As the world moved online in March 2020, most people felt this was a temporary thing. A “stop-gap” to serve a purpose for meetings and important conversations before everything returned to normal and we were all face-to-face once more (Ha!). In the live events space, as it became clear that engaging online was a “new normal” of sorts, this was potentially catastrophic. Coutnless large scale events that were months in the planning were cancelled overnight. The only options, it seemed, were to fold up and go home or, to use that much maligned word ‘pivot’. Suddenly the world of Online Events became an option events companies were offering for businesses, friends, family members, and other organisations to meet, team-build, workshop and have a bit of fun. One of the front runners in the Online Event space is the team at Great Race, who have run thousands of online events for companies other groups all over the world. As we round into the third (!) year of large-scale working from home, we figured the hosts of these online events must have learnt a thing or two about online events. We asked Tom, one of the hosts of online events for Great Race, a couple of key questions which give insight on how to make an online event fun, engaging and rewarding.

1) What’s the experience of hosting online events been like?

‘My immediate answer would be it’s surprisingly fun and, I think, very rewarding for all involved. As someone who works in the arts (Tom, like all of the hosts at Great Race, is an actor) I’m quite used to and motivated by standing in front of people and presenting or performing. My feeling was, before I started hoisting online events, that it would be awkward and perhaps a little un-engaging. But in fact it’s the opposite. It’s very focussed in a way that live events sometimes aren’t. And as we and everyone else have grown more used to Zoom, break-out rooms, talking to heads on a screen and so on, it’s become more and more normal. The feedback we constantly receive is overwhelmingly positive and there are a LOT of laughs!’

2) What are the key differences/similarities?

‘Obviously a big difference is everyone being at home, but again I think the feeling towards that has changed. Initially people may have felt a bit funny about a work event in their home office or living room or kitchen… but once that became very normal with people doing several meetings a day from those places, it just became another ‘space’ to engage, create and have fun. We really try to incorporate these unique aspects of everyone working at home, not shy away from it. Which again I think is one of things people really enjoy.’

3) What are some observations?

‘My main one is that there really is nothing lost from holding a team-building or other event online, provided it is done the right way. The key again is not pretending we are all together and treating Zoom screens like an obstacle, but incorporating it. Another observation is that peoples’ attitudes seem to have really shifted about online events. When we were starting these online events in March 2020 people were typically a lot more reserved or unsure in that online space, but now… everyone’s used to it and far more keen to jump on and have fun!’

4) Tell us a funny story

‘Well, there’s not a lot us online event hosts have not seen – plenty of pets and kids making uninvited appearances on screen. Our online events aim to be fun and funny, and we get people doing challenges live on Zoom in front of their work colleagues and friends. The results are, very often, hilarious. Give someone a spotlight and a challenge, add a bit of competition, and you’ll see some very funny results!’

5) Are online events here to stay? Or is it just a ‘pandemic’ thing?

‘My feeling is they’re here to stay. The benefits far outweigh any negatives so much so that even without the pandemic pushing us into working-from-home more and more, the online events still offer something unique and rewarding, especially if they are done in a fun, engaging, thoughtful and useful way. Personally, I love hosting them, and hope they are around for a long time to come. And one important thing to note is that when we receive feedback, the response is often along the lines of “We really didn’t know what to expect,” (or even the less flattering “We had pretty low expectations”) “…but everyone had an absolute BALL!” Well, on behalf of the other hosts here at Great Race, I daresay so did we.’