8 proven tips for creating brilliant online events

Since April 2020 I’ve created and hosted more than 50 online events and I’ve been joined by so many people from countries around the world. This has given me the opportunity to really find out what works and how to create a brilliant online event. Here are 8 proven tips you can use to transform your online event from average to “magnificent”*.

1. Make the decision to create an event and not a webinar.

Decide at the outset whether you’re creating an event or a webinar. A webinar is a passive experience for viewers as their cameras and microphones are off, whereas an event invites active participation.

2. Embrace the live event experience.

Imagine that you’re gathering a group of people together in real life. Make it clear from the outset that you’d like cameras on and explain that this is because it’s a social event and you’d like everybody to feel like they’re in the same room together.

3. Build interactivity into the event.

I invite people to respond in the chat box and, when appropriate, to turn on their microphones and talk. With a really large audience I find it’s amazing to see the stream of chat comments responding to what I’m saying, or with exclamations like “wow” and “haha”. This really connects me to the ripples of audience reactions so I can gauge the response as I would with an in-person audience.

4. Make the interactivity inclusive.

I think it’s important for everybody to feel seen and heard but not uncomfortable. I’m not a fan of cheesy games that make people feel silly or quizzes that feel more like an exam. I like my audience to feel smart and that they’ve learned something new during an event. For example, I might ask what kind of music a Gothic-style letter on a record cover suggests — everybody then gets to compare their answers with each other and to have fun discovering that there are lots of different associations.

5. Include all of the senses.

When you go to a real life event you experience it through all of your senses and this helps you to feel present. An event on Zoom can feel a little flat because you’re just watching and listening. Many of my online events now have drink-along, taste-along or draw-along elements curated to bring what I’m talking about to life.
I also include descriptions that evoke the senses in the imagination. For example “I remember the 1970s in faded Polaroid colours and always hot like that summer of ’76. I’m in the newsagent on the corner of my street. The shop smells of a mixture of fresh tobacco, it’s a kind of deep almost mahogany like smell, and it’s mingled with the sweetness of the blossom coming in from outside. My mum’s up at the counter buying a packet of cigarettes and a newspaper and I’m vaguely aware that the radio isn’t quite tuned in properly.” How did you feel as you read the paragraph?

The view from the stage in-person and online (over 10,300 people signed up for Sarah’s Adobe MAX session).

6. Write a script for the event and treat it like a story.

Create a beginning, middle and end with a ‘wow’ moment of discovery. A script enables you to stick to your timings, but also allows the flexibility to slow down or make time up time depending on the audience engagement. Most importantly, use it as a prompt but don’t just read the script out — rehearse it enough times that you can perform your presentation in an engaging way instead of delivering a monotone lecture.

7. Celebrate the international audience.

Consider running your events at times that will suit multiple time zones and embrace the amazing opportunity an online event offers for people from around the world to join in. At the start of an event I ask everybody to write in the chat box who they are and where in the world they’re joining me from, which is a wonderful way for the audience members to meet each other across a virtual room. It’s fun when side-conversations happen as people connect.

8. Respect everybody’s time.

You want your audience to leave feeling like the time they spent with you enhanced their lives and didn’t waste their time. If you don’t think your event is brilliant then go back to the drawing board and work on it until it is. Even if it’s free, imagine that you’re charging a huge amount of money and create something that delivers that level of value.

And finally, embrace the knowledge that something’s going to go wrong! This is the secret sauce of a live event. It adds a frisson that keeps it real.

Are you looking for a brilliant online Christmas office party or virtual New Year teambuilding social? I can help, find out more here.


5. Quoted from Sarah’s TEDx talk. Watch it here.

6. Left: the view from the stage pre-covid, photo by Viv Cherry. Right: the view from the stage during Sarah’s Adobe MAX talk — more than 10,300 people signed up for her session. Watch it on-demand here.

*“We had a wonderful Gin & Typography session with Sarah Hyndman as a ‘virtual’ social event for a pan-European team. Over 50 employees and their partners joined, through zoom, for an entertaining couple of hours where we journeyed through history in an unusual and engaging way. Sarah runs a magnificent event that captures peoples imagination and somehow immerses everyone in the whole experience. We were looking for an experience that would really detach us for work and help us to reconnect with each other again. Bravo Sarah .. it was such a hit.” Jon Parker, Illumina