Hosting a Successful Public Event

Public lectures, discussions, performances, exhibitions, and other events serve the University’s mission by advancing and disseminating knowledge, promoting artistic expression, and building community. The guidance on this site is designed to help event organizers as they plan for and host public events at the University of Virginia. 

    Planning Your Event: A To-Do List of Guidelines, Requirements, and Best Practices

    Getting started
    • Consider goals, aspirations, learning outcomes (if appropriate), and the desired audience for your event. These considerations will help frame your planning efforts. 
    • Develop a budget based on anticipated costs.
    Choosing a format
    • Decide whether the event will be in-person only, entirely online, or hybrid.
    • Identify whether it will be a speaker, panel, conference/symposium, or another format. 
    • Consider public or private (e.g., invited guests only).
    • Decide whether to require tickets or registration. Advance registration is recommended for public events in order to ensure sufficient venue capacity. If you choose to use a commercial registration platform, work closely with the vendor regarding online registration security. (The University cannot control or regulate third party registration platforms.)
    • For students planning a protest, demonstration, or vigil on outdoor University property, please see specific guidelines from the Division of Student Affairs.
    Selecting a date and time

    Select a date and time that will facilitate attendance at your event and avoid conflicts with other activities. 

    • Consult the University’s academic calendar and consider your school’s calendar. 
    • Consult the University’s event calendar.
    • Be sensitive to other potential conflicts such as religious holidays, University athletic events, and large local events such as concerts or festivals. 
    • Review activities at your desired venue location and adjacent spaces to determine potential impacts to your event. 
    Finding space
    • Consider what kind of space will work best for your event format (e.g., speaker, panel, performance, exhibit, etc.).
    • Anticipate attendance.
    • Check space availability and adjacent events/activities (to avoid scheduling conflicts and/or event disruptions from noise). 
    • Plan for accessibility (see Accessibility below).
    • Consider safety and security needs or requirements (see Requesting a University Safety Assessment below).
    • Resources to assist with space considerations:
    Publicizing your event
    • Choose communications channels to reach each audience segment. For University department or school events, consider posting to the University event calendar. See Useful Resources (below) for links.
    • Follow all University posting and chalking policies, as well as any relevant policies your school or event facility may have. For example, University policy specifies where posters may be placed and also requires that the creator of a poster (e.g., a department or
    • Ensure that any use of University logos or symbols conforms with the University brand policies and guidelines. When in doubt, consult the brand and licensing team. For student groups, brand/logo limitations are outlined in your CIO/FOA agreement and information is available on the UVA Brand website.
    • If you are considering publicizing the event through email, social media, or other digital means, consult the Mass Digital Communications policy.
    Requesting a University safety assessment
    • A University safety assessment is strongly recommended if any of the following apply:
      • More than 100 people are expected in attendance
      • The number of expected attendees relative to the space may result in a densely-packed crowd.
      • The event will end after midnight. 
      • Money will be exchanged at the event site.
      • Alcohol will be present at the event. 
      • Minors will be included in the event.
      • A government official, candidate for office, foreign dignitary, or public figure is speaking or visiting.
      • A speaker will have, or is required to have, a security detail.
      • The event is a demonstration, protest, march, vigil, or rally. Note: exercise good planning in order to promote a safe, constructive event and to avoid disruption. Resources are available to guide you in this planning.
      • Event organizations believe there is a safety concern associated with the event.
    • Planners are strongly encouraged to request a safety assessment as part of the event planning process. An event may be cancelled or suspended should a safety issue arise. Safety assessments should be requested at least two weeks prior to the event. To request a safety assessment, student organizations should contact Student Affairs and the University Police. Faculty or staff departments may request a safety assessment by contacting the UVA Department of Safety and Security and the UVA Police Department
    • Students who are planning an event can find additional guidance regarding safety and security on the Student Affairs Event Management site.
    Other policy considerations

    Fostering Civil Dialogue and Respecting Free Speech Rights

    Free speech, protest, and the First Amendment
    • The University of Virginia seeks to respect and sustain ideals of free inquiry and expression. As a university, it is committed to rich and open exchange. As a public university, it also has specific legal obligations to uphold First Amendment law. These values and commitments are described in the University’s Statement on Free Expression and Free Inquiry
    • Speaking events can sometimes provoke controversy, dissent, or protest. Protest and dissent can be important forms of First Amendment activity, as are scheduled events and audience questions. The University seeks to ensure that these expressive activities do not interfere with one another and to safeguard the rights of all parties. It also has a duty to maintain normal operations for students, faculty, staff, and guests.
    • Generally speaking, the First Amendment affords wide latitude for speech, including speech that many would see as offensive or hateful. Exceptions to freedom of speech are defined by specific legal criteria. This means that the limits of freedom of speech are not in the eye of the beholder. Event organizers should keep in mind that various forms of engagement—such as audience questions or counterspeech—may be contrary to the viewpoints of a speaker or program, but still protected.
    Free speech and University policy
    • Under University policy, no person may disrupt a permitted speaker or hinder the ability of other attendees to hear or see a speaker.
    • University policy also provides that expressive activities may not impede regular University operations or generate physical safety or security issues for persons or property. University officials may implement content-neutral procedures, such as designating a protest area, to facilitate compatibility with normal operations and safety and security. Events and counterspeech must comply with any content-neutral requirements.
    Fostering civil dialogue

    Although the possibility of critical exchange requires advance planning, it is also a major reason that we have freedom of speech in the first place. Prior to your event, give some thought to how to remain open to disagreement and how best to channel it into respectful and substantive interchange. Many organizations offer guidance on leading or participating in difficult discussions, including FIRE (and Let's Talk: Three Steps to Civil Discourse page), the U.S. Courts, the National Council for the Social Studies, and others. The University’s free speech website collects University resources and policies on free expression.   

    Practical and Technical Issues


    To enable the broadest participation, choose a venue that is accessible for those with mobility issues (for in-person events). For large in-person or hybrid events, have one or two people carry portable microphones to participants during the Q&A. More information about accessibility considerations, including information about requesting ASL interpreters, is available on the Provost’s office Hosting and Planning Events with Accessibility in Mind page.

    Online and hybrid events
    • Zoom Webinars are usually the best choice for public online or hybrid events, as they enable greater controls than Zoom Meetings, including view-only attendance — ensuring that attendees cannot access microphones, video, or screen sharing — and optional, customizable preregistration. For details, see Zoom’s Meeting and Webinar Comparison page.
    • It is best to disable the chat function, since chats sent to the entire audience will be distracting and the chat function could be misused. If using the Q&A function, visibility should be limited to hosts and panelists. Consider assigning someone to monitor the Q&A and pass along questions to the host/moderator at the appropriate time in the program.
    • Webinars can be live-streamed on YouTube or Facebook Live. But there is reason to be cautious about live-streaming. Live-streaming usually allows attendees to publicly chat during the streaming, raising the concerns described above. Moreover, those viewing on YouTube can only comment through YouTube and may not be aware that their questions and comments are not visible to the event organizers. It’s important to note that anything streaming to an outside service is presumed to be public data. 
    • Keep in mind that webinars are, in effect, on the public stage, as there is always the possibility that an attendee will privately record an event and share some or all of it through social media. 
    • ITS provides helpful guidance on Zoom security best practices.
    • For hybrid events, in-person attendees should be notified that the event is being streamed.
    • For more information, see A Quick Guide to Hosting Webinars
    Food and beverage

    When planning food and beverages for an event, check with the location for preferred or required catering services (varies by location). Students must also refer to STAF-001: Food Service Provided by Student Organizations

    Useful Resources and Forms

    Expand for useful resources and forms