Have you ever considered organising an online CPD event? Learn how Chiara Bruzzano organised a one-day event, from defining her audience to choosing speakers and topics, making a schedule and reaching her audience, and her top tips to make your event a roaring success.
There are times I’m glad I’m not a big on social media and that if you had to describe me, “photogenic” would not be the first (or twentieth) word you’d think of. Today I am especially happy that I don’t take many pictures of myself or post them online because my face has “exhaustion” written all over it.
Why, you ask? Because for the past three months, I have been working incessantly on a... one day event. That’s right: three months’ worth of work, for a one-day online CPD event! I should be (and am) happy, really: the event was yesterday and it was a roaring success based on the feedback we got. Six speakers, six practical talks, almost 200 attendees.
I have been to many ELT conferences, from more academic events to more practical workshops and I had been involved in organising conferences before but this was the first time I was the head of the organising committee. This means I was able to appreciate how much work goes into organising even a one-day event and also see the participants’ feedback.
As Rakesh Bhanot says, there are so many conferences but so little time, so you want your event to stand out: if you have ever considered organising an online ELT event, get ready because I’m about to give you lots of tips from an experience that is very fresh in my mind!
1. Do not underestimate the workload
I remember telling my mom I was thinking of organising a one-day event for Italian teachers. This was five months ago and she seemed to think I was way overestimating how long it was going to take me. It was only a one-day event and it was online: how hard could it be?
Turns out, very. I myself underestimated the workload: as you will see below, you will have lots of tasks on your hands, some of which you will not have considered beforehand, so: don’t listen to my mom, plan in advance. Make a plan, estimate how long it will take you for each task, and then add 30% to it.
2. Define your audience
Who are you trying to reach with your event? What are their needs? I’m not super business-minded but even I know that you should never design a product that the audience does not need. So, have a chat with colleagues, run a focus group, circulate a survey: define your audience and their needs. To give you an example, I knew that my audience was likely going to be Italian teachers, many of whom are studying for or have just sat their national teaching exams. I knew from my work with them that they needed practical, actionable tips and that the majority of them use textbooks. Which leads me to my next order of business ...
3. Choose your speakers and topics carefully
You might think that a ‘big name’ will give your conference credibility and it will attract more participants. To an extent, I would agree: I’m sure that having ‘micro-celebrities’ Sandy Millin and Sarah Priestley helped our event. However, interestingly, when we collected the participants’ feedback, not one participant mentioned this as a plus in their responses. What they did value instead was how closely the talks met their actual needs. So, by all means, invite all the big names you like, as long as you they have something meaningful to say to the audience you have taken the time to define.
Another point related to speakers’ choice that is very close to my heart is inclusion. From the start, I knew I wanted both genders represented and that I wanted a mixture of L1 and L2 speakers. If you have read my blog before, you know how I feel about gender representation and native speakerism in ELT. I am glad to say we achieved parity in both regards and were awarded a purple badge by Equal Voices in ELT (EVE). Reaching out to EVE to get a badge and be featured on their calendar is also something I would recommend.
You will also have to choose what topics you will cover. This will be partially done in collaboration with the speakers themselves, who will want to discuss their areas of expertise. But, again, you will want to meet your attendees’ needs: do they need practical talks or possibly a more academic take? Do they work in schools, universities, language schools? Do they use textbooks or are they more likely to use authentic or self-made materials? Your answers to this will guide your selection of topics.
4. Schedule the least bad time
Let’s face it: no schedule will be universally appealing to your participants. In our case, we chose a Sunday because it was the only time all of our speakers could join and many Italian teachers work on Saturdays, so it was just not an option. However, based on the feedback we got, some people would have preferred a longer event, some a shorter one; some would have liked it to be spread over more days; some would have wanted longer sessions, some shorter sessions. And some others, thankfully, liked it exactly as it was!
One thing I would always recommend, however, is to schedule some breaks in between sessions and make sure any Q&A you do does not eat too much into the break time. An online event can be a lot to take, so breaks ensure that participants get a little time to recharge and make it to the last session of the day.
5. Work out the logistics in advance but be ready for things not to work
When my husband asked me what my biggest worry was the night before the event, an image immediately ran through my mind: Zoom crashing, people not being able to join, my reputation going up in flames. Now, yes I may have been a tad dramatic, but the fundamental tech issue remains. This is why I would recommend choosing a platform early on, trying it out by yourself and with all the speakers, and sticking with it. You will need to decide both where the event will be streamed and how people will be able to register for it. We did it slightly differently from other events: tickets were sold as ‘courses’ on the Thinkific platform and then attendees found Zoom links within this course. Having a ‘course’ then allowed us to store all the video recordings and slides for the students to access later (more on this below!)
And if you were wondering whether we had any tech issues, the answer is of course yes: in the very first session, the panellist could not join because of a specific Zoom setting I had inadvertently changed. However, since the panellist was one of my team members joining the first meeting for a trial run, we were able to sort it out before the start of the event! Which leads me nicely to the point that running an online event can rarely be done alone. Choose some partners wisely and work together.
6. Reach your audience
Now that you have defined your audience and your programme, it’s time to reach this audience. Think about where your target audience normally meets: is it a Facebook group? A WhatsApp group? Could any social media account help you reach your target audience? Or perhaps a mailing list? Over 80% of our attendees had found out about the LanguagEd Day through our mailing list, so if you have one and you have all the necessary permissions, it’s a good idea to use it. If you have a LinkedIn network, you can also create an event on LinkedIn and invite your contacts there.
Also, can your event be featured on a calendar? There are a few you may choose from: one is the EVE calendar I mentioned above but there are also local calendars of teachers’ associations and more international ones like Mauricio Arango’s website or the LinguistList calendar.
7. Make videos, slides and certificates available
Based on the feedback we got, this was one of the biggest drivers for our attendees. We recorded all the sessions and have made them and the speakers’ slides available to our participants for a year. Almost half of the attendees did not attend all the sessions live but they will be watching the recordings. We also made certificates of attendance available, which are important for teachers who may need them to show their institutions they attended a CPD event. You can do this easily and for free online: we used a Canva template and it worked really well for us.
Have you ever organised an online CPD event? What difficulties did you encounter? Let us know in the comments!