Can a digital event still be full of human interaction?

Transferring physical events to the digital realm is a challenge currently faced by many in the events and creative industries, and for most this is key to survival. In my work the topic of how to translate real life events into online experiences has been at the forefront of my mind.

As a Festival Director, I have recently navigated translating a three-week cultural events programme into a one week online digital festival, transferring mediums of delivery in just a few months. I was also recently asked to chair a round table for Essex 2020 on How to turn physical events into online experiencesprogrammed by always possible.

Over this time I have had a bit of a crash course in producing online events, and wanted to share some of my own learning as well as advice given at the Essex 2020 round table event, to help others in their transition to producing events online.

 What is the best platform for your event?

As many of us start to look at how to move our physical events to online delivery, we face new considerations for creating events in an online space. Event design in itself is not just about the layout and decoration of physical spaces, event design also considers the customer journey within the event itself and curates the quality of experience for the audience. But how do we translate this online?

With online events we can first consider the quality of the event experience by choosing the correct platform for delivery. Many producers are still researching and experimenting to find the right fit, from Zoom to WebinarJam to Twitch, it is important we use online software and platforms that have the best functionality for the type of event we want to deliver. For example, will your audience be participating, or will you just be presenting? Deciding this before you pick a platform can even have price implications.

Now is the time to make the most of free trials, create test events and activities and play around until you find the best fit for your exact event and purpose.

Another great top tip is to look up OBS (Open Broadcast Software) which supports live streaming of events across different social media and video channels. A fantastic example of the power of live streaming to reach audiences, drive viral interaction and effect change can be seen in the LIVEFORLOVE  online live streaming event campaign. LIVEFORLOVE’s producers have utilised the opportunity to gather musicians and DJs ‘stuck’ at home and asked them to live stream sets online, which has raised over 40k for food banks in the UK.


How can we provide the best online experience?

A common question I have been asked, has been that of how we personalise an online event to give a more human and interactive experience? For workshops and more practical online event activities it’s possible to make the most of functions such as break out rooms, to create one to one and personalised activities with event audiences and participants. This however often works better if you have a host or facilitator in each room, guiding the participants through the activities or ‘break out’ session topics linking back to the wider topic or theme of the event.

For longer online conference style events, developing additional networking platforms such as specific slack channels, can enable event participants to communicate, swap ideas and share resources. Further to this, when offering ‘listen and learn’ webinar style speaker panels, it can also be useful to follow these sessions with more casual setting ‘coffee, chat’ video call groups.

Through using these techniques, you are able to create a stronger sense of community between the online event participants.

What about developing artistic and creative events and shows?

Now is the time to invest in, collaborative with or develop creative, innovative, and artistic online content. The Covid-19 pandemic has proved a real game changer for theatre, arts and performance, and driven artistic companies to some incredible innovation; from multiple live streamed collaborative performances to getting creative with green screen and ‘made for online’ theatre productions which have been filmed from home in lockdown isolation. Artists and organisations have had to pivot their work and utilise the digital world.

Original theatre’s production of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong is a great example of how creative productions can be turned around in the current climate.

More than ever, artistic companies, artists and creatives will need to engage digitally in order to remain relevant and in touch with their audiences.

The Original Theatre Company adapt Birdsong into a completely new artform

How can we keep audiences engaged online?

 Let’s not forget the new phenomenon of ‘Zoom’ fatigue. While it can be argued that in many ways producing events online can make the event content more accessible and inclusive, we also must remember that interacting and communicating on video calls relies on us processing information differently to how we would in person and may be more tiring in practice.

So as producers of live online events we need to remember to factor in time for our audiences (and ourselves) to take breaks away from their computer screens, so when we do all log in and join an online event, we make the most of the experience created.


And finally…..

Most of all, now is the time to recognise that it is OK to test, and develop, to pilot new work and programmes. It is very possible you might not get everything perfectly right the first time (because who knows if your presenter’s home internet connection is going to fail or someone’s mic has stopped working).

With practice, research and determination you can increase the quality of your online output and explore new ways of offering inclusive, engaging and accessible online events for your audiences, which in turn can elevate and potentially offer an even more valuable experience than that of a physical event.


How to turn physical events into online experiences’ was facilitated by always possible, part of Essex 2020.



Written by Jo Hedges, always possible associate