Going Digital: Tips from the EWF team

Since 2014, EWF has run the Digital Writers’ Festival (DWF), an online literary festival dedicated to making conversations around writing more accessible, as well as exploring the unique ways that technology and storytelling influence each other. In 2019, we also introduced the EWF Digital Stream.

We figure we’re pretty well placed to share some information about moving to digital for artists and arts organisations alike in the current situation. We’ve compiled a resource that covers online events, interactive community management and digital projects.

From the EWF team, here are some tips on going digital.  We’ve also created a .pdf tips and tricks sheet for livestream hosts and speakers you can download by clicking here.

Why take your event online? 

The digital space is exciting, particularly because it allows programmers to span distance, be collaborative and creative, and break down barriers to access.

There are benefits to making your events digitally accessible even when the world is not in the midst of our current crisis – particularly to serve audiences who may already be ‘locked out’ of ‘business as usual’. Live-streaming with captions, or recording events and publishing as podcasts with transcripts are a few of the simple ways you can reach homebound, regional and rural audiences who might not be able to attend your events ‘IRL’.

What does it mean for an event to take place online? 

At the heart of it, it’s about bringing knowledge, community and entertainment right into someone’s lounge room. It’s about making projects and events that are accessible in any space by anyone with an internet connection. At DWF, this has meant online seminars, workshops, live streams, interactive projects and podcasts.

Does your event need to be presented live?

Have a think about how best to translate the content you want to reach your audience into the digital realm. The same way you might consider different event formats for different venues, think about what experience you want your audience to have – and whether captioned live video, audio with transcripts, or some other format will best communicate what you want to say.

Things to consider:

  • What is being added by hosting the event live?
  • Is the time of day convenient for your audience?
  • Can the audience interact or contribute? How?
  • How can you engage the audience with the livestream?
  • Will the event be archived?

Will your event be archived?

Digital events and projects are often archived and remain accessible after the ‘live’ date. This provides a time capsule of where digital formats and ideas are at, and can be a valuable asset later on for you and your audiences.

Alternatively, you could make the decision not to archive the event or make it accessible for a limited time only. This is often helpful for artists who don’t want a record of their work persisting for 5-10 years. It’s important to make the archiving really clear to artists when you brief them if that’s what you intend to do.

Who will your event be for, and where do they hang out?

“Go to them, where they are. Take them as you find them.”
– Lauren Honcope, from You Are Here’s ‘On Developing Audience’

Although you may be aiming to reach the same audience as in the real world, bear in mind that audiences can behave differently in virtual spaces. This is also an important consideration when choosing which platform/s you wish to broadcast through. For example – if your audience are not Facebook users, Facebook Live may not be the best choice of streaming platform to reach them.

Something brilliant about the digital realm is the way that it links up vastly different places and spaces, with all their contingent particularities. Consider whether this is an opportunity to link creatives and audiences alongside each other in ways that wouldn’t be possible without digital technologies.

How will you interact with your audience?

Events create temporary communities, and the same is true in the digital realm. However, it can be more difficult to get your audience to connect with one another and feel the sense of having a shared, communal experience. When you’re in the same room, you can hear other audience members’ laughter, or turn to the person next to you for a chat.

Consider how dialogue around your content is already occurring in the digital realm when designing a way for audience members to interact. Ask yourself: Does this community exist online already? How can you engage them, and harness existing modes / channels / discussions they participate in?

What tech do you need?

You don’t necessarily need to buy fancy equipment or software to take your event online; all you really need is an internet connection, a working camera and a microphone. Many laptops and desktop computers will have these inbuilt, and smartphone cameras also work well.If you are doing a lot of live-streaming, it might be worth investing in a HD webcam (there are plenty on the market that aren’t too expensive).

For the Digital Writers’ Festival, we use free or low cost options to make our events and projects happen, and you can too! Below are some of our recommendations for platforms to use.

What platforms could you use? 

YouTube is a great first step, namely because your audiences are probably already very familiar with it. It’s easy to use (for creators and audiences), is great for sharing on other social media platforms and it’s entirely free. Live streaming on YouTube has the added benefit of allowing users to join and interact live, and once your stream is over, it automatically becomes a video on your channel that can be accessed and shared at any time. Twitch is another popular option.

We really recommend StreamYard. It costs money, but is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. It allows you to:

  • Stream to multiple platforms at once (e.g. YouTube + Facebook live);
  • Have multiple guests;
  • Have more control over what goes into the stream;
  • Add banners and comments throughout the stream; and
  • Chat with speakers and respond to comments during the stream.

GoToWebinar is what we love to use for online ticketed seminars and workshops. It’s great for ticketed events, as audiences can purchase (or register for) a ticket, have a unique link sent to them and join in wherever they are. The host can stream their camera as well as their slides simultaneously, and audiences can watch and interact with the host/s and each other. The cosy design of GoToWebinar feels a lot more like a ‘closed’ digital room. Another popular option is Zoom.

If going digital for you will means creating podcasts, a platform that’s worth considering is Zencastr. Zencastr is a web-based program that allows high quality podcast production when you don’t have the luxury of having your guests all in the same studio. It’s pretty straightforward to use, allowing guests and hosts to record themselves quickly and painlessly.

Plus, they’ve just lifted the limits on their free Hobbyist subscriptions until 1 July, 2020, which means you can record as many hours as you need to for no cost.

Discord can be a fantastic way for your community to interact during events or programs. As an alternative to YouTube or Twitter comments, Discord functions like old school chat forums, and feels much more cohesive and intimate. It’s designed for gamers, and therefore perfectly suited to livestreams and group chats. Much like Slack, you can set up private (e.g. staff) channels and specific chats so everything is easy for participants to navigate.

Examples of digital projects and events:

Check out the past 3 years of Digital Writers’ Festival programming for some more examples – 2019, 2018 and 2017.

We hope this resource helps you to find creative ways you can take your event online and bring communities together. Take care of each other out there, and see you online!