Running a Virtual Event

Image: EA Virtual Meet-Up

This guide primarily covers logistical considerations before, during, and after online events. For information on how to co-host an event with another group, please go here. For information on running in-person events, go here.


Unique features of Virtual Events

While people who've run in-person events are well-equipped to run virtual events, there are some differences to be aware of.

  • The attendees are not restricted by geography and physical accessibility issues. This means that EAs who are isolated are able to access group events that they otherwise would not have been able to attend.

    • It also means that events can have an unexpectedly high turnout. If organisers aren’t prepared for the numbers that attend, the conversations will not be as productive.

    • People may not feel as welcome to join virtual events as they might for local events. This could be because it might be clear that they fall within the target audience for the local event, but might not know if they will be welcomed to an international event.

    • Existing connections may be neglected if local group members are spread around more events run by groups around the world.

  • Facilitation of discussion can be more awkward without visual signals from body language. Smaller group sizes, a designated moderator, and more active moderation are often required.

  • When discussions occur in breakout rooms, event organisers are unable to identify problems or intervene with small group discussions to improve them.

  • Choosing a suitable time to suit people across different time zones can be a challenge.

  • Possibility for “Zoom bombing,” where people join and disrupt your meeting - sometimes in very bad ways. This seems to be a particular problem with Zoom. Check out this guide to using Zoom.

  • Technical challenges: Internet quality, organiser and attendees being able to effectively use the technology

Preparing for your event

  1. Define the purpose of the event

There are many different possible purposes for an event. When planning events, defining your aim helps to achieve it.

The Art of Gathering” contains excellent advice on choosing a purpose, and has tips on how this will affect your planning. Check out these notes about “The Art of Gathering” for a summary.

Some options for a purpose could be:

  • Getting to know prospective group members

  • Moving people down the funnel model of engagement in EA. Your event could facilitate one or more of these transitions:

    • Moving people from “audience” to “followers” - outreach to people who haven’t heard of EA before.

    • Moving people from “followers” to “participants” - e.g. holding events that help new people become more knowledgeable about EA.

    • Moving people from “participants” to “contributors” - by providing support for people to conduct projects, volunteer, attend conferences, or make significant commitments.

    • Moving people from “contributors” to “core” - helping people with career plans or further engagement with EA organisations.

  • Enjoyment and bonding

  • Make progress on an issue (e.g. the event could involve group members working on a project, or fundraising)

2. Decide who the target audience is and how best to reach them.

Being intentional about your target audience can help create a better experience for attendees. For example, you’ll want to avoid advertising events that require a more intermediate understanding of effective altruism to newcomers, or they might feel unwelcome.

Possible ways to define your audience include:

  • Any interested person in the world. For example:

    • An excellent speaker giving a talk with a Q+A, suitable for a knowledge building goal.

    • Social Icebreaker events with random matching, suitable for a goal of fostering community

  • A specialist group based on interest area or profession, suitable for a goal of knowledge building, career progression, or working on a project.

  • Groups of EAs in a geographical area. This would suit events where the goal is to maintain and build local community connections.

When considering how best to reach your audience, consider both the platforms you use as well as the messaging. An email list can be good for reaching out to involved members of your group, while a Facebook event or Meetup group can be good for reaching new people.

It can also be helpful to name who your target audience is in your event communications. For example, in your Facebook event post, you can add “this event is open to people with all levels of familiarity with effective altruism,” or “This event will likely be most beneficial to those who’ve already read introductory material on effective altruism.”

3. Choose a format for the event and plan your content of the event accordingly.

Consider your event purpose, what your audience will be interested in, and your capacity as an organizer. For example, if the purpose of your event is to help group members bond, a social or a retreat might be useful; if the purpose is to help members learn about EA, a speaker event or discussion group might be more appropriate.

Ideas for event formats are available on the Types of Events page. Some events that could work well virtually include:

4. Pick a platform, date, and time.

Decide when and where to hold your event.

When deciding on a time, some things you might want to consider:

  • If you are planning an international event, check the time in the parts of the world where you are expecting attendees to come from to ensure your chosen time is suitable.

