How to structure an online conference programme

There is no such thing as the “perfect” online conference programme. But there are a few key aspects that every online event should adhere to.

Every programme should: reflect the slight differences in:

  • the audience
  • those delivering the content
  • the platform in which the meeting takes place;
  • the budget and
  • a good few other aspects too!

However, there are a few key areas that an online conference programme should contain.

Conference Programme Template

You can view this as a template for your online conference.

 

1. Structured networking

Started the day with some structured networking.

All too often we leave networking to the attendees, and offer little support.

A online conference programme should have networking at its core.

Starting the day with some supported networking (for those who wish it) is a solid foundation for the day. Offer structured networking during every break in the programme.

 

2. A solid introductory session

I include a session like this for various reasons, but I will cover the two most important ones.

I think we too often jump into the content, expecting the delegates to be “on the same page” as the person who put the programme together.

It’s very likely that some of the audience will not be fully aware of the content for the day, the key themes or (for some) the whole point of the conference! So a summary, introductory session is useful.

The second reason is a logistical one. It’s good to have a more informal session where late arriving attendees can join without missing the meat of the content. A session like this is thoroughly recommended!

 

3. Provide plenty of detail

Even when you are running an online events you should provide a lot of detail on each session.

As you are likely to be adding more content than your physical events, every session should have an introductory paragraph followed by some bullet points. You can also add a “what attendees will take away” section.

 

4. Add some meeting design

Don’t go more than 60 – 70mins without introducing a less traditional session format.

Maybe try Pecha-Kucha sessions before the first refreshment break.

If you want to add some texturisation but your audience isn’t used to non traditional formats, don’t start out too early in the day. I think this time would be about right for most one day online conferences.

 

5. Time to breakout

After your first refreshment break it is time to break up our attendees.

Designing the breakouts is definitely an art!

But in simple terms, it’s a good idea to offer your attendees choice; not just of content, but of format too. Breaking out again in the afternoon, perhaps after one or two main sessions is a good idea too.

 

6. Back together before lunch

I always think it’s a great idea to get everyone back together before lunchtime. I know this can seem like a strange idea “everyone back together” when they are all watching remote, but think of it in terms of your physical event and it makes sense!

This session should also be quite light and one of its key objectives should be to give attendees something to talk to each other about during your lunchtime break.

 

conference programme template

 

7. Break should be time to refresh

It is important to give your attendees some time during the day to actually relax and process the information you have covered.

Most programmes of course have the traditional 3 x refreshment breaks plus lunch, but I wanted to highlight the importance of the short breaks between most sessions.

Online programmes should have breaks pretty much after every 40min – 60mins.

 

8. Slowdown towards the end of the day

If there is one point I’d like to emphasize is that by 3.30 (or around 60mins / 90mins before your conference ends) your attendees will be learning and taking in less and less.

Think of them as a cup, and by this time they are ready to overflow.

So the remaining sessions should be slightly different from sessions earlier in the day. You should have some texturisation in this lat section of the day in order to aid the attendees to stay sharp.

This is where I would also place really good speakers! This is a very different approach from physical conferences which tend to speed up at the end of the day!

 

9. Allow the attendees to shape/ take part in some of the conference content (for more advanced conference programmes)

We offered the opportunity for attendees to share their experiences on the day. Online platforms support this exceptionally well!

This is a small step towards having a larger element of participation by attendees and you should definitely move towards that as you run more online conferences.

I would also suggest that a good online conference programme would include a session/s either partly or completely run by attendees.

 

10. Have a social option after the conference

Take full advantage of having people online and make sure you add a sticky element at the end of the day.

I would certainly encourage this as it is a great way to add value to some of the attendees.

Putting programmes together is a skill!

 

Putting conference programmes together is definitely a skill. It does take a lot of time and experience to be able to structure learning. However, I hope I have provided some shortcuts to anyone who wants to run an engaging and ultimately useful online conference.

If you would like some more support for your next online conference then please do get in touch.