How to organize online conferences

A guide for event organizers

Have you ever wanted to organize your own conference? I have. For the past two years, I have been organizing events for developers. I have co-organized local events for small groups of attendees, online conferences with attendees from all around the world, and DevFest, a huge offline conference for developers in Czechia.

In this blog post, I would like to share my experiences and learning on how to organize online events with everyone who is just starting in this journey.

Before you start organizing your conference, I strongly recommend creating a ToDo list. For example, a piece of paper, Trello, or Google SpreadSheets works perfectly for me. And all the material you can find in this folder. Feel free to check it out.

This article is divided into three main parts: Before — During — After.

Before the event

Start with why

Before you start your conference, you should make sure you know why you are organizing it (what are the goals of the event?) and who your audience is. It’s also important to find your own motivations. For example, I love running Flutter events. I found it super exciting chatting with speakers and attendees, collaborating with my team, or preparing a keynote.

Understand the ecosystem around you

Before starting with the event planning, do some research to see whether there are or have been similar events in your local area or country. When I co-organized a Flutter conference in Czechia I found out that it was the first Flutter conference ever in the country.

Also, check if there are other communities / organizations that are hosting events on your same topic.

Choose a date and time

In my experience, the best time for online events is Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday afternoon, or evening. Around 4 pm to 9 pm. This time fits for most people perfectly.

Choose your platforms

There are two important things you need to think about when preparing an online event. The first one is the platform that will host your event (YouTube, Facebook, Twitch…). I suggest selecting YouTube for a younger audience and Facebook for older ones :). They are also quite easy to use with the most popular streaming software. And that is the second thing — streaming software. You can use, for example, StreamYard. The paid version of StreamYard has a higher streaming quality. Also, think about your speakers — it ought to be easy to use for them. It’s always better to have someone who helps you and takes care of the streaming part — set up a live stream, change layouts, answer questions in chat…

Don’t forget about a moderator. Moderator’s job is to introduce a speaker, read questions and make sure that conversation after talk doesn’t stop.

Create a website

You can also create a website. It will take your event to the next level. You can use Google Sites, it’s super quick to set up and easy to use. Check out my Flutter event series Flutter onAir.

Registration form

Even if it’s a free event, you should create a registration form to make your event look professional and be able to interact with your audience after the event. I usually use Google Forms. There should be two types of questions — required and optional. Required are the name or email address. As optional you can mark questions like job role, company, and skill level. After the registration, you should send an automatic confirmation email to attendees. Inspiration: registration form for Flutter onAir Summer Talks. Don’t forget about personal information and GDPR law in the EU.

Promote your event

It’s super important to start promoting the event after you have (at least) a few speakers to capture attendees’ interest. In most cases, attendees have never heard about your conference, so they won’t register if you don’t have an agenda and some confirmed speakers.

What are the best places for sharing it? It depends on your audience. Generally, you can share it on:

  • Meetup
  • GDG platform (if you are part of it)
  • Facebook groups and pages
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

There is a nice trick to get more registrations. Giveaways. Simply raffle prizes for people who reshare a social media post about your conference with including your chosen hashtag. The problem is with sending swag over the world. It might be super expensive. At the conference Flutter onAir 2020, my giveaways were Google Merchandise Store vouchers and a virtual coffee with a Googler from the Flutter team.

Be organized

Store every single piece of information about your event in a sheet. All organizers and speakers must have access to the sheet. You must include the several information like

  • When & where (check out timezones!)
  • Link to streaming software (+ tutorials on how to use screen sharing there…)
  • Schedule
  • Contact on speakers and organizers (email and phone)
  • Q&A

If you work in larger teams, especially cross-functional, it's essential to know who is responsible for a certain part. I suggest checking RACI charts. RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) chart defines roles and responsibilities. You can use my template (make a copy of the sheet).

RACI Chart

Host a dry run

A few days before the event, it’s good practice and very useful to have a dry run. Just check if everything works. The dry run must be the same as it will be live!

Look at your behind-the-scenes from the Flutter onAir 2021 event. It is backstage in StreamYard. Thanks, Filip for taking the screenshot! :)

StreamYard backstage

What if?

Especially for online conferences I strongly recommend thinking about what could go wrong. You can use my template here. Check out some of my questions. What will you do when:

  • your internet connection drops during the livestream?
  • a speaker doesn’t join the stream?
  • a speaker’s talk ends too early?
  • the streaming software fails?
  • your microphone doesn’t work?
Photo by Samuel Pereira on Unsplash

During the event

Welcome-Introduce-Thank

This method is really simple. When you want to introduce a speaker/team member/partner during the livestream, use it. The method is based on three principles: Welcome, Introduce, Thank. For example, you should welcome a speaker on the stage, introduce them (look for super cool things about them!), and thank them for joining the event.

Ask questions

After every talk, there should be a space for questions from the audience. Also, prepare a few questions during the talk, in case you'd need to spend time between speakers. And don't forget to ask the audience questions.

Adapt

Keep in mind that it’s not going to be a perfect event. Something will fail. For sure. You may need to solve the situations during the livestream.

Have fun

Enjoy it!

After the event

Feedback form

Why should you ask for feedback? Generally, asking for feedback is the best way to get better. And for conferences — you can understand what speakers and topics your attendees liked the most which can help you design your next event’s agenda. Check out the questions that I usually ask:

  • How did you learn about the conference? //multiple choice with other
  • How did you like: speakers, talks, livestream/venue, overall. //multiple choice grid with a few columns (N/A, nothing much, OK, great, amazing)
  • What can we improve? //open question
  • How likely will you attend next time? //linear scale
  • Leave us your email if you would like to discuss anything with us //open question

All the questions should be optional, not required. I suggest adding a short description with a deadline to fill in the form.

It is super important to share the feedback form as soon as possible. After two days, it will be challenging to get any response. A good idea is to share the form in the event chat during your closing session, for example. If the event is in-person, Alternatively, you can send an email to the attendees as soon as the event finishes.

Thank you email to speakers (and co-organizers)

Don’t forget to send an email to all speakers and co-organizers. It’s nice to thank them for a great talk or job they’ve done in the organizers’ team.

Report, analyze, measure…

Why? It may be your first event but it won’t be the last one! Before you plan your next event, don’t forget to take a look at the responses to the feedback form. Also, ask your team members what they liked or what can be improved.

Thanks for reading it! Are you running a conference and need help? Write me an email. Do you have any other related experiences? Happy to chat with you and we can add your useful materials to the folder. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn and share it there.

By the way — I am co-organizing another amazing Flutter event!

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Matěj Krček

Matěj Krček

Student & Developer, Event Organizer, Technology enthusiast