Published 30 Mar 20

How to deliver events online

  • Written by Simon Worlding
  • Tagged as COVID-19

Everything you need to know to deliver online classes, workshops and events

The spread of coronovirus strain Covid 19, and the efforts to contain it, have turned people’s working, leisure and family lives upside down. There’s no doubt that everyone has to find new ways to do things for (at least) the next couple of months.

There are steps that people who organise classes, workshops and other events can take to lessen the impact of social isolation on their attendees and on their bottom lines. Those who embrace online events can provide an invaluable service to a global population and open up new audiences.

We’ve outlined some of the key considerations for anyone thinking about delivering online events below and Bookwhen is working to make it even easier for our customers to operate in this way in the coming weeks.

Adapting your business for online events

With restricted social and professional opportunities for most people, the market for events has changed dramatically overnight, and in this context those who embrace a pivot are the most likely to succeed.

Which isn’t to say that you should rush to throw the baby out with the bath water. If you already have a fairly established format for your events and a loyal customer base then you have a good starting point. You should think about what it is that has made you successful and then decide to what degree that can be transmitted via the internet.

For some organisers it may not be possible to create an online experience which offers enough value to be worthwhile for attendees, others may find that most of what they offer can easily be transmitted in this way. Depending on where you land on the spectrum, you may need to rethink the pricing and ticketing options that you offer. Bookwhen can offer the flexibility to set up multiple scenarios and our support team is available to talk through the best approach.

Of course, with no face to face contact, online payments go hand in hand with online events. Again, Bookwhen offers a few different options for collecting revenue in this way, alongside our payment gateway partners.

Events that are delivered online have potential audiences that stretch far beyond the usual geographical restrictions of face to face events. At Bookwhen we’ve heard reports of increases in bookings from far flung locations following a switch to remote delivery. There is opportunity for those who are willing to change!

“I have set up a studio in my living room where I do live classes and everyone who joined last week was so utterly grateful ... Without your platform I would not be able to be doing what I am doing. Last week my class numbers trebled from my previous few weeks in my studio ... now I’m being asked to share my classes with friends around the world!!

Enchantica’s Workshop

Pre record vs. live stream

If you decide to go ahead and experiment with online events (and let’s face it, we all may have a little more time for experimentation after a few more weeks of staring at the same four walls!), then you need to decide whether your events would better suit a pre recorded video or a real-time live stream. Each has their own advantages:

Live streaming

Advantages

  • You can create an experience that is close to the usual event experience and therefore may have an inherent perception of value for attendees.
  • It should allow you to keep your usual schedule (or at least close to it) and even add in extra events during times when people would usually be unavailable (lunchtimes, time previously spent commuting, etc.)
  • It can allow for two-way communication and the creation of a sense of community which, if people do become isolated in the upcoming weeks/months, will be very valuable.
  • Your work is done when the event is over.

Disadvantages

  • You only get one chance to lead your event so you have to make sure that you get it right the first time (something most event organisers are used to anyway).
  • You need to familiarise yourself with the technology, as any hiccups will affect all attendees as well as yourself. Interruptions can happen, particularly in busy households.

You can read more about live streaming your events in our guide here. We also have a checklist for each step of delivering live streamed events.

Pre-recorded events

Advantages

  • Multiple takes and editing allow you to ensure that you produce a high quality product.
  • Your events can be consumed at any time by your attendees.
  • After production your event has the potential to bring in repeat revenue with little to no further effort.

Disadvantages

  • Production and editing can be time consuming and require technical knowledge to achieve a professional result.
  • No direct interaction with your audience.
  • Steps have to be taken to ensure that your content is protected from unauthorised sharing.

Pre production

Whichever approach you decide on, it is important to carry out a certain amount of pre-production to ensure that you are producing the best event possible. It’s worth bearing in mind that, for many of your attendees, online events will be a completely new experience and so you want to make that first impression as simple and positive as possible. Proper planning is the best way to achieve this.

The first step is to decide on the format that your online events will take. Can you reproduce the live event experience for your attendees? If possible, this is the safest option but it might be worth embracing any opportunities the technology can give you. For instance, with a pre recorded event you have the time to set up different scenes or condense several hours worth of work into a shorter time frame, opening up new possibilities. Just don’t forget that your attendees need to follow along at home so give them fair warning if that cake appears to bake within 2 minutes, or you’ve edited out a recovery period between strenuous sets of exercise!

