Guidance for online events

The following information includes tips and links to external resources to help you plan and deliver an event online. All University of Exeter staff and students are welcome to use and share this information. In addition to the details below, there is a selection user guides and training videos located in The Digital Hub. The People Development Team also have specific guidance for online Remote Training sessions.

Introduction

There are many benefits to holding an online event as opposed to an ‘in-person' event. Online events are more cost effective, more sustainable, and most importantly at this present time, comply with social distancing rules. Transitioning your physical event to an online event or creating a new online event is the best way to safely and effectively engage your community and clients. 

An online event involves people interacting via using a web-based platform, such as Microsoft Teams. These events allow attendees to connect across the globe and include interactive engagement features such as question and answer sessions, video and audio calling, sharing content, instant messaging and recording functions.

What are the different types of online events?

Conference

An online conference will often have several keynote speakers and multiple breakout sessions on specific topics. It is an interactive event that brings together a large group of people with similar interests or expertise to collaborate and engage with.

Webinar (online seminar)

This is an engaging online event where a speaker, or speakers, will deliver a presentation to an audience who can participate by submitting questions, responding to polls and using other available interactive tools.

Hybrid event

An event that takes place offline (eg a lecture theatre), while also being attended by a live and interactive audience.

Online meeting

When two or more participants come together to discuss particular topics using the interactive tools such as video or audio and sharing content.

On-demand

This is a pre-recorded event that can be viewed at any time.

Live stream

Live streaming is the broadcasting of a live video to an audience via the internet.

Benefits of online events

Online events deliver many of the benefits of a traditional physical event and offer different advantages too. When holding an online event you can:

  • Engage with your partners and stakeholders
  • Invite keynote speakers and speaker panels to present content and engage with audiences
  • Share high quality pre-recorded and live streamed content
  • Ensure a lower carbon footprint, and still attract a global audience
  • Collaborate, call and meet from anywhere and at any time
  • Host conferences, webinars, seminars and events with 1 to 300,000 attendees, including internal and external participants
  • Create cost-effective events - online events offer many savings on operational costs, such as travel, venue hire, hotel accommodation and catering
  • Measure results and feedback
  • Encourage networking. Attendees can engage in the comments and chat section available within many online event platforms, such as Teams. You can provide a space for people to interact, share their thoughts, and discuss the event, in real time.

Online event resources at the University of Exeter

The University has several resources available to support the organisation and host online events, including meetings, workshops, conference and training events. For a comparison between the tools below, have a look at the Digital Hub.

Microsoft Teams

All University of Exeter staff and students have access to Microsoft Teams, an online tool designed for collaboration. Teams can be used to host all types of online events, and guests can be invited. Chat features support audience participation, enabling live feedback and question and answer sessions.

There are currently two possible ways to meet in Microsoft Teams - meetings and live events:

  • Meetings in Teams
    • Include audio, video, and screen sharing for up to 250 people
    • Enable interactive, collaborative meetings with people inside and outside of the University
    • Teams is the current recommended option to create an event and should cover most meeting, event and training requirements
  • Live events
    • An extension of Teams meetings that enables you to schedule and produce events that stream to audiences between 250 - 10,000, for up to four hours
    • If your meeting exceeds 250 participants, it is recommended that you engage an event team – a small group of people who will take a lead on the professional facilitation of the event - you’ll need to assign a producer to support the presenters and speakers
    • To set up a live event, please contact the Exeter IT Helpdesk who will direct you to an online form to complete
    • The Events Team can support with guidance and advice if required and training is available online
    • To schedule a live event to be set up please do so via the SharePoint form
    • Please note, Live Events aren't yet enabled for external participants.

To learn more and to find training, please visit the Microsoft Teams training section of the Office 365 Help and Support site and the University's Microsoft Teams Stream channel for a selection of training videos.

Zoom

Zoom is the alternative online meeting and conferencing tool that the University now supports, meaning all staff and students can host Zoom meetings.

  • Our Zoom for Education licence allows up to 300 participants to meet and you can view up to 49 participants on your screen
  • Participants have the ability to share content and have control over whether to mute / unmute themselves during a meeting however Zoom also allows the organiser to mute all participants and control a number of other security features should they wish to
  • Unlike Teams, Zoom allows you to easily manage breakout rooms, including the ability to make the same announcements to users in all the breakout rooms - this is very useful for calling everyone to bring their discussions to a close and return to the main meeting
  • What Zoom offers that Teams doesn’t, is the capability for external participants to be invited – however all participants must have an authenticated Zoom account (it also allows users to sign in via Google or Facebook).

