7 tips for hosting a great online event
“Always have a rehearsal: it’s not a proper rehearsal unless something goes wrong!” A quote from my fellow Business Analyst Krystle Cook, after our rehearsal dive bombed!
Krystle Cook and I are both Principal Business Analysts at the FT. In May 2021 we hosted our first online event for the wider BA community. We learnt a lot along the way and thought we could share the experience to help anyone else who wants to do something similar.
This blog post is for anyone wanting to understand more about how to create and run an online event. I’ll outline 7 key elements, each with some background on what happened to us, along with a ‘takeaway tip’ that I hope you’ll find useful.
Back in 2020 we had a Lean Coffee brainstorm with a few BAs we knew, both inside and outside the FT. We asked the question: ‘What would we want from a BA event?’
Several ideas came out of this (watch this space 2021), one of which was an uncertainty around where a Business Analysis career could take us: we all loved being a BA, but were curious about where it could lead in 5, 10, or 20 years as we developed our careers. Did all roads lead to Product? Were we destined to map processes for the rest of our days? What in our huge duffel bag of skills could we take to a different role?
Takeaway Tip: Start with your audience, and with the outcome you want from your event: what do you want your audience to get from this event? Make sure that your audience will find the topic valuable.
Fail to plan, plan to fail.
Both of us are planners: we can’t ‘wing it’, so we sat down in early January and sketched out our idea for our first BA event. There were many questions to answer such as:
- What format should it take?
- When should we have it?
- How long should it be?
- Is it going to be in person or virtual (and what would be permitted in any case)?
- Do we have any budget? (not much, was the answer)
- Who can help us?
- How do we do this in and around our day jobs?
- Can we somehow supply snacks to our attendees? (we ended up dropping this idea — see budget constraints above!)
- What questions should we ask?
- How do we promote it?
- What platform should we use?
There are almost too many things to think about: as our first ‘real’ event we wanted to be professional about it. Spending this time in January and February was really helpful in making the event relatively stress free.
Takeaway Tip: Do spend a good amount of time planning the event — your future self will thank you!
The to-do list
To answer some of these questions at the planning stage we started with outcomes: what would we want attendees to get from the event? In our case, we wanted people to go away with some real life, tangible examples and ideas to progress your BA career. We needed people who had been through the experience to give us their insights, which led us to decide on a panel discussion, with me and Krystle as co-hosts.
We started to compile a to-do list:
- Reach out to our network of people — previous BAs who have since gone on to other things — and invite them to join us
- Research and agree on a platform: how will we deliver the panel discussion? What tool will best suit our needs?
- Promotion and branding: who can help us with posters and promotion?
There are many different platforms for delivering an online event, from the more conversational Zoom and Google Hangouts to platforms like Eventbrite and Hopin. We considered what kind of experience we wanted our audience to have: we weren’t going to have breakout sessions or workshops, so didn’t need this functionality (perhaps Zoom would have been good in that situation). Since ours was a panel discussion, and more ‘presentational’, we opted for Hopin, which gave us the ability to broadcast the event and control the amount of interaction with the audience. There was also a handy ‘backstage’ area so we could prepare ourselves before going live.
For promotion and branding, I naively thought we could knock up a poster in Google Draw and send out a PDF. Not so! We reached out to our internal Brand and Design team, who were super helpful at providing us with professional looking copy and imagery for our promo cards. This is what we ended up with:
Our social promo card:
And our email promo card:
Pretty pro looking, wouldn’t you say?
Takeaway Tip: Have a list of actions, or ‘to do’s’, and assign people to them so that they get done. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of others when needed in order to get a professional finish!
There was panic, there was worry, there was also a little bit of ‘Our speakers must wonder how we even have jobs!’ Because the rehearsal was an epic fail! The links didn’t work, no-one could get into the rehearsal event I set up. There were lots of emails back and forth. And in the end we ran out of time. After reviewing what happened, I learnt I hadn’t unticked a box, and that I could have used a different link. We tried again a few days later and — joy — our panellists could join and we had a quick run through of the event. I was, to say the least, relieved.
Takeaway Tip: Always have a rehearsal so you can learn from it!
Watching our panel conversation seems like it’s exactly that: a conversation. We didn’t talk over each other, we had a structure, and we kept to time (mostly — we could have talked for hours but people do have lives to lead outside of our event!). It looked natural.
What you didn’t see was the script we were following to make sure we both knew who was saying what, and when. So whilst we didn’t keep to the script word for word, and we threw in the odd extra question or comment, having a script and knowing what was coming up was invaluable and we couldn’t have done without it. And we could have read the questions if we had a brain fail and forgot how to form sentences independently.
Takeaway Tip: Do what you feel is needed to help the event go smoothly on the day. If this means writing flashcards for yourself, then do it. If you need to rehearse in front of a mirror, do it. And if you’re co-hosting like we did, make sure it’s clear who’s saying what, so you don’t end up in an Alan Partridge moment!
Was a great success: we joined the ‘backstage’ area of the event, before going ‘live’ to broadcast to our audience. And people showed up, and asked questions! We had about 50 people attend, which we felt was pretty good given that it was our first event, and it was pretty niche. We also had attendees from all over the world, which was great to see.
Takeaway Tip: have faith in yourself and your abilities, and you’ll fly! All of that planning will have helped you know what to expect.
We followed up with an event retrospective to understand what went well and what could have gone better. We will be applying these learnings to our next event.
Here are the lessons we learnt from hosting our first event:
- Prep your speakers beforehand, so they know what to expect
- Have backup questions, just in case your audience is shy
- Have a friend as an attendee, who can tell you if it’s all working for the audience (And take some screenshots for posterity!)
- Know your platform! Have a couple of rehearsals so you get to know the event hosting tools available.
- Allow flexibility in the planning schedule: we all have lives to lead and other work to do: it will alleviate the pressure if you can allow a bit of flexibility in your schedule leading up to the event — so be realistic with your timelines
- If others offer to help, let them! We had some great support from our Talent team, and the Design and Brand team who prepared our marketing materials for us, giving us that professional look! We also enlisted some senior leaders to promote the event on our behalf.
- Depending on the platform — have time after the event for a quick debrief with your fellow event helpers: we were kicked out of Hopin prematurely because we had so much to say afterwards, it was like last orders at the pub!
- Afterwards, give yourself a big pat on the back!
Takeaway Tip: Look back and learn from your event so that the next one is even better.
I hope this gives anyone who wants to plan an online event some insight into how to go about it. Thanks for reading, and good luck!