Once you’ve decided on a format you may wish to research other content producers who are doing a similar thing online. See what works for them and what could translate into your offering. If, like many Bookwhen customers, your personality and charisma is a big part of your success, make sure that the format you choose accentuates it. Nobody wants to see a derivative replication of someone else's formula, or a dry read through of a script, so give it your own spin and make sure you leave space and time to express yourself as you usually would in a normal event.

It’s also vital that you familiarise yourself with the technology that you will be using to deliver your events. That’s the hardware (cameras, microphones etc.) and software (streaming platforms, video conferencing, editing software etc.). Being unsure, or preoccupied with these concerns can impact your teaching style but familiarity with what you are doing will allow you to overcome this.

There are a wealth of resources available for the technical side of things, make sure that you do your homework first so that things go as smoothly as possible when the curtain drops.

If you can keep moving parts well oiled and even automated then you will have more time and energy to devote to delivering the best event possible. Bookwhen works with most online conferencing services and we have automated call creation and sharing of joining information for Jitsi, with a Zoom integration only days away. This means that your attendees only need to click on a link via their booking confirmation to join your event.

Location

Unless you have a studio set up in your home you will probably have to make some allowances and compromises in order to broadcast your events. This blog post from Teachable gives a nice overview of the technical side of things but there are other considerations when it comes to turning your home into a filming location.

One of the unique factors of the coronavirus is that everyone is affected, so there is a good chance that you may have a partner, children, animals and even the occasional postman or delivery driver to contend with. With pre-recorded events you can always edit around these interruptions but live streamers will not have that luxury. You can bribe the children, send the partner out to walk the dog and turn off the doorbell but you still can’t guarantee optimum conditions throughout.

This is something the remote team at Bookwhen have some experience of, with meetings often featuring mewling felines, mischievous children and all manner of other uninvited guests. With all participants prepared for such interruptions it’s rarely a problem, and the business of meetings can be resumed quickly. Consider pre-warning attendees if your environment may be problematic. Be prepared to both incorporate interruptions into the flow of your event and extend runtimes to compensate for any delays if necessary.

A low traffic area of the house is a priority for the reasons mentioned above and you should also consider the strength of the internet connection, space available and the ambient lighting in the room. It’s also useful to avoid any distractions in shot, if you’re the focus of your video then standing in front of a plain wall is a good option, if possible.

Filming equipment

Of course, in a connected world, it is entirely possible to receive interruptions from any place, at any time. Make sure that your devices are in airplane mode when you are recording, particularly if you are using that device to record!

Entire movies have been shot on iPhones by oscar winning directors so most people will have the tools they need in their pockets and should be able to produce video of a high enough quality for most events.

For live streams, a smartphone, tablet or computer/webcam is the simplest video and audio source option. It is possible to use a high definition camera for this purpose but you will need to ensure that the source is properly encoded for transmission on the internet.

There are a few key considerations, whether you are shooting on a mobile phone, a tablet or a high end camera:

  • Screen orientation: Generally this should be landscape to ensure the best possible viewing experience on all devices (TVs, laptops, etc.).
  • Camera shake: This can be frustrating for viewers and is easily avoided by using a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod try firmly wedging your device between weighty objects (making sure the lens is unobstructed) on a flat surface.
  • Lighting: tips for your environment can be found online generally, it is best to film in bright conditions and make sure that the light source is not directly behind, or above you.
  • Framing: Get used to thinking about the perspective of the viewer when leading your event. Ensure that the focus of each shot (your face, the exercise you’re doing, the cake you’re baking etc.) is always visible. If possible, a 2nd person working with you as a camera operator will allow you to focus exclusively on delivering your event.
  • Being heard is just as important as being seen, if you don’t already have a microphone that is fit for purpose (this could be on your device, the lead of your headphones or a stand alone piece of equipment, depending on the environment) then now might be a good time to invest. There’s good advice for making do with what you have here.

On camera behaviour

For some this may be the hardest adjustment to make when delivering online events. Undoubtedly there is a completely different energy if you are speaking into a lens rather than to a sea of interested faces. You don’t have to be Holly Willoughby or Phillip Schofield to achieve a natural result though.

Remember to maintain eye contact with the camera. It will take a little bit of mental gymnastics, but if you can imagine the camera is the same as an attendee standing in front of you then you are well on your way to becoming the living embodiment of Ant & Dec rolled into one.