To learn more and to find training for Zoom, please visit the Zoom training section of the University's Digital Hub.

Recap (Panopto)

All staff, including teaching staff, can use a Mac or Windows version of Recap which allows you to share complex teaching materials and record lectures. Pre-recorded content can also be created using mobile devices.

Ideal for: recording and webcasting lectures.

  • No limit on participants, however a University of Exeter login is required
  • You can record and webcast your presentations and complex teaching materials
  • Only one presenter
  • Webcast from any computer using the desktop client

Webinars

  • The recommended way to run a webinar in Teams is to use a Meeting
  • Teams Meetings are better suited for smaller or collaborative sessions
  • You can share a view of your desktop or application, chat, create a whiteboard and poll your students. Invitations can be sent to individuals or teams of people

Further information will be added shortly on alternative platforms.

Breakout Groups

  • Breakout groups are smaller discussion groups that run alongside a main event session. They provide the opportunity to consider and discuss event topics and idea sharing
  • Within these Channels, groups can chat, start their own Teams Meeting and collaborate on documents
  • Within Teams, you can assign participants to a selected breakout group / channel pre-event, in order to avoid confusion during the meeting as to which group they are expected to attend, however Zoom is the better platform to use if you’re having breakout groups as the technology supports them much better than in Teams.

  • In Teams, it is hard to bring everyone back into the “plenary” session following a breakout discussion as there are effectively different meetings, however within Zoom, you can automatically or manually divide participants into different breakouts and then bring them all back to the main session – without them having to do anything. You can also (within Zoom) make the same announcement to all breakout groups (ie: advise them to bring their conversations to a close as the main session is about to resume.)

Learn more about how to create and use breakout rooms in MS Teams here.

Recap

Recap, although primarily used for teaching, is also a great tool for creating high quality pre-recorded content. It can be used in conjunction with PowerPoint to distribute a presentation to a wide audience. Any content created using Recap is exportable as a video or audio file.

All staff, including teaching staff, can use a Windows (or Mac) version of Recap which allows you to share materials and pre-record presentations, lectures, talks and other content.

This version of Recap works without the lectern-based physical button normally employed on campus within a lecture theatre.

Further information and a quick guide to using Recap.

External online event providers

Third party suppliers may be useful to engage when planning and running an online event, at an additional cost. They can help with the production and design of events, including more complex event management (e.g. presenters, live content, etc.). We advise using such external services if your event requires a combination of online and physical elements or is highly technical with a large audience.

Two recommended suppliers the University uses are:

Warwick Event Services - an Exeter based AV company, providing sound and lighting plus stage management, exhibition set design and display solutions.

First Sight Media - a production company with an emphasis on video and streaming production, they also help deliver virtual graduation ceremonies.

Online events risk assessment

Event managers must ensure that all hazards associated with an event have been identified, as far as is reasonably practicable.

Event managers must ensure a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is in place. Where risks have been identified, the event manager will ensure that action is taken to eliminate, reduce or control the risks so that it is as low as is reasonably practicable and the control measures are documented in this risk assessment.

A specific Risk assessment for online events is recommended for use by the event manager.

Registration and invitation tools 

Like any event, when organising an online event, you will need to send out an invitation or link to register, allowing people to sign up. Below are some options the Events Team can support you with.

Invitations via MS Teams or Outlook

The quickest and easiest way to invite people is via Teams. Using the calendar, you can create the event or meeting by selecting “New Teams Meeting” and adding the participants to the calendar request. Once sent, the participants will receive an email that includes a link to ‘join the meeting’. If a participant is using Outlook or Teams they can also find the ‘Join’ button from their online calendar. If you have a large invitee list or are sending the invitation to one or more distribution lists, inviting people via Outlook is a better and quicker option.

Invitations via Eventbrite

Eventbrite can be used as a way of registering participants for any event, including an online event. The benefits of using Eventbrite include the flexibility to include a large amount of detail around the event (for example, you can easily fit onto one screen the agenda, some background information on the event and an image). It also offers the option of creating different ticket types (i.e. free tickets or paid for tickets). Users of Eventbrite can link the registration page to the source of your live streaming (i.e. Teams or Zoom). Further reading on how to set up an online event can be found here.

Promoting your event

The Events Team can help promote your event for you using various methods – listing your event on the University of Exeter website, including it in the Weekly Bulletin and any relevant College led newsletters and promotion on social media. The University's Yammer or SharePoint pages can also be used to promote events.

