Given the current climate with Coronavirus, you're looking into trying out a virtual/online format and how it would even work.
Here's a simple overview of the tech and some basic strategy for running your first virtual event.
Tax Justice Network recently ran their first virtual conference using this setup and most of this advice is based on their insights and lessons. We're grateful for event planners like them, who are sharing their experience to help others.
1. Stream/record your speakers using Zoom
Why? Zoom (Pro, $15/mo) is widespread, most people have it installed already and their compression is top-notch. Some speakers from large international organizations are unable to access newer apps behind firewalls and popup blockers but because Zoom is an everyday tool for these businesses, it's unblocked already.
Using Zoom also gives you the ability to have as many speakers as you want within one session, while Crowdcast limits you to a max of 4. There aren't too many use-cases where you'd want to do a panel with more than 4 speakers, but if you want to do 4 speakers plus a moderator, this would work perfectly.
One of the only drawbacks to using Zoom (instead of only Crowdcast) is losing the ability to invite attendees "on stage" but we believe the pros around the speaker experience and video quality make the trade-off worth it.
Why not just stop with Zoom? Zoom isn't specifically built for online events and has a maximum of 1000 participants. You also can't do things like take polls, charge for admission, and get a nice landing page of the event recordings.
2. Use live-stream software to enrich video stream
By using one of these kinds of apps, you'll be able to add overlays to your videos like speaker names or your event logo. You'll also be able to share pre-recorded talks if needed and play intro/outro screens between sessions.
Sai Hossain shares a bit more about how Crowdcast integrates with these options:
If your event is free and you're looking for maximum exposure, another added benefit of using one of these apps is that you can easily connect it to Restream.io.
Restream ($20-$299/mo) lets you stream to multiple social network platforms all at one time – like having your event streamed live to YouTube, Twitch, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
3. Use Crowdcast for Attendee Engagement
Now, Crowdcast is built to be a stand-alone option. You can run your entire online event through it. One drawback is that your hosts and speakers will be broadcasting from their webcams within the browser (which can crash and have worse compression than a locally-installed app like Zoom).
Another drawback is that you lose out on some of the professional polish like intros/outros and overlays that can make things feel more legit. However, together they are the perfect match.
Why? Crowdcast ($20-$140/mo) gives your attendees built-in tools to engage with speakers like polls and the ability to ask/upvote questions. Attendees can also create a profile for better discoverability.
If you're charging for an event, Crowdcast is also built for that and lets you plugin your Stripe account info.
You'll Need 4+ Computers
It should be no surprise that an online event needs a good bit of hardware to keep things running smoothly. You will want at least 4 computers:
- A computer to host the panel with your speakers using Zoom Pro
- A computer dedicated for streaming Zoom into Crowdcast (using OBS Project)
- A computer to gather the next session's speakers and run the next session, so you can transition quickly.
- 1-2 more computers for moderating the live chat in Crowdcast, promoting on social media, or anything else you might need to do behind the scenes.
Limit Your Mistakes
- Test Zoom (or whatever app you choose) with EVERY speaker in advance. Test their microphones, webcams, wifi and presentation sharing in advance of the event. It's worth the effort, we promise!
- Have every speaker add a photo to their Zoom profile, so if their wifi craps out and they have to disable video, the audience will still see something nice.
- Have speakers and hosts close notifications and Slack on their computer before presenting.
- Have budget? Consider getting the host/speakers an HD webcam to upgrade quality significantly (like the $87 Logitech C922x)
But What About Virtual Networking?
Of course virtual conferences can't match real life networking, but you can still do things to bridge the gap and build community.
One great approach is to setup a community Slack channel that attendees can use before/after the event. It's free! Check out our step-by-step guide to setting up Slack for your event and helping your attendees get the most out of it.