Online events are more popular than ever, with 71% of event creators vowing to keep them on their calendars even after COVID-19 concerns have started to reduce. While the pandemic may have helped inspire the public to explore the virtual events world, the value of these events has been proven – they’re now a permanent fixture in the events landscape.
There’s no doubt online events present creators and event-goers with a lot of benefits, including convenience, increased access, and greater safety and health outcomes. And because of their remote nature, it’s easy to forget about safety and security when hosting virtual events. But there are still risks associated with an online event that warrant consideration. Ultimately, it’s the event creator’s responsibility to take precautions to protect their speakers, presenters, staff, and any in-person attendees.
Be aware of those risks and consider the following when planning your next online event:
1. Control who can access the event
While your space requirements for a virtual event likely pale in comparison to those of a live, in-person event, you’ll still need a location to host speakers and set up a camera, sound, and other electronic equipment. You don’t want to risk damage to your equipment or threats to your staff or speakers. And while your event-goers may access your event safely from their homes, any online presence makes one vulnerable to scams, threats, or other aggressive conduct.
Your virtual event security will depend first of all on ensuring that only authorised personnel has access to wherever your speakers, guests, and staff are located. To control access to your event:
- Require registration to control who attends the event.
- Only share the link to the online event once an attendee is registered.
- Consider adding a password or other authentication requirement for attendees to access the event. Eventbrite offers integrations with both Zoom and Vimeo to include password protection and other security features to your streaming content.
- Distribute lanyards to in-person staff and speakers.
2. Deter and manage disruptive activity
Virtual events are a fantastic way to open up your event to a global audience, as anyone with internet access can potentially gain admittance. That’s a powerful way to interact with a large audience – but it also exposes your event to those who tend to disrupt such interactions rather than foster them. Making rude comments, asking inappropriate questions, even making threats or accusations are all potential disruptions – and that’s just in your chat rooms.
Virtual events best practices, then, should include efforts to deter and effectively handle such actions.
- Select a webinar/virtual meeting platform that includes security features.
- Make sure that the settings for whatever platform you use are adjusted to account for security.
- Have a moderator who monitors the chat and networking areas, and authorise them to remove rude or inappropriate comments or poorly-behaved attendees.
- Depending on your event, consider disabling features that allow attendees to present their desktops or interject without being called upon. This can greatly reduce the ability of an inadvertent or malicious disruption.
- The nature, subject matter, publicity, and size of your event may increase these risks. For example, a well-publicised political event might attract negative attention or nefarious actors intent on sabotaging your event.
3. Set expectations for how attendees should act
One way to head off any inappropriate actions from attendees is to set out expectations for appropriate conduct. This can be especially important for controversial events that might attract overly emotional engagement. Setting a standard of behaviour not only lays out what conduct is expected but also signals to your attendees that you’re prioritising acceptable behaviour and paying attention to any inappropriate actions.
For event creators who aren’t afraid to address these kinds of hot topics, your list of streaming or Zoom online event best practices might include ways to set your standards. Here are some ways to set expectations:
- Share guidelines on how attendees are expected to act. Eventbrite allows you to communicate with your event’s ticket registrants, so informing everyone about rules and expectations can be quick and easy.
- Consider and communicate your policy on unregistered attendees, video recording, and disruption.
- Articulate each attendee’s responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of the event. 90% of data breaches are due to human error, so it’s important for everyone to be mindful of risks when online.
4. Don’t forget to set speaker expectations, too
Along with the behaviour of your virtual event’s online attendees, the actions of your speakers and presenters can also affect the safety and security of your event. Offensive conduct or insulting speech can arouse anger among attendees and if not addressed can become worse, so it’s important your speakers know what’s acceptable. While controversial topics, such as political or religious subjects, can be lively areas of discussion and exchange, it’s crucial that your guests address such topics respectfully and without malice.
Improve your virtual event security by making sure everyone is on the same page as far as basic civility is concerned. You should:
- Review your speakers’ presentations prior to the event, so you can be alert to potential transgressions.
- Maintain control of speaker power and volume, so access can be cut off if necessary.
5. Protect your personnel
Finally, don’t forget about your personnel. Whether it’s your camera operator, sound controller, office staff, or other hired hands, your responsibility is their protection and safety. Be aware of any dangerous conditions in the area your employees will travel to, and try to ensure there’s safe parking or other transportation. With your focus on your speakers and event-goers, it’s easy to overlook those who you’ve asked to assist you.
If you want their help for future events, be sure your safety and security plan for events looks after their well-being, too. Remember to:
- Use caution and avoid sharing sensitive personal information on the individuals hosting the event and where the broadcast is being held, unless necessary.
- Carefully consider the subject matter of your event, how it is advertised, and where you will be broadcasting from. Limit personally identifiable information or other items that might encourage someone to try to disrupt your event during a live broadcast.
Keep current on security trends
While such incidents are rare, these are a sample of the risks – and solutions – that event creators should consider as virtual events continue to grow in popularity. Inclusivity and accessibility for all attendees can open up your event, but it has the potential to impact security. And like all tech, security technology is always changing, and the exploits and workarounds seem to move just as fast. It’s important to keep up with the latest developments so you can be aware of the security dangers that are out there.
With proper attention, there’s every reason to believe your virtual event’s security can be secure and safe for all attendees. Often, simply showing that security is present is all it takes to discourage bad behaviour from even starting.
Check out Zoom’s event safety guide and Microsoft’s event safety guide for more information. Then, once you’re confident you have security in hand and you’re ready to get your online event started, the next step is to create your event.