A Whack on the Head for Anyone Who Runs Online Events

Caroline Kay
4 min readSep 2, 2020


Now that we’re settling into a new lifestyle of online meetings, conferences, celebrations, and more, it’s time for a whack on the head. We need to shake things up!

It’s been six months since we had to shift to online events and the sessions are only slightly boring than in March. We’re starting to see fun activities like pet parades, wine tastings, and surprise celebrity appearances. But we’re also still seeing a lot of talking heads, slide decks, and dull webinars. Most online events are still all about imparting information.

Conveying content is the crux of your event, of course. But it’s not everything. Engagement also needs a spot on the podium. Your guests need to do more than hear and learn, they need to connect, to interact. Creative tactics to promote audience engagement and interaction are essential for successful online events.

Attendees have short attention spans in online events, so you need to spice things up. A big challenge for event planners is that attendees are starting to expect the quality and ease of access from online events that they get from TV and streaming media. They might not expect Netflix or Comedy Central, but they’ll no longer put up with amateur-hour videos.

In planning your online event, broaden your thinking from content to engagement. Trim your content down to the bare bones. Make your online gathering interactive. Add gamification elements with competitions and prizes. Instead of the usual staid presentation format, do a fireside chat, asking the audience for questions. Shake things up!

Delivering a successful online event demands the time and guts to be creative and try new things. That means taking risks.

Get Lively Before the Event

Start spicing things up before the event. Online events have a higher “no-show” rate of people registered than in-person events. So you need to get — and keep — their attention from first communication to the close of your event.

Get creative with your advance communications. Draw them into your invitations and thus to your event. Don’t rely on email messages and newsletter text — offer a video of a speaker talking to the invitee or a customer. Start a treasure hunt that culminates in your event. Start your engagement tactics before your guests ever log into the event.

I recently managed an event where we utilized Tribute for advance engagement. We sent questions to guests in advance and asked them to provide responses in short videos. The Tribute tool then compiled the clips into a powerful video montage we played at the online event. Participants engaged with the event before it began and had the enjoyment and gratification of seeing their contribution to the final result as part of the event.

Dare to Have Fun

Then comes the show itself: where we need to toss out slide decks and toss in techniques for interaction and engagement. Use polls, chat, Q&A, gamification, and contests. Slido is a great tool for polling, quizzes, and Q&A in online events. Offer online networking lounges to help people connect. Have unusual online social activities: happy hours, pet parades, scavenger hunts, or informal fireside chats. Boost the anticipation of the activities by sending swag or game supplies in advance.

Help people enjoy your event, not just survive it. Create the fun. Zoom fatigue is real and our job as event planners is to wake everyone up. Take the risk!

Sarah Reed, who runs global strategic events for Zendesk, talks about the trials and tribulations of taking risks with online events in this terrific article. I love her attitude: “As events professionals, if we want to survive, we better start taking a lot more risks. Do something grand. Do something that doesn’t work. Do something that people question. Do something that no one else has.”

I’m a big believer in taking risks — in business and in life. That’s how the big victories (and admittedly, some fiascos) happen. At the age of 28, I left the U.K. to take a job in the U.S. Then I started my own business. Along the way, I jumped out of a plane, climbed a mountain, and spent two years as nomad — running my event business while exploring the U.S. Every risk was worthwhile. As Sarah Reed says, “I’ll never be too proud to apologize for taking a purposeful risk.”

But keep a few guard rails on that risk-taking. These bold, risky plans need to have a purpose, a goal that fits the objectives of your event and your organization. Wacky ideas for the sake of being wacky are a waste of time and energy. If you have sponsors, you still need to appeal to them. And any online experience you offer, risky or not, must fit your brand.

Online events are no longer a fallback position, they are here to stay. And the bar to deliver high-quality, engaging events is going to keep getting higher. Audiences, clients, sponsors, and bosses will expect more and more. The way to deliver is to take risks in how and what you deliver in your event.

Mark Zuckerberg says it well: “In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”



Caroline Kay

Founder of @CKAYInternation. Travel Blogger at Have Fizz Will Travel (@carolinekay11) Event planner & Executive Producer for more than 20 years