  • Even for casual events, define an end time to signal how long the space will be open or how long the host plans to stay . If possible, allow people to hang around afterwards if they wish to continue discussions. (In Zoom, you can do this by assigning someone who plans to stick around host status, or moving to a space like Gather or SpatialChat.)

  • If you decide to host a more formal or structured event, set aside time for attendees to talk afterwards, perhaps in Zoom breakout rooms or Gather/SpatialChat.

  • You may wish to experiment with varying the day/time of your event, especially if you have multiple events per week. This can attract different audiences with different availability.

Groups have many different options for virtual platforms. Some options we recommend include:

  • Zoom: Best for socials, small speaker events, and discussions (Read our Zoom guide for more info, including how to keep your event secure.)

  • Gatheround: Best for speed networking (Read out Gatheround guide for more info)

  • Gather/SpatialChat: Best for socials or networking events

  • Kast/Watch2gether: Best for watch parties

  • CEA can provide groups access to their Slido account. Slido is a Q&A and polling app that can be used to manage audience interaction in online events or large in-person events by embedding Zoom webinars or other live streams.

Check out this doc for more online tools.

5. Publicise the event on social media and mailing lists.

Start about two weeks in advance or earlier for large events. We offer a guide to promoting events and professional-looking sample graphics to help with marketing.

In your event description, consider the following:

  • Share key information with participants - before the call, ensure they know important details of your event e.g. meetup structure, goals, and key features of the software you would like people to use during the event

  • Keep your event access information secure - to avoid Zoom-bombing (where people join and disrupt your meeting - sometimes in very bad ways), avoid publicly sharing your event access information. (More on this here)

  • Consider timezones - On Facebook, pay attention to which timezone you’re setting. If possible, try to use UTC which is a universal timezone, vs. GMT/EDT etc. UTC timezones do not change with daylight savings.

    • Make a link that tells people the event time in their timezone: Fill out this form and share the generated link.

  • Describe your target audience - describing your target audience can make your event more welcoming to people within that audience, and discourage people who might not be the best fit for your event. Consider the following:

  • Who the ideal audience is e.g. newcomers to EA, people with an understanding of a particular topic area, or people hoping to start a career in a certain field.

  • Any requirements to attend e.g. a discussion event on a book could be restricted to people having read that book. You might also choose to ask attendees to register to limit attendance to a suitable number for moderated discussions.

Possible places to advertise include:

6. Assign volunteer roles if needed.

For large events, having a few volunteers may be helpful. Ask co-organisers or experienced group members to help out, especially if you are expecting several new people to come to the event. The same person could do most, if not all, of these roles.

  • Tech manager: Manages breakout rooms, waiting rooms, screen sharing permissions/hosting permissions/etc.

  • New person contact: This person can keep an eye out for any new people, make sure they feel welcome, perhaps by sending them a friendly message over Zoom or starting a conversation with them in Gather Town or Spatial Chat. Contacts can also ask newcomers if they would like to sign up for other things the group offers such as mailing lists or one-on-ones. Our page on communicating about EA may be helpful for people in this role.

  • Discussion moderator: When guest speakers have finished presenting, moderators can select people to ask questions so that the guest speaker doesn’t have to. In more casual discussions, moderators could ask quieter people to share their perspectives and help keep conversations on track. The page “Tips on Running Discussion Groups” may be helpful for people in this role. Make sure the moderators have a reliable way of communicating with each other during the meetup - e.g. a Facebook or slack chat open on computer or phone.

  • Notetaker: Assign someone to take notes if needed, ideally someone who is familiar with the content but is not the moderator.

7. Send a reminder message out a day or two in advance of the event.

Send out an email or Slack message before the event to remind people to attend. Some apps (e.g. Eventbrite, AddEvent, Facebook Events), may do this automatically, but if you aren’t using one of these apps, it may be worth sending out an email or a Slack message before the event to remind people to attend.

You can also ask your more experienced group members to casually message new folks about the event and ask if they’re planning to come. This can feel more personal than a mass email and create a culture where new members feel welcome.

8. Decide if and how you will collect feedback on your event.

Think about how you will measure the success of your events. What worked and what didn't work could be useful information for your group and other groups. Some options for doing this are:

  • Online surveys: for larger events, you may wish to create a short link to an online survey, and have people fill them out at the end of the event. Survey responses can provide excellent information but can leave a poor impression. Be especially wary if your attendees are new to EA, since most groups don’t send out surveys, and some people find them annoying. Use your intuition to work out what would be appropriate.