Joining instructions

When sending out joining instructions for online events, ensure to include clear details on how users will access the online event. We have drafted two sets of joining instructions templates, Joining instructions (MS Teams) specifically for use with a Microsoft Teams Meeting, and Joining Instructions (Zoom) for use with Zoom meetings. These templates can also be edited to suit other types of online events.

Below are some best practice guidelines for running online events:

Set an objective

Ensure your event has clear aims and objectives that can be met using an online event. Some events are not practical to be carried out online, for example celebratory or social events with human contact and relationship building being essential.

Work as a team

Especially for larger more complex events - ensure there is more than just the person in the delivery team. A presenter and a producer will both be needed to ensure the slick delivery of an event. The producer can be available to deal with any technical issues and respond to participants questions.

Promote

Ensure plenty of notice is provided in order to maximise attendee participation at your event. Your event must be advertised well in advance, to allow attendees to juggle their workload, possibly around other meetings and caring responsibilities.

Think about the timing

Think carefully about timing, both in terms of time zones (if hosting an international event) and consider your participants and their schedules. Remember the University is subject to the Equality Act 2010 and considerations should be made to ensure that those staff and students with parenting and/or caring responsibilities are able to attend.

Choose your platform wisely 

Is a live meeting or webinar more suitable? A webinar is an online event that allows your audience to engage through a hosting platform and can run as live or on-demand.

Communicate with your audience

Remind attendees when the event is – as you would with standard events. Send reminders with final details in advance of the session to keep people updated and interested in the event.

Start the conversation before the event

Successful events require preparation. Circulate your agenda and set your objectives prior to the meeting or event. If using Teams, you can save an agenda and other relevant documents in the files section of the Team group or post the agenda in the chat section to encourage the conversation to start prior to the meeting. Agendas and objectives can also be circulated with an event or meeting invitation.

Other options are; setting up a Yammer community to promote, share documents and allow for attendees to ask questions (if it is an internal event) or set up a SharePoint communication site to share the documents (you can also embed a Yammer community into the site, so everything is all in one place).

Brief and prepare your speakers

Ensure any speakers understand the technical process in advance of the event and who they should contact to discuss any issues. Think about providing practice sessions for presenters and speakers, in which they could test their skills and equipment before the actual sessions take place.

Rehearse

Test the equipment, software and presentations in advance. Trial the event with the planning team, this should enable you to make any changes in advance if the software or equipment you plan on using is not up to standard.

Brand your event

Think how your event will look. As there will be no physical event branding, how do you want your event to appear online. It is an option to commission the Design Studio to support you when designing your web and registration pages, presentation slides and visual content, to give your event a professional and coherent identity.

Make attendees feel involved

Dependent on the type of event, you may wish to ask for input from attendees before or during the event. Once an event begins, there are many features that can help focus participants' attention, drive engagement, and foster inclusion. These include screen sharing, Q&A, brainstorming using the digital whiteboard and the chat function.

Prepare for technical challenges

As with a standard event, ensure you have someone (or a team of people) confident with the software and systems you’re using in case of any technical difficulties during the session. *Be aware on the day there could be factors beyond your control and ensure all organisers have full access to the event details in order to communicate with participants, as well as alternative ways of contacting other organisers (e.g. a WhatsApp group).

Follow up afterwards

This is the perfect opportunity to follow up with those involved, thanking attendees, getting valuable feedback, and perhaps gathering material to assist with your next event. A simple way of gathering feedback is to send a follow up email as soon as possible after the event has taken place, with a link to a feedback form.

Further reading 

Hootsuite Blog - How to Host a Successful Virtual Event: Tips and Best Practices

Eventbrite Blog - 30 Tips and Tricks for Hosting a Successful Online Event

Eventbrite - Tips for setting up an online only event

Technical support

The University's new Digital Hub: find answers to your digital questions

The University's guide to Teams including FAQ’s and quick start guides

The University's Microsoft Teams Stream channel has a selection of training videos and Office 365 training is available on Sharepoint

The University's IT Helpdesk - and Self Service Portal

Technology Enhanced Learning pages for help and support

FXPlus Cornwall Campuses Technical Support

For colleagues based on our Cornwall campuses, please use the Self-Service Portal to log new incidents and service requests, view the status of logged calls and to update as necessary. Access instructions are available on the FXPlus webpages. Alternatively for support contact the team via email: servicedesk@fxplus.ac.uk or tel: +44 (0)1326 213822.