Host a successful online event for prospects, students, graduates and more

Universities have had to make a sudden switch to online operations in 2020 in response to the coronavirus.

This has been a herculean effort for many institutions, with students and staff rapidly adapting to new technologies and processes and shifting in totality to online education delivery methods. And in some cases to things that have been resisted for many years.

We'll cover this further in weeks to come as stories, learnings, and insights unfold. But for this week we're looking at virtual events and how to successfully move to delivering them online, by reviewing the processes, software, and strategies to help your teams deliver engaging events online.

How are universities using virtual events?

Institutions have a need to connect, and sometimes en masse, and there are opportunities to achieve this online. But we know it's not simply a case of opening up a Zoom account and emailing out invites. It takes planning, process, and software.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything up in the air this year and university events are another aspect of student life that are impacted with a stark option of institutions either moving them online or simply canceling them.

Some institutions have been delivering events, seminars, and even full-blown open days online for some time, as well as hosting careers fairs to match graduates with external organizations and to deliver sample lectures to students. The pandemic has made this a necessity rather than an option.

For example, Keele University hosted a series of online chats using Unibuddy where prospects had the opportunity to ask Keele students, support staff and admissions team questions about studying at the university. 

screen shot from Keele University twitter that give details for online chat options

How to host a virtual event (and the tools that can help)

It's important to make the distinction here between online events that are completely virtual and in-person events that have a virtual element included with them. This article is concerned with the former - entirely online events.

There are various ways to host a complete virtual event for your institution and your approach largely depends on the type of event and target audience you need to engage.

The best virtual events are successful because a lot of planning and work goes on behind the scenes to draw together a programme of different elements like guest speakers, lecturers, campus tours, video clips and interactive Q&As.

Planning for online event success

An important consideration for a virtual event is how to make sure the audience knows where to go and how to navigate. Often, a simple approach is best with a single destination set up to deliver all the talks and panel discussions.

To promote engagement, virtual Q&A rooms can be set up following each speaker's talk. Similarly, a virtual networking room can be used throughout events where, say, prospective students or parents can video chat with one another and discuss various topics.

But like any event, testing and planning is crucial, and your team should thoroughly check content, links, media, speaker logistics, live chat, registration and log-in processes in advance.

The University of South Wales are hosting virtual open days for prospective students. They are providing access to course videos, virtual tours, insights into student life, discussing finances and throughout the entire open day there is a live chat function.

image of desktop screen, open on the university of south wales homepage. it features information on virtual open days at the university

Delivering events with virtual technology

The latest platforms make it possible to run large-scale events at your institution with relatively low resourcing. With a handful of student ambassadors and university representatives, you can track and co-ordinate a relatively large scale event online using the following tools.

Slack can be incredibly useful in the planning and execution of an online event. You can form event-specific channels to coordinate internal operations, public conversations, and behind the scenes communications with anime involved in speaking a, or representing the institution at the event.

During the event you could assign volunteers to provide responsive customer service and to foster conversations in Slack.

Zoom is a phenomenon creeping into our family, professional and educational lives. It has a number of useful features which are useful for online events, such as, launching polls at the beginning of each talk to keep the audience engaged, allowing presenters to share their screen, allowing panelists to speak directly to one another within the chat feature and importing lists of who attended and how long they attended for. These features combine to make Zoom a powerful swiss-army knife of a tool in a large-scale event context.

If you want a technology provider to do the heavy lifting for your events, WorkCast is a good solution. It offers webinars, webcasts and virtual events through its online platform and is a powerful tool for delivering scalable virtual conferences, careers fairs, and open days.  The software is particularly adept at powering virtual open days, allowing you to host a mix of live and pre-recorded presentations as well as other pieces of multimedia content such as virtual tours. Using both formats is highly effective at getting a positive message across about your institution and keeps the content fresh.

Integrating Live Chat (checkout and Gecko Engage) into the online event environment is an additional measure you should consider. It gives attendees the chance to talk directly to you and your academic institution, and facilitates conversations among your online visitors, plus it allows you to quickly respond to questions and build a relationship up with attendees.

Your team will need to moderate content throughout, particularly across social and Live Chat. Whether you're expecting lots of questions, or not, make sure there's a representative from the university on-hand to monitor channels. They'll add an 'official voice' to events and provide reassurance that online visitors queries are being acknowledged and answered. And for the institution it results in more positive engagement with prospective students.

Post event analytics and re-packaged content

Once your event has concluded, there is still a great opportunity to use the content and keep it alive by uploading it for on-demand viewing.

Webinars, for example, can be repurposed to create new, alternative formats of marketing content such as blogs, infographics, podcasts, social posts and video clips, to name just one element.

And the data from events is hugely valuable both in aggregate, to provide details like which content and webinars were most popular, where audiences were based and lots more, and also on a personal level to enable you to capture data in your CRM and build personalized follow-up communications with attendees.

5 Key Take-Aways for successfully running your institution events online

  1. If you are hosting a forward thinking event there needs to be an equally amazing plan to go along with it.
  2. Make your event accessible and inclusive - make it easy to find and sign-up for your online events, signpost to the relevant software, make registration painless and engage attendees with inclusive language, maximising the opportunities for feedback and dialogue.
  3. Put your faith in great technology and combine it to best effect. Your 'online event stack' should include a main delivery platform (such as Workcast, Adobe Connect, GotoWebinar), a Live Chat solution (such as Unibuddy,, WhatsApp, Slack or Intercom), dedicated social feeds (and potentially a social aggregator like Tint).
  4. Create dedicated event landing pages to outline and explain the details of your events and to signpost users to them. With Terminalfour you can leverage your site components to great effective to create highly targeted personalized campaign pages to support your online events and use these to support attendees, gather their details and track engagement.
  5. Follow-up actions should happen soon after events are concluded, from analysing data to creating personalized communications for attendees.

While none of us were fully prepared for the coronavirus, in many respects, we will certainly be better prepared for anything the future holds as a result of it.

The work being done to break down barriers and enable events to continue by so many talented professionals in higher education during this time will make this happen.

This year is not going to be business as usual, but online communications have a big role to play. The show can go on. For now, it's online.