Designing virtual events

Most events moved to virtual formats due to COVID-19 – and some will stay virtual in the future – which presents new challenges and creative opportunities. Here are some tips for designing a digital event that is both accessible and inclusive.

Getting started

  • Strive to make sure your attendee list and speaker lineup includes representation across sexual orientation, gender identity, race and ethnicity, disability, perspectives, geographies, and ages.
  • Consider inviting attendees from certified diverse businesses, such as Disability Owned Business Enterprises (DOBEs) which are certified by Disability:IN. You could also reach out to communities and organizations representing industry professionals, or think of ways to help remove barriers to attendance such as scholarships or stipends for working parents who may need help with child care in order to attend.
  • Refer to an interfaith calendar to avoid scheduling events on any major cultural and/or religious holidays. Also be mindful of prayer times, religious requirements, and related family commitments that might create scheduling conflicts for speakers or attendees.
  • Ensure your website works for all users by applying web accessibility principles throughout the project lifecycle, and work with your design and development teams to comply with WCAG standards for accessibility.
  • Consider a digital platform with integrated accessibility features and capabilities (such as auto-captioning and alt text).
  • Consider implementing a Code of Conduct for your virtual event and/or requiring that all attendees acknowledge an anti-harassment policy before attending.
  • If arranging any physical deliveries to supplement or enhance your virtual event, be sure to consider dietary restrictions (including non-alcoholic options), safe handling procedures, weight and size of the delivery, and packaging sustainability.
  • Steer away from any site or physical asset components that feature sudden noises to accommodate neurodivergent individuals.
  • Consider sourcing suppliers or creative assets from companies, small businesses, agencies, and/or vendors with underrepresented owners and talent pools.

Building community

Consider creating mailing lists or hosting smaller meetups before, during, or after your event to build belonging and trust among attendees groups such as racial identity and allies, gender identity and allies, first-time attendees, or small business owners. Use your invite to build community groups and ensure that participation is always optional and open to all.

Captioning

Provide captions and/or sign language interpretation during the event to increase your event’s accessibility. If using Google Meet, live captions can be turned on in your meeting. Otherwise, you can source vendors who will provide Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) or American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.

CONSIDER

If posting a video of your event on YouTube, use speech recognition technology to automatically create captions.

Developing your content

Ensure your speaker lineup and content plan accommodates accessibility standards and includes people from underrepresented backgrounds.

Aim for a diverse speaker lineup. Be sure to connect with speakers ahead of time to understand what topics are off limits and be cautious not to tokenize them by using their identity as their defining characteristic (unless that is the focus of the content).

Be mindful of the length of presentations to accommodate neurodivergent individuals and those with other disabilities.

Design

  • Write presentations and scripts in simple language: Avoid jargon, acronyms, and idioms that can cause confusion with sign language interpretation or captioning. If you must reference an acronym, make sure you define it upfront.
  • Ensure presentations meet accessibility standards for text size and color contrast. Read our disability inclusive marketing insights or NDRC accessibility standards for more detail.
  • Show each person’s pronouns when creating speaker titles and lower thirds graphics, if speakers are comfortable with this (e.g., “First & Last Name, Director, she/her”).
  • Steer away from using colors that may be stereotypical for groups of people, such as pink for women.

Media

  • Ensure that photography, illustrations, videos, and content feature people from underrepresented backgrounds unrelated to their corresponding stereotypes.
  • Add descriptive alt text to allow images in your presentation to be read by screen readers (e.g., “photo of two people walking towards each other on a city street”). In alt text, consider mentioning race or gender only when relevant to the image, if it’s known that the people in the photo have confirmed their identities, and if the description is consistent with other descriptions.
  • Make all images, invitations, surveys, and videos accessible, including adding captions and audio descriptions.
  • Try not to use fast, flashing graphics for those who may be sensitive to motion.
  • Steer away from using colors that may be stereotypical for groups of people.
  • Make an effort to consider artists from underrepresented groups.
  • Ensure music choices are endorsed by the speakers and do not contain offensive terminology or reinforce stereotypes (e.g., introducing a Black speaker doesn’t mean you should automatically use hip hop music). Read our suggestions for inclusive music choices for more detail.

Speaker preparation

Speakers play a key role in creating an inclusive environment.

Before your presentation:

  • Wear solid colors for contrast, avoid windows or lighting behind your speaker, and keep physical backgrounds as minimal as possible to help those with low vision. Use caution with virtual backgrounds, as they tend not to be inclusive for all hair types.
  • Speakers should always have their video turned on for those who are hard of hearing and may be reading lips. Plan for bright, even lighting on your face and upper body that lets people see you clearly when speaking. Using headphones with a mic may improve sound quality.
  • If possible, share materials digitally in advance to accommodate individuals with disabilities and those who use text-to-speech accessibility features.

During your presentation:

  • Ask all presenters to verbally introduce themselves with their name, pronouns, and description of their appearance (if they’re comfortable doing so) before speaking, particularly if there are multiple speakers.
  • Pause between topics and outline expectations for muting mics and how to ask questions to accommodate neurodivergent people and people with different levels of attention.
  • Check if your video conferencing software has a “raise hand” feature to moderate questions and support engagement among attendees.
  • Pause after asking a question to help those who may not find the mute button quickly or may need a minute to gather their thoughts.
  • Describe slide imagery and text so attendees with visual disabilities can follow along.
  • Give descriptive instructions for participant interaction, and avoid ambiguous prompts like “click here.”
  • Summarize responses if you ask the audience to respond to a question (e.g., “Nearly everyone raised their hands just now.”).
  • Provide different ways for people to participate besides voice (e.g., encourage attendees to submit questions in a chat box). Make sure participation tools, like polling, are accessible.

After your event:

  • Consider making a recording of the event available to attendees, particularly for those who may need more time to process your content.
  • Include a question on your follow-up survey to ask for feedback on how the event could have been more inclusive.