The Best Student Life. Bristol SU

Hosting Virtual Events

With restrictions on face-to-face meetings and an uncertain year ahead, we know some of you have been finding it difficult to connect with your members. 

But staying socially isolated doesn’t mean you have to cancel all of your group’s plans. You just need to adjust them a bit.

There are many different ways you can interact with your members virtually. You may decide to simply re-create a successful live event (e.g. a talk or film screening) virtually. You might decide to try out something new and find new ways to engage with your members.

Staying connected with your members is important for a number of reasons:

  • It helps the group keep an active membership (which means more members next year!)
  • You can help combat social isolation / loneliness amongst your membership
  • You can learn new skills that can be carried on into the future


What is a Virtual Event?

A virtual event is any organised meet-up that takes place online, in a virtual environment instead of physically in person. There is no limit to the range of events that can take place – everything from small-scale craft sessions to large conferences with hundreds of participants. 

Virtual and engaging events are going to be a big part of the future of your group so we suggest you prepare yourselves to be able to create engaging, inclusive and accessible online events for your members. 


Why Hold a Virtual Event?

There are many reasons that you should be considering holding a virtual event and here are some things to consider: 

  • Safety: Due to the COVID pandemic, is it safer to run your event or activities virtually for your members?
  • Lockdown restrictions: You may have an event planned in person, and a local lockdown has been put in place. Rather than cancelling or postponing your event, you may be better off delivering it virtually.
  • Increased accessibility: Events and conferences can be expensive for students to attend in person. Virtual events have a lower cost of delivery and therefore a lower cost for attendees. Also, with an increase in distance-learning, some members may not physically be able to get to your events in-person.
  • Cheaper budget: The costs associated with delivering an event in person are usually much higher than if you delivered it digitally. 


Understanding your members and audience

It is important that before planning a digital event you get some feedback from your society or club members that this is something they want and will attend.

A lot of people are put off by virtual events (particularly with the over-abundance of virtual quizzes they’re invited to) and want to know that they are not going to be sitting looking at a screen for hours. Consider doing a poll on your social media asking members what kind of events they want to see from you and how frequently they would consider attending.

Top tip – getting feedback from your members counts towards Balloon Accreditation!

You need to think about who is going to be attending your event and why. Are your audience looking for:

  • Knowledge (develop new skills, increase knowledge or know-how)
  • Connection (combat loneliness, find a community, have fun)
  • Development (Ideals and ideas challenged, work on campaigns)


The Basics

Like planning any in-person event, there are basic questions you should be asking yourself when developing your idea for a digital one. Some of the important questions you should be asking yourselves at the start of planning are:

  • Who is going to be attending my event and why? 
  • What platform will I use, e.g. Skype, Zoom?
  • Should my event be live or pre-recorded? 
  • What will we do if we have connectivity issues? 
  • Will I charge to attend my event? 
  • What pre-event information will attendees need? 
  • What is the purpose of your event? 
  • What format will my event take and how are we going to deliver this? 
  • Can our group afford it?

There are lots more questions you could be asking yourself so we advise you to fully develop your idea and then use the rest of this page to help you practically plan your activity.


Developing Event and Session Content

Developing the content of an event is the most important part of planning digitally. You want to make sure your event is engaging, fun and more than anything interactive. Generally, people don’t want to sit at a screen and watch someone talk for a long period of time, so consider the separate elements of what plan to do.

Who is going to host or chair your event? Your host plays one of the most important roles in a digital event as they create the flow, the mood and tone for your event. They want to make sure they connect your content and messaging to your attendees in an uplifting way. This can be done through the interactive features of the platform you use or a space that participants are drawn back to between content segments of your event.

Just like hosting an event in-person a good host will:

  • Arrive early
  • ‘Set Up’ the space (this could be pre-loading content, checking internet connection, pre-populating chat functions)
  • Meet and Greet attendees as they come in and do something with them while waiting for the event to begin (nothing more awkward than the 5 minutes before a virtual event starts and nobody talks to each other…)
  • Give clear instructions on how to engage
  • Be active in any chat or interactive parts of your event

External speakers: You can source your speakers in the same way that you have always done for you events and because of the lack of travel you may be able to book  some better speakers than originally planned for cheaper! 

Our policies still apply to student groups planning digital events that include speakers to come along and talk. We share responsibility with you for the event running safely and smoothly and we also need to make sure we stay within the law and are meeting our obligations as a registered charity.

If you are planning to run an event with one or more external speakers present, please complete this online form as far in advance as possible (and no later than 2 weeks before the event).


Live Talks vs Recording

When planning a digital event, one big question you want to ask is, does this event need to be live or can it be pre-recorded. Both of these types of events come with their own pros and cons but typically live events have a better, more natural feel to them. 

You need to think about what could go wrong too: with pre-recorded you need to ensure you have enough time to film, edit and upload the content whereas with live events you need to think about connectivity issues, including how to navigate around them. 


Creating Engaging Content

It is important that you consider how your attendees are going to feel at your event. In-person events are built for engagement through organic networking work whereas it is more difficult to facilitate this through digital events.

  • Consider the format of your event 
  • If the event is over an hour, make sure you break it up into sessions and give time for people to interact 
  • Consider interactive functions of systems and applications such as polling, quizzes and break-out rooms
  • If you can create small digital spaces for people to interact then consider this!


