Improve the online event experience

As NSW event presenters prepare for another virtual National Science Week, it’s a good time to reflect on the successes of last year’s events, where most organisations had to adapt very quickly in difficult circumstances. Based on evaluation findings of audience experiences from online science events in National Science Week 2020, University of Sydney researcher Olivia McRae shares insights on how to take advantage of the benefits of online engagement. 

Although science week looked a little different last year, our findings suggest that audiences received online events very positively. Our survey data reflected very high audience enjoyment, and this was one of the most prominent themes in our interviews as well.

One of the key advantages that online events have over in-person events is that online platforms tend to prioritise audience experience. This means that audiences have more autonomy to choose how they engage and when they engage with online events. Nearly 80% of surveyed audiences also expressed a preference for online events, citing the convenience, flexibility, and not having to travel as positives. These benefits also featured heavily in our interview data.

So looking forward, what are some things we can do to leverage the benefits of online science events?

We’re suggesting three key areas where relatively small changes could have a big impact: using social media to publicise, recording events, and building interaction between audiences and presenters into the event format.

Publicise your event

Firstly, focus on publicising events through social media and other existing networks available to you, such as mailing lists. Most audiences found National Science Week events through social media, so this is a great way to reach audiences. Cross-promotion with other science week events can also help you tap into a different audience, and help out your fellow presenters.

Record your event for later viewing

If your event lends itself well to being recorded, this is a great way to reach people who may not have been able to attend your event at the time. One of the wonderful things about online events is, as one presenter put it, “just the complete unshackling of geographical location.”

However, catering to audiences in different time zones means recognising that an event at a convenient time for NSW residents may not be convenient for someone who registered from Perth. Making recordings accessible can help broaden your reach beyond audiences who can attend your event at the time.  

Create opportunities to interact with your audience

Most audiences also really appreciated having interactions with presenters built into the event. These don’t have to be complex – it was Q&As and polls that got the most love from audiences in our research.

Watch our session on evaluating your event

A/Prof Alice Motion and PhD candidates Olivia McRae and Ellie Downing from the University of Sydney’s SCOPE Team recently delivered a workshop on event evaluation with Inspiring the ACT and Australian Science Communicators.

Learn more about the 2020 National Science Week evaluation

If you are interested in finding out more about the SCOPE team’s work, resources and findings are posted on its GitHub page, including slides for our recent presentation at the IA National Stakeholder meeting.

Best of luck to all the event presenters and organisers for National Science Week this year!

Participate in the 2021 National Science Week evaluation

In 2021, Inspiring Australia NSW will again evaluate its state-based campaign.

Help us evaluate our efforts by inviting your audience members to complete a brief audience survey provided as a Google form. We’d also like to hear from NSW event organisers about their experiences of being part of National Science Week this year.

Access links to our two online surveys here

Guest post by University of Sydney PhD student Olivia McRae who was part of the team of academic researchers at the University of Sydney who evaluated last year’s National Science Week campaign along with PhD student Ellie Downing and A/Prof Alice Motion.