Virtual events have been incredibly popular in the book community over the last year—offering bookstores and libraries more chances to interact with their communities, giving authors new ways to share their work with readers, and giving bookworms in different locations and time zones the opportunity to connect with each other. Whether you’re hosting an event for your bookstore, library, or social media followers, these tips will help ensure things run smoothly!
Consider your audience
Before planning a virtual event, the first thing you should think about is your audience. You’ll need their support and participation to make your event succeed, and therefore it’s vital to think about the types of events they’re interested in (Do they prefer author interviews or panels? Do they read more mysteries than science fiction? Do they want opportunities to participate? What platforms work best for their viewing?). For every decision you make, think about your event from your audience’s point of view, and be sure to ask for their opinions after events.
Decide on a platform
Before you decide on a platform, make a list of the assets you want. Ask yourself questions like: Will I want the video to be saved for future viewing? Do audience members need video and audio access? Do we need/want a chat room function?
Once you know your must-haves (compared to your nice-to-haves), it’ll make it easier to decide on a platform that works for you. Zoom is a popular choice for libraries and bookstores, especially since its features can also be used internally by your own teams. If your organization has a budget for events, you can invest in a platform such as Crowdcast, which removes barriers such as time or audience limits.
Many book influencers hosting events gravitate towards Streamyard, which allows you to go live on YouTube or Facebook, and therefore has the ability to immediately save the video for future viewings. Instagram live is perhaps the most simple—requiring little setup beyond pressing the “Live” button—and they’ve recently expanded to allow up to three guests during streams. Both of these platforms offer a chat function for the audience and limit the video and audio capabilities to presenters that you as the host have approved.
For most events, you’ll want only the moderator and guests to have video and audio access. Platforms with chat rooms let the audience interact with each other, and some even offer the ability for audience members to submit questions directly to the moderator—which can then be brought up during the discussion or be pulled up on screen for everyone to see.
Each platform has its own features, and you may find it helpful to test them out or to attend other events using those platforms to see what the audience experience is like. With a little effort, you’ll find the one that’s best for you.
Think about safety
The safety and privacy of your guests must be taken into consideration, especially when selecting the type of platform you’ll use to host the event. For events where audience members may have video or audio capabilities, do not share the link publicly. Instead, use a signup form and send the link to all who register. Hosts should be well-versed in how to remove disruptive audience members and have settings in place to control options like screen sharing.
Assuming it is not a closed event, and you want as many attendees as possible, then you’ll want your event promoted across every platform that you have. This can include social media, your website, and your newsletter. Think about promotion in three stages: the initial announcement, a reminder set halfway between the announcement and the event, and a final boost the day of. This will help to keep your event at the forefront of people’s minds, and is a great way to ensure that your audience sees your messaging. For social media in particular, be sure to tag your guests so they’re able to promote the event to their own followers.
Create a graphic that’s easy to alter based on different platforms because the size you’ll need to use in your Instagram story compared to Twitter will be very different. Canva is a free and excellent tool to use, and you can learn our Canva tips here. A graphic should include all of the information readers need: time, date, how to attend (especially if it involves registering by email)—as well as relevant author photos or book covers.
Prep your guests
Even if your event seems straightforward, you still want to give your guests as much information as possible. You’ll want to cover the obvious (the date, time, time zone, and link to the live stream), but there’s a lot more that you can offer.
If you’re conducting an author interview, consider sharing some of your questions in advance, which allows authors time to think about their responses and give a more detailed answer during the live event.
If you’re inviting a speaker to a book club, tell them how many people to expect and share any background on your group that might be relevant.
If you’re moderating a panel, share your plan for the order of events (such as introductions, and if you’re allowing audience questions).
Essentially, think of your guests as your teammates, so you both need to know the game plan to pull off a successful event together. Sending details ahead of time via email allows your guests to have all of the information they need.
Get event ready
Before your event, make sure that you have everything you need. Charge devices you’ll be using such as your phone, laptop, or wireless headphones. Test the setup and lighting if you’ll be on camera, and don’t forget to pay attention to what your background looks like.
Ask guests to arrive at least 5 minutes before the event begins. This will let you go over the details one final time before going live, and allows time to test everyone’s video and audio.
For interviews and panels, be sure to have your questions ready and easily accessible (either in an open document or on physical notecards). It often helps to have backup questions ready, in case things move faster than you anticipated. If you’re introducing panelists, make sure you know how to pronounce their first and last names. If you’ll be discussing a book, make notes of the names of the main characters, and any other relevant details. Especially for your first time hosting, it can be easy to feel nervous or flustered. Having everything you need prepared in advance will not only calm your nerves, but it’ll also ensure things go smoothly.
If you’re encouraging audience members to share questions of their own at the end of the event, let them know this at the start of the event, and remind them closer to the end, so they can take the time to think about what they want to ask.
One of the great things about virtual events is that they’re incredibly accessible for readers. Making your event available for viewing after the live stream ensures that anyone who wasn’t able to attend can still enjoy the experience. Be sure to re-promote the recorded performance in the days following the event for the chance to reach new readers and grow your audience.