Tips for creating a good event experience

Ensure you think about the needs of the attendees – what are their goals and how will they find the design of your content? Put yourself in their shoes. Have you noticed you have any questions about what to do at the event, how to log on etc.?

  • Personalise where possible.
  • Work with your team to deliver together so it is a good experience for you.
  • Line up your speakers for success – ensure they have a technical guide, best practice tips on how to speak effectively at a digital event and ensure there is time to rehearse with you before the event so they are comfortable using the agreed platform.
  • Look after your attendees. Be proactive and prepare your virtual attendees for a great experience. Consolidate your virtual event to limit fatigue; establish housekeeping rules; include Q&As in sessions; create an on-demand library; and make every experience interactive.


Think outside the box

We’ve seen lots of ideas coming from student groups when planning their events for the new term This is a bit different to what you’re used to, but the good news is you’re not limited to Zoom quizzes! Some of our favourites, that can be adapted by you, are below:

A box (or bag) of fun: We love this idea and think it can be adapted by pretty much any group:

  • Step 1. Decide what is going to be in your bag or box of fun. This could be an activity related to your group (e.g. MechSoc might include something to build; Magic Society might include some playing cards), or it could be something just for fun (e.g. ingredients to make a mug cake and a mug to decorate, some origami paper and instructions).
  • Step 2. Organise a virtual session where participants will open their bags / boxes together and do the activity.
  • Step 3. Sell tickets via your Webpage, including cost of bag/box.
  • Step 4. On the day of the event, distribute bags / boxes to Halls of Residences / Bristol addresses or have a pick-up point (ensuring social distancing is adhered to).
  • Step 5. Host the event and do what ever the activity is together!

Create your own virtual scavenger hunt: A step-up from your regular quiz night, take your members on an adventure around the world using or

  • Step 1. Decide on a theme for your hunt. This could be related to your group (e.g. Rugby choose famous stadiums around the world, CSSA may choose to base their hunt in China)
  • Step 2. Using Terraclues or Geoguessr create your hunt
  • Step 3. Decide how you want it to be played 
    • Will it be individuals or teams?
    • Will participants take part at the same time (e.g. over Zoom) or will they do the hunt, then get together for the winner announcement?

Competition and Collaboration: Competitions are a great way to engage not only with your members but also a great way to collaborate with other Societies or Clubs. You could:

  • Start up a fitness challenge between groups (Strava for runners and cyclists)
  • Have each group host a weekly challenge to earn points (this could be anything – night, Taskmaster Challenges, TikTok Challenge). The group with the most points at the end gets a prize!
  • Get together to tackle a Virtual Escape Room


Building Your Event Team

Managing a team to be able to deliver a successful event is important. Below is an outline of a potential event team structure you could use for a larger-scale online event

  • Presenter/s: creates and presents content for the event
  • Facilitator: hosts the event
  • Co-facilitator: to host some of the sessions so you can give each other a break. One of you could also be focussing on group dynamics while the other delivers content. It can also give you more variety and therefore better engagement from participants.
  • Tech support: a person specifically appointed to resolve any tech issues that occur and/or support a participant one-on-one if they are having tech issues so that you can focus on the event
  • Producer: coordinating the 'backstage area' of your platform. This might include adding and removing people from your live stream and sending the 'host' comments from social media to use as part of the discussion
  • Note/minute taker: someone separate from the presenter, facilitator or host to capture key discussion points, decisions and any actions to be written up and circulated after the session. Usually your Secretary.
  • Time keeper: this may not be a role in itself however someone should ensure the session keeps to time and doesn't run over


Choose a Virtual Events Platform

The range of different platforms you can use to deliver your digital events are as varied as the events you can thin of. The main thing is you choose one that 

  • Has the features you need
  • Is accessible to your audience
  • Is simple to use

Check out our articles on Video Conferencing, Streaming Content and live video and Discussion and Chat for more information on platforms.

All University of Bristol students have access to Microsoft Teams and Zoom via the IT Services Team.


Digital Accessibility

All events, both in-person and digital should be as inclusive and accessible as possible. Here are some tips to think about:

  • Make sure language is clear
  • Use larger fonts where possible
  • Use high colour contrast at visual touch points and presentations 
  • Provide captions and visuals for audio where possible
  • Ensure when choosing speakers/presenters you choose a diverse range of individuals 
  • Choosing the appropriate time of day and length of event
    • Are any of you attendees logging in from overseas?
    • Shorter is generally better



You never know what is going to happen. Even the greatest of event planners can miss the most sleight of details which can have a large impact on the delivery of your event. Ways to prevent this:

  • Plan a backup if something goes wrong
  • Have a communications plan ready for if something does go wrong
  • Have multiple members of the society hosting so if one drops out, someone else is available to pick up the event. The same with speakers.
  • If someone is pivotal to the event such as a high profile speaker, provide them with an internet dongle as well as their own internet, just in case.
  • The easiest thing, provide tech support on the day for your attendees.


Etiquette & Protocol

It’s a good idea to set out your expectations of the audience before the event begins, including any etiquette or protocol they should be aware of. There are tonnes of infographics online you can draw inspiration from, we particularly like this one from