Being tasked with hosting an engaging virtual event for your community might sound awesome because you can wear your pajama pants and slippers, and pet your dog under the desk while you gab to your community about how much you love and appreciate them. Sounds like butterflies and rainbows as far as WFH goes!
However, we have found that hosting an engaging virtual event is not a walk in the park, and it is certainly not an intuitive skill. It is a skill that takes time and practice to master. This blog post will give you a few tips and tricks that we’ve learned over the past few months of trial and error to use in your next event.
Gathering Your Community
Virtual events have their pros and cons: You can reach a wider, even global audience! You could get more registrations for your virtual events because there are fewer barriers to entry! But you might struggle with turnout rate because of the over-saturation of virtual events, and what is now commonly referred to as “Zoom Fatigue.” You might also struggle with engagement during your virtual event because people are simultaneously attending your event, responding to emails, writing a company memo, and watching the last episode of Tiger King.
But these challenges don’t mean you should settle for low engagement. We’ve compiled some tools that will help you to get butts into virtual seats, and keep your attendees present and engaged—Tiger King, who?
Focus on your regular attendees
Spend more time ensuring that your core group shows up. Reach out to your regular attendees, and keep up the contact right up until the event. Some community members need an extra push to show up to your virtual events. If you really want to see everyone’s smiling faces at your event, make sure they know that you want them there. When your events make people feel warm and fuzzy, they will continue to show up for more. For more tips about how to get people to actually show up to your virtual events, check this blog post!
Attendees will get more out of the event when they feel connected to each other. If you have high attendance numbers but most of them are nameless, faceless, and mute, even your superstar attendees will feel small and disconnected. The fact of the matter is that lurkers are inevitable, but creating events with high engagement will strengthen the odds that people will leave feeling more connected to each other. Your attendance will naturally grow if you focus on quality before quantity.
Lay out some ground rules
If you set the precedent that the attendees will be interacting with each other in breakout rooms or that you’re starting off with an awkward yet amusing icebreaker game, your attendees will show up ready to speak and be on camera. If you don’t, many of your attendees will likely join the call on mute with their camera off as they scroll through TikTok. Make sure your attendees know what’s expected of them for a comfortable, engaging experience.
Start on a high!
One of the keys to an engaging virtual event is to give your attendees the space and opportunity to connect. Opening your event by letting all participants feel seen, heard, and appreciated will do wonders for how they experience the event. When we see each other’s faces in separate little boxes, the disconnect can feel real. Breaking the ice by asking where everybody’s calling in from or asking what their favorite breakfast cereal is (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, obviously) guarantees that a few attendees find a connection.
Play your favorite song while you wait for everyone to enter your session, make use of interactive features on whatever virtual event platform you’re using. Even just telling a story about what you did that morning, will set the tone for your attendees and they will feel more comfortable speaking if they’re called upon!
Ask for feedback
What do attendees want to see more of? How can you improve? What ideas do they have? Send everyone a post-event survey and see what they have to say. If you have a team that puts on the event together, write up a post-event report and be candid with what worked and what didn’t. Growing your events takes some serious self-reflection. Believing that we absolutely nail it every time is much easier than admitting we could have done better. Write down all your post-event thoughts and create a plan of action. And hold yourself accountable to making those changes!
Choose your technology
Choosing the right technology and mastering it is vital to hosting a successful and engaging virtual event. Spend a few hours getting to know the virtual event tools that are out there. It’s true that there is an overwhelming number of virtual event tools out on the world wide web, and you want to find the right one for your community. Lucky for you there is a way to whack through all the weeds of the internet and find what tools are right for you. A few ideas on how to find your tried and true virtual events tools:
- Ask for advice in the community-run CMX Slack Workspace, or join the CMX Hub Facebook group. These groups are packed with other community builders, and they’re always sharing advice and insights!
- Read through the Community Manager’s Guide to Virtual Event Platforms, by CMX. We’ve also rounded up the top platforms members of the CMX community are using today.
- Check out Bevy Virtual, the platform that CMX uses for its virtual events.
Then, master your technology
Learning your event tools is important to ensure that your event goes smoothly.
There are a few tools and features that can make your virtual event interactive that exist on almost every platform. Learning how to run breakout sessions, conduct polls, or use the waiting room before your event is vital. The last thing you need is an overflowing chat box with answers to your questions when you could easily have used your poll function to simplify the process. Trying to read chats and lead a conversation at the same time is borderline impossible, so find ways to communicate more effectively with your participants.
Group discussions and webinars are one thing, but virtual conferences are a totally different game. Check out How CMX Planned Our First All-Virtual Conference, our retrospective from CMX Summit 2020.