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How to take part in an online event

Some simple tips if you’ve been invited to take part in or watch online events, workshops and panels.
Audience: Adults, Writers

Last updated: 16 June 2020

Lots of events that used to be held in person are now taking place online. Book and literature events may be held in person again in the future, but there are lots of things that can also be enjoyed remotely with a little help.

This is a handy guide for people who have been invited to an online event for the first time or who aren’t used to taking part in online events from home.

Setting up

In most cases, an event organiser will publically share a link to access an event, or they will send you a private link over email. Some events might take place over social media accounts like Facebook or Twitter. These normally don’t need you to have an account and you should be able to watch them using the link provided, but it's worth checking in advance just in case.

Other popular ways to host events include YouTube, Zoom and other dedicated video platforms. Most of these give you the option of either downloading an app or watching through your internet browser. The event organiser should tell you if you need to do anything other than follow a hyperlink.

Cameras and microphones

Sometimes an event might ask you to appear on camera, such as a writing workshop on Zoom. There is usually no requirement to appear on camera, so just let the host know if you're not comfortable with this. Otherwise, you'll want to make sure your computer, phone or tablet has a working microphone and camera. Some people prefer to use headphones too, for extra privacy in the home.

You can mute your microphone on platforms like Skype or Zoom. This is a good way to protect your privacy and avoid contributing to background noises, plus you can unmute at the touch of a button if you need to speak.

You might want to have a look at the name you’ve registered under too (especially if it’s a nickname or joke) as this will be displayed to other members of the audience.

Protecting yourself online

There are some safeguarding issues to consider when you take part in any online event. Are you happy for your face to be shared with the other people taking part in the event? If not, let the organiser know and keep your camera off. Organisers should always ask permission before sharing photos from online events (just as with in-person events) but you should make it clear to the organiser if you want to make sure your image isn’t shared.

If you do decide to use your camera, it's important to check what will be shown on screen. If you have children in the house, are you happy for them to wander into the shot? Could the camera pick up something which might make it possible for someone to work out where you live, like the view from your window? Are you comfortable sharing images of the inside of your home? Moving your set up so that you have a plain wall behind you is a good option if you have any concerns.

Get in touch with the event organiser if you have any accessibility needs, as they should be able to give you more information about what you can expect and how they can adapt the event to suit you.

For signal problems

If your video stream is glitchy or slow to load a lot, try turning off your video to boost the strength of your signal. If that's not an option you could try moving closer to your router or plugging in an ethernet cable.