YC’s Director of Events on Hosting a Virtual Event

by Lindsay Selvitelle4/17/2020

It’s likely that the responsibility of hosting virtual events no longer falls solely on the webinar expert in your organization. It’s now a necessity for all teams to host their own virtual events to stay connected with customers, employees and followers. The uptick in virtual events at YC — and amongst YC companies — has reminded us that the details matter. For an audience to find an event truly valuable, you have to remove distractions and over prepare for the hiccups. Here is a list of dos and don’ts when it comes to hosting a virtual event:


Do create an opening housekeeping slide.

Take two minutes at the beginning of your event to cover a few housekeeping notes, i.e., content unrelated to the topic being covered but important to the audience. Make sure the audience knows how to reach out if they are having technical difficulties. Tell them how best to ask questions to the speaker and when those questions will be answered. Let them know if the presentations will be recorded and how they can get the recording. And review any tools you may be using throughout the event.

Do run an informal dry-run with your speakers.

Schedule a 30-minute dry run with all speakers. Walk through the agenda and flow of the event, have each speaker test their audio and video, and cover who will be controlling the slide progression. Make sure presenters know what to do in case of technical issues, ie., skip to the next presenter and give them a colleague’s number to call to troubleshoot so they can be slotted back in later or dial in to the event by phone to avoid connection issues.

When possible, host all slide presentations from one place, so screen sharing and bumpy transitions are kept to a minimum.

Do ask speakers to show you the background they intend to use for the event.

It’s great to see a speaker in their own space with their unique collectables in the background — you get a bit more of a personal connection in a disconnected time. However, you don’t want the audience focused on trying to figure out what the title of the book is behind their head or what the cluster of toys are in the corner. Try positioning speakers in front of a blank wall or one with interesting art, rather than a view into a messy room or a bright window.

Do work with your speakers on the positioning of their camera.

Webcams are hard to come by these days, so it’s expected that most speakers will be using the built-in camera on their computer, but that doesn’t mean your audience has to settle for an awkward view up your speaker’s nostrils. Don’t be afraid to ask your speaker to stack a couple of books under their laptop so the camera is at eye-level. This is also very important for helping the audience connect with the speaker — we’ve all been distracted by seeing a speaker’s eyes focus on some middle-distance point we can’t see.

Do ask a colleague to answer technical questions during the event.

As we experienced ourselves at YC, getting a technical person from your video platform to run interference during your virtual event is unlikely during this high-demand time. Do yourself a favor and save the hourly fee and have a colleague pitch in. They don’t have to be an IT expert. They just have to know some basics that your video platform contact can share with you, ie., what to tell viewers to do if they can’t hear the audio or see the video (often the old faithful restart is the solution). The most important thing is that your audience feels heard and taken care of during your event.

^If you only take away one tidbit from this post, this is the one!


Don’t forego an emcee.

If your event were in-person, you would most certainly have an emcee to guide your audience through the event. Don’t cancel that just because you’ve gone virtual. Having an emcee to introduce speakers, make small talk when there are technical issues, and keep the energy up between presentations are crucial to give the event a more fluid and polished feel.

Don’t forget to remind your speakers to keep their energy up!

The in-person energy a dynamic speaker creates is impossible to replicate virtually, but you can certainly get close. Remind speakers to add as much personality into their presentation as possible. Ask them to include personal anecdotes, especially ones with humor or struggles to which the audience can relate.

Don’t present 100 slides with zero audience interaction.

Your audience will likely begin multi-tasking if your virtual event only includes a few speakers and endless slides. Ask your speakers to incorporate live polls or questions into their presentations to help keep the audience engaged. There are a number of tools out there to help you facilitate an interactive virtual event.

Tie the content of the live polls into the topic at hand. It’s not just a great way to keep the audience’s attention, but also a way to get additional data from or about your audience.

Don’t underestimate the power of your closing slide.

It doesn’t need to take too much thought or time, but keep in mind that you want to give people audio AND visual information to help it stick. Complete your presentation with a slide that includes your speakers’ names and their contact information, along with POC for follow-up questions. You could also include a couple of recap slides to drive your message home.


  • Lindsay Selvitelle

    Lindsay Selvitelle is the Director of Events at YC — primarily focusing on running Demo Day, the iconic three-day event where YC startups present to select investors.