specific event. You'll also need to decide  if you want a unique Zoom link for each registrant (this needs to built into the invitation and registration process, so do it ahead of any promotion), or whether one public link will suffice.   

For larger events, bear in mind that webinars allow more control over camera an audio settings, whereas meetings are more interactive. Breakout rooms aren't a Zoom Webinar feature, but you can get around this by providing separate meeting links to breakout sessions.

You may be able to book tech support for your event – best to put in a call early.

Now is a great time to join the Events Network, a University community of practice open to any staff with an element of event coordination in their role. If you haven’t already, you can join by sending an email request with your email signature (job title, department etc). Last month’s webinar featured Tim Bright and Heath Evans from the Melbourne Accelerator Program, who shared their experiences delivering online events, as well as  Ben Loveridge and Sandra Macriyiannis from Learning Environments, who presented on Video and Media Production online event services. 
Contact the Network at unimelb-events@unimelb.edu.au

Looking for some inspiration? Some of our student groups, such as the Graduate Student Association, are ahead of the curve. In June, our MD students took their entire annual conference online (using Big Marker as the platform to wrangle 160 speakers and 1400 students).

Training and tips
There are University resources to help you get started: How to set up and run a Zoom webinar -Staff Hub now has a Zoomportal, with an online guide under the Getting Started tab. Keep an eye out for updates here. Learning Environments’ portal emphasises teaching and learning, but their website has a wealth of resources, including a self-service guide for webinars. Third party providers are also offering tips – keep an eye on the webinar section of the Zoom blog, and the Eventbrite blog.

Support
Some support may be available to assist with organising a webinar, including recording a webinar, basic editing (eg, Powerpoint slides and video, Q & A) and uploading. (Please note that some support may attract a fee, so it is best to check when submitting a request.)

1. For any Zoom inquiry (not just webinars), submit a Learning Spaces Inquiry via the Zoom portal on Staff Hub. Your request will be triaged according to your event’s complexity, timing and specifications.

2. For webinars only, an Event Support request. This will go through to the Event Support team at Business Services that specifically handles webinars.

Both these options cover events from PhD seminars to conferences. Support includes recording a webinar, basic editing (eg, Powerpoint slides and video, Q & A) and uploading.

High-profile events such as public lectures, VIP visits, or live event broadcasting, will generally be handled by Learning Environments, via Chancellery or the Faculty Events team. These usually require extensive AV support, sophisticated editing, cameras, audio feeds, etc.

Links

And below, three event organisers share their learnings and advice:

  • Vanessa Ho, from Business Services, The University of Melbourne
  • Sarah Zappia, MDHS Events
  • VCCC event coordinator Cynthia Slattery

Event support at Unimelb Q & A: Vanessa HoTeam Lead (Logistics) Field Services | Client Services | Business Services
What we do
Before lockdown, our team used to provide support for face-to-face events. Now, we’re providing remote support for online meetings such committee meetings, town halls. We’re also providing basic training, and will have a video out shortly, with follow-up opportunities for a Q & A from Unimelb staff.

We can co-host and offer moderated support. This could mean putting on videos if they’re provided beforehand; help run Q & As while the session is on, freeing up the presenter sessions. Given the high level of demand, we can’t support every event so our aim is to get people as self-sufficient as possible.

What’s changed?
Our team organised and provided logistics support for the inaugural Virtual Disability Conference in 2018. Massive online events weren’t really on people’s radar before COVID. This was a pioneering effort. We learned a lot, especially about making events accessible. When the pandemic hit, this turned us – at least in the eyes of many people looking to do this for the first time – into instant experts.

Where do I go if I need help or training? 
Please use the form on Service Now. There is incredibly high demand, so it helps us on so many levels if everyone comes through the one entry point.

What are your top tips for running a successful webinar? 

  1. Remember a Zoom webinar is different from a Zoom meeting. You’ll need a licence.
  2. Accessibility is incredibly important. Talk to us.
  3. Testing, testing, testing.

Getting the most out of your webinar or event
Sarah Zappia, MDHS Marketing Communications and Events team. Sarah is part of the team that organises the Dean’s School Town Halls.

  • Definitely make registrations required for the session. Zoom does this quite well. You also have the option to include custom questions as part of the registration.
  • The reporting is pretty good too – it’s a little messy, but there’s lots of information in there, including the questions asked through the Q&A function during the webinar.

Runnning a successful webinar
With Cynthia Slattery, Events and Communications Coordinator, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre

Cynthia runs the VCCC’s  Monday Lunch Live webinar series (platform: Go To Webinar). She uses a detailed run sheet, introducer notes and shares the following:

  • Audio works best if presenters dial in from their phone – it ensures a stable connection
  • Make sure everyone has each other’s mobile numbers
  • Always run a tech testing session with presenters (preferably 1-2 days prior) so they feel confident on the platform you’re using, and can chat to their IT administrator if there are technical issues
  • Get a copy of each presenter’s PowerPoint. Recently, one of our presenters had issues with screen share. I was able to progress the slides for him because I had a copy on my desktop
  • If you have the resources, it’s a good idea to have a team member online to help if your home internet drops out