How to organize Large and Collaborative Online Events

Aktualisiert: 16. Okt 2020

1. The rise of virtual events

All of the sudden large events cannot happen in public anymore due to Covid-19, but conferences and meetings still need to happen. I heard many people being skeptical about the value of online events. And, yes, they are challenging to pull off while providing many new opportunities (1). There have been major advancements in our capacity to coordinate and organize events and work online (2). I recently co-organized a large online event to strengthen sustainable development and social inclusion in 70 German cities. We wanted to help participants network, learn, and align their strategies. And it actually worked as we got a lot of positive feedback from most participants. So, read on if you want to get practical advice for your own upcoming virtual events.

2. Organizing virtually to address the challenges of our time

Collaboration is increasingly valued to face major challenges in the 21st century. The implications of issues, such as climate change or persistent conflict are getting more extreme (3). What is hopeful is the rise of new, solution-oriented, and increasingly virtual ways of collaboration (4). To be effective, these require a high degree of learning, interconnection, and trust (5). To bring these qualities online for a large online event, consider enabling people across your collaboration to facilitate a workshop. We had twenty-five facilitators, supported by fifteen tech facilitators to foster learning in workshop settings. Consider having a link for a main “virtual room” for frontal formats and links for specific workshops or informal time to connect. In this way, you can engage hands, heart, and head through a mix of interactive and frontal formats (6).

3. Prepare for a seamless participant experience

These events require a high degree of preparation. The roadblocks concerning the tools you use will take more time as you anticipate. For this reason, consider keeping it simple as every new tool brings a risk so make sure to test everything you use (7). You will need to be able to help participants with different knowledge of online tools. Send out very clear briefing documents to all participants and organize meetings for the participants to test their access. During the event make sure you have very clear signposts of how people can engage with the event (8). Offer roughly one technical support hotline for every 50 participants. Just because it is online, the event is still large and requires careful preparation to be on top of all the technical aspects.

4. Embrace uncertainty and improvise if things go sideways

As the organizing team, you will need to have a high degree of clarity on the process. I recommend having a detailed script including the formats you use and what needs to happen technically behind the scene. In that script clearly define and assign the roles within your team. I composed a set of recommended roles for virtual events, which you can download here (9). On the day(s) of the event, you will need a great deal of flexibility. Technology can fail and both you and the participants will at times be confused. Always have back-up plans and multiple communication channels to communicate those if things go sideways. 

5. Key takeaways: Do not underestimate the power of large virtual events

In the end, we proved that virtual events can be energizing, fun, and help collaborations align to address major societal challenges. We embraced the uncertainty and prepared for a seamless participant experience. We helped to energize our collaboration to push for sustainability and inclusion throughout Germany. I am curious to further discuss your own learning in the comments, so please share your viewpoint. Now that you are better equipped to organize large and collaborative online events yourself, enjoy making them happen.

About the author


  1. Purvanova, R. K., & Kenda, R. (2018). Paradoxical virtual leadership: Reconsidering virtuality through a paradox lens. Group & Organization Management, 43(5), 752-786

  2. Faucheux, C. (1997). How virtual organizing is transforming management science. Communications of the ACM, 40(9), 50-55.

  3. Mowshowitz, A. (2002). Virtual organization: Toward a theory of societal transformation stimulated by information technology. Greenwood Publishing Group.

  4. Roberts, N. (2000). Wicked problems and network approaches to resolution. International public management review, 1(1), 1-19.

  5. Perez, S. Videoconferencing apps saw a record 62M downloads during one week in March by 

  6. Strijker-van Asperen, R., & van Tulder, R. (2016). Wicked Problems Plaza-Principles and Practices for Effective Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue.

  7. Meetingplay (2020). Best Virtual Event Advice from Industry Experts

  8. Moschoolhealth (2019). Zoom functions and troubleshooting guide by 

  9. Robke, A (2019). Virtual Event Role Cards


  1. Picture Collab:

  2. Hybrid Event Picture

  3. Cover Image

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