Best practicesOrganizing a virtual event? Here are 5 things you should do

by Marisa Aubin • March 19, 2021

TED’s mission includes bringing people together to listen to, discuss, and champion ideas year to year. And as the world quickly changed in early 2020, we faced an important question: how should we celebrate ideas when we’re not in the same space?

As the TED-Ed team and community embraced a more virtual world, a couple of lessons stood out when it came to organizing virtual events. Here are 5 key steps for organizing your own virtual event that champions ideas and connection; each step includes a key question, action, and takeaway for you to consider:

Step 1: Create an impact for your audience

Key question: What gift can you give your audience for their time?

Determining your audience’s needs is an important first step. From the presentations you feature, to the format you choose, and the tools you utilize, if you continue to ask this question with every step, your audience will leave the event feeling valued.

Key action: Survey your audience and ask what’s on their minds.

Gauge their knowledge and interest of a subject area you want to cover and what new ideas they would like to walk away with. Better yet, ask them what they’ve liked about other events they’ve attended.

Key takeaway: A clear goal for your event that values your audience.

You should be able to capture the goal for the event in a short statement (i.e. “they will take action on X after the event”; “they will learn Y skill”; “they will have space to discuss Z”).

Step 2: Find ideas to celebrate

Key question: How can a diverse set of ideas be the focal point of your event?

Key action: Develop your speaker pool by creating a selection process that values a diverse set of ideas, a large group to gather ideas from, and ideas that will be valuable to your audience.

TED tells speakers their idea is a gift to the audience, so creating an environment for the audience to receive these gifts is most important. Consider the audience's interests, and where you may be able to shift perspectives or push imaginations. For TED-Ed’s events, our speaker pool is developed from programs like TED Masterclass for Education and TED-Ed Student Talks where participants can develop and submit their ideas. Once you have a pool of speakers and ideas to choose from, you can choose speakers based on your event’s theme, by a selection committee, or an application/nomination process.

Key takeaway: The ideas you celebrate should present a clear theme and arc to the event.

Once you have a pool of speakers, you can start to think about how their ideas fit into the arc of the event, how they drive breakout discussions, polls, chat questions, and other ways you might want to engage the audience.

Step 3: Determine your format

Key question: Which format and platform will best celebrate your speakers and value your audience?

The type of format you choose for your event is determined by the gift you want to give your audience. If your event is about sparking conversation, perhaps consider having a speaker with a noteworthy idea lead a discussion. On the other hand, if your event is about imparting new knowledge, TED-style Talks are a great way to go.

Key action: Choose a platform that best suits your format.

You could choose to do a live event (using YouTube or Facebook Live) or a pre-recorded event, or even a combination of both. You can also read more about technical tips for virtual conferences.

Key takeaway: The combination of the format and platform you choose should set up both the speakers and the audience for success.

Step 4: Design a detailed run-of-show

Key question: What are all the details for the event that we need to consider to set up our hosting team for success, and create a clear arc for the audience?

Key action: Create a run-of-show.

This will be your minute-by-minute agenda that will help you keep your event on track, and on time. First, you’ll want to think of an overall time constraint. You then want to put together a list of everything that surrounds the speakers; this includes time for introductions, opening and closing remarks, announcements, and housekeeping notes, etc. Make sure to also build in buffer time for opening and playing a video, and closing the video, bringing a live speaker on screen, or the time it takes to transition everyone into breakout rooms. Finally, be sure to bake in some cushion time to your run-of-show for things you can’t always predict or control, such as technical issues, a speaker going over time, etc.

Key takeaways: Tools you want to use, and a simplified minute-by-minute draft of what will happen during the event, taking into consideration the different paths of everyone involved: speakers, audience, host, technical producer, customer service/chat.

Make a list of everything you want to try to do, and then simplify. I often find myself in front of a list of ideas of what I want to show, do, or highlight during an event. But when I think of the audience and speakers first, I edit down that list. Idea boards for events are great! Save them, and come back to them for future events. Try to implement one big idea. If it works, add another one in your next event. Simplifying is key.

Step 5: Test, edit, and practice

Key question: Have you considered every need of your speakers and audience?

Key action: Make sure your space is accessible and has considered the experience of all different types of learners.

For your audience: be sure to communicate key event information like date and time, technology that will be used, what they need to prepare, and whether there is something they should watch or read beforehand. You’ll also want to be mindful of the new phenomenon of “Zoom Fatigue.” While day-long presentations sometimes made sense for in-person events, it’s unlikely your audience will be able to withstand that amount of screen time.\ For your speakers: whether they are pre-recording or sharing live, think about what they need to be prepared: How is the lighting? Do they need to use headphones for better sound? Is their background distracting? If you are hosting a live event, it’s a good idea to get on a call with your speakers so that they feel comfortable with the technology and what is expected of them.

Key takeaways: What the audience needs to know before joining the event, what the speakers need to know before the event, and final to-dos for the event team.

And it’s show time! It will be a learning experience, but we’re all building this new virtual space together.


Marisa Aubin

Marisa is the Community Manager for TED-Ed. She is passionate about amplifying educators' and students' ideas.

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