Events are a mainstay for member-driven organizations and have been seriously disrupted in recent months. Once relied upon as important revenue streams, event organizers have had to rethink their approach. Members and would-be attendee’s still have a need for insights and networking opportunities, but the barriers to in-person events create unique challenges for planners.
To get around these problems, event planners have dove head-first into unknown territory, holding virtual events to replace in-person equivalents.
Along the way, mistakes have been made, lessons learned, and times had (both good and bad!). Membership managers and event planners have had to learn the hard way what to do – and not to do – to hold successful virtual events.
To spare you the struggle of learning by trial-and-error, we thought it would be a good idea to include some practices that can boost the impact of your virtual events, and others you ought to avoid!
Let’s get started:
Pick software that:
Holding virtual events requires video conferencing software.
Holding events that succeed on a consistent basis requires the right video conferencing software. Beyond letting you hold an online event, your software should be one that:
Enables you to easily integrate meeting invites into event emails, web pages, social posts, etc.
Most video conferencing systems offer meeting links that you can copy and paste into emails, pages, and social posts. These links are tremendously helpful, but you’ll want to make sure that they offer controls on attendance. Public links for private meetings are a recipe for big confusion, so your links should only allow those who have RSVP’d to attend. All those that haven’t should be diverted to registration pages.
Allows you to measure, analyze, and report on important engagement metrics.
Once attending, you’ll also want to know who showed up early, who showed up late, who left early, who stuck around – and more. Insights into participant behaviour can help you evaluate the impact of your decisions on virtual events. Perhaps one section drew big crowds, where another seemed to lead to a big drop-off in attendance. Maybe one insight generated a lot of questions and discussion, whereas others produced crickets from the audience. Understanding what your audience responds to can help you improve the impact of future events.
Offers participants important features and easy user experience.
Beyond your video conferencing software, you might also want to bring in other tools that offer members an interactive experience. Live questions, polls, word-clouds, quizzes, and video content can add important zest to a participant’s experience – transforming it from an experience of passive consumption to one of active participation.
Follow these best practices:
It’s important to lay a strong foundation for your event in order to prevent problems from emerging that can get in the way of your attendants experience.
After all, no two events are the same, and your participants aren’t likely to know how to engage with yours unless you tell them how to do so successfully.
That’s why it’s so helpful to:
Send important information out in advance
Last year, your pre-event email might contain information for your guests on where to park, where to eat, where to stay, etc.
This year there’s no need to address parking, food, and accomodation – but that’s not to say your attendants don’t face uncertainty and confusion. On their path to successfully engaging with your virtual event, your guests need to know when to attend (mind those timezones!), how to attend, and what to do if they have trouble.
Providing a pre-event email with all the information required to attend your event with minimum stress and confusion is a great way to eliminate difficulties that might prevent registrants from attending.
Recap your itinerary and rules for event etiquette
The rules for virtual event etiquette are very much uncertain. No two are held the same way, so it’s not always apparent to attendants how to engage in a way that is not disruptive. Some events value a chaotic-but-free exchange of thoughts and ideas among participants. Others take a more structured approach to limit interference.
If you don’t tell your guests how to engage, chances are – due to a fear of being disruptive – they won’t. Questions remain unasked
Avoid these common errors:
Especially for membership managers or event planners new to the virtual realm – this list of avoidable errors can help you eliminate problems before they happen.
When setting up your virtual conference, it’s important to manage participant microphones.
All participants should have their mic’s in the default ‘off’ position when joining a conference. This allows you to avoid overwhelming yourself and your audience at the start of a meeting with a chaotic mess of competing voices.
Additionally, you should make it known as a matter of conference etiquette that mics should be activated only when a user is trying to speak and de-activated when they are done. Microphones left in the on position can quickly disrupt your conference!
Events that have a lot of engagement generally have a lot of questions.
Lots of questions can lead to scope creep, where the subject matter gets taken off-track to the point of being useful to only a few participants.
It’s important that these questions are addressed, but having plans in place regarding how you address questions helps you control scope creep and keep events on track.
If a question is asked that you believe presents a risk of scope-creep, something as simple as informing the audience that the question will be answered later and sent to all participants can keep an event on track.
Sometimes, all it takes is providing a general answer with the proviso that more details are available to those who want to stick around after the official conclusion of the conference.
Regardless of how you handle it, have a plan in place to control scope-creep to keep your events focused!