Again, there are many different Youtube videos and blog posts for guidance on how to behave in front of the camera. The best one for you will depend on what you are trying to convey but this article from the British council has lots of useful tips.

Practice, practice, practice

This step is vital, television and radio personalities appear to be natural and relaxed on screen but this is because they have prepared and rehearsed extensively behind the scenes.

This won’t necessarily entail memorising every word of a script (in fact, the best way to engage people is usually to avoid this) but a run through of your event (or individual ‘scenes’ if you are pre recording), in advance, will help them to run smoothly on the final take and help you to identify any issues ahead of time. Try to make it as close to the real thing as possible, using the technology, locations and mannerisms you will use for the real thing.

The better you know the main beats of the entire process the more relaxed you will find yourself and the more you will be able to convey your own personality and even potentially improvise some online event gold!

Legal considerations

Insurance

Of course, your duty of care to your attendees does not end just because you are no longer in the same room as them. However, your liability and the level to which they are protected by law can be affected by the conditions you operate in.

For instance, there is very little cover available for those carrying out fitness training online. Instructors have little to no influence on how exercises are carried out in a different location and insurance companies generally don’t accept the risk. You can mitigate this risk by asking participants to complete waivers that indicate their own responsibility, this can be done simply with Bookwhen by using our consent booking form fields.

Your level of concern in this regard will depend on the physical risk of the activities you lead, as well as the tendency to litigate in your country. Regardless, if you have insurance for your events it’s worth checking the policy documents, or speaking to your broker, to determine how things stand. If the situation has changed it’s best to communicate this to your attendees (particularly if you have previously communicated the prior situation), as they may expect any previous levels of coverage to still apply.

Music rights

Another consideration for producers of online events is the use of music in the background of your videos. Just as with live events, organisers are generally required, in the strictest sense of the law, to have licenced the music that they play.

A lot of event organisers have managed to run events for a long time without procuring these licences, however you should bear in mind that your videos may exist online, and leave you open to potential repercussions if discovered later.

There are various licensing solutions which offer a library of music for a fixed subscription cost, or the chance to purchase royalty free tracks. There are also sites where you can download copyright free music which can be used with no cost.

Preparing your attendees

Preparing your attendees for your event is, in many ways, even more important for online events than face to face. You don’t have any control over the environment they will be joining from and there may be elements of the session which they would not consider otherwise.

Technology

Your participants will all need to have an internet enabled device with the right specifications and connection speed to allow them to follow along. You should be able to find the technical requirements for the service you decide on and share them in advance via event details or post-booking information (using Bookwhen).

You can reduce the bandwidth required, and make calls smoother, by asking participants to turn off their video after saying hello. You may also find it useful to define ‘quiet’ periods in events when everybody (except yourself!) should put their microphone on mute. You don’t want to interrupt your entire class's masterful Yoga warrior pose when Janet’s terrier notices a cat through the window!

Many services require an app to be downloaded prior to video calling (particularly for mobile devices). Again, making this clear well before the event will simplify the beginning of the event for all involved.

Their space and equipment

Attendees will need to have enough space to safely and comfortably participate in the activity. For instance, If they need room to jump around a bit, they may need to move some furniture around first. They also need to have any equipment they may need ready (yoga mats, water, etc.).

Prior notification of both, perhaps in the event details for the online listing will let them prepare before the start time and avoid any potential delays.

Feedback

Don’t be afraid to seek feedback from your attendees following your events, it is the quickest way to get acclimated to the new medium you are working with, and produce the best product possible.

It’s also a fantastic opportunity for you and your attendees to connect in what looks set to be the most isolated times in living memory. These sessions are yours to control so don’t feel that you have to start the main portion of your event bang on time, or shut down as soon as you’ve completed everything you want to do. If you have the time and the inclination, why not stick around for a chat? Many people would do this naturally before or after an in-person event, if you can provide this space to attendees who haven’t had the chance to catch up then it can only increase your appeal.

If you haven’t set up online events previously then the technical requirements may seem intimidating. There are a different set of challenges to in-person events but none of them is insurmountable and there is a lot of help available if you need it.

Bookwhen already offers many ways to integrate online events into your existing schedule and there is more to come. If you have any particular needs or requirements in this area get in touch to discuss the best options.