  • Personally contacting - for smaller events, you can contact people more personally via email, or ask them for feedback at the end.

  • Debrief with co-organisers - debrief about what went well or poorly. To avoid forgetting, it helps to do this shortly after the event and to take notes, but if the organisers are tired, or the event didn't go very well, it might be better to wait for another day before discussing the event.

  • Tracking the number of people or their names - many organisers also choose to keep track of the number of people, the methods of advertising used, and for smaller groups, the names of people that came.

On the Day of your Event

Before the event

  • Prepare early - arrive about 5-10 minutes early for small events, or 15-30 minutes early for bigger/formal events to make sure your platform is working correctly and clarify any last-minute questions with your volunteers

During the Event

  • Welcome your participants - for the first five minutes after the set start time, welcome your attendees individually and/or play music. If you have a large group with one or two speakers, it might be useful for the host to mute all participants' mics.

  • Officially start your event - now is a good time to screenshot the participants' list, as some people may leave early. Consider counting the number of attendees, noting gender ratios, the committee to non-committee-member ratios, or other data points for your group’s records.

  • Introductions or icebreakers - If it’s a small event with ten people or fewer, you could do a round of introductions or icebreakers. Icebreakers could include asking people to give their name, where they’re from, and an interesting question to help participants get to know each other, such as a one-sentence description of their priority cause areas or the most interesting thing they’ve read or seen recently. Keep ice-breakers brief and remind people they can connect with people after the event to discuss more.

  • EA Introduction - if new people are attending, consider giving a brief run-down of EA before the main content of the event. See our guides on communicating about EA for ideas of what to say, or these sample introductory talks.

  • Speaker Introduction - if you have a guest speaker, prepare a short (< 5 minute) introduction.

  • Establish norms for the event. For example:

    • Ask people to display their name (Hosts and participants can change names in Zoom)

    • Specify whether you prefer videos on or if video is optional. Video can create a more natural feel among attendees, but can also lead to more "Zoom fatigue", especially over long amounts of time.

    • If the group is small, let your participants know they can leave themselves unmuted (unless they have distracting background noise).

    • Inform people when and how they can ask questions or ask to speak. Some strategies for this include:

      • Using the “hand up” feature on Zoom

      • Turning off mute (the moderator has to keep an eye on microphone icons)

      • Putting their hand up physically (if using video)

      • Using the comment sidebar. Different symbols can be used for different types of points, e.g.

        • + to mean “I want to discuss a new Point”

        • ^ to mean “I want to comment on the existing point”

        • ? to mean “I am confused/jargon/clarification required”

  • Take screenshots or record the event if appropriate - we recommend letting your attendees know if you plan to do this.

At the End of the Event

  • Thank yous - at the stated end time, thank everyone for coming along. If you have a guest speaker, thank them publicly.

  • Feedback - ask for feedback from the attendees and your co-organisers if you have chosen to do this.

  • Create anticipation for the next event - even if you don’t have a detailed plan, you can let people know that there will be more events coming up.

  • Make sure everyone has a way to get involved and keep in touch.

  • Consider creating an open space for people to mingle after the meetup - this could involve leaving your Zoom room open (just make sure to assign someone who's planning to stick around as a host), or encouraging people to move to a platform like Gather Town or Spatial Chat.

  • Debrief with co-organisers about what went well or poorly - try to stay positive, especially if people are tired or put in a lot of effort! To avoid forgetting, summarise what happened within a day of the event. Make notes on what went well, what went wrong, any informal feedback you got, and advice for next time. You can brainstorm ways to improve this at your next organiser meeting.

After the Event

  • Connect on social media - you may wish to add the people you met as Facebook friends the next day. This will make it easier to invite them to future events and allow them to start conversations or ask you questions.

  • Follow-ups

    • Send an email to attendees or post on social media the next day with any relevant, useful information for people who attended the event, such as websites or articles that were mentioned. If there are good photos you may want to post them too.

    • Consider sending individual follow-up emails or messages to newcomers thanking them for attending.