A Hack to Dramatically Improve Your Virtual Events

Many events are canceled and that’s a problem.

Whether you are a university that can’t have alumni come to campus, a nonprofit scrambling to replace your gala, or an association coming up with an alternative to an annual conference, a large part of organizational revenue is at stake.

So you turn to a virtual event.

One small problem: You’ve never done one of those before.

Or, maybe you just cancel and lose the revenue because you don’t want to disappoint the attendees and feel that this particular event won’t work online. There’s a solution to that — call it something else. Don’t lose that revenue!

An Hours Long Zoom Webinar is Not a Virtual Event

We often just turn to what we know. The virtual event that every organization has done in the past is a webinar. It’s online. It’s got people presenting and others listening in. And so it has some resemblance to the event we need to do.

But it’s not the same.

Trying to cram in your agenda into a Zoom meeting and thinking it will do the same job as you did in person is a mistake. Engagement in person happens naturally. Engagement online needs deliberate planning.

There are many kinds of online engagement, but a good rule of thumb is asking yourself if this is an event you’d like to attend. If not, then why would I?

One thing to keep in mind is that the role of an event is to get people outside their normal routine. Right? Why do we travel to conferences? How often do we dress up to go out? Events are not just regular parts of your day. They are special. Your virtual event needs to be special as well.

And importantly, you should know that we are all spending large amounts of time on Zoom these days. We’re on video calls all day and Zoom fatigue is real. So asking your constituents to just do another one of those is not a recipe for people flocking to sign up.

All Virtual Events Are Not the Same

There is no one-size-fits-all virtual event. A major conference with thousands of attendees, a vendor showcase, an awards banquet and a fundraising gala are not the same. You can’t just cram them each into the same format.

To do your virtual event right, you need to start by breaking down the agenda of the in-person version.

Ask yourself some key questions about each type of program on the agenda:

  • What result are we looking for?
  • What feeling do we hope an attendee will come away with?
  • What do we want the attendee to learn?
  • How are people interacting during this program?
    • Is it just a presenter and quiet attendees?
    • Is it interactive? How so?
  • And then finally, will this work online? And if so, how?

If something doesn’t work online, maybe it will work as on-demand content for those that want to take a deep dive later. You can even package on-demand content as a bonus or up-sell.

Don’t Forget The Hallway Track

One reason people come to events is to see and speak to other people. Whether it’s a conference, fundraising gala or annual meeting, the hallway track is critical.

How, in your virtual world, will you enable people to see and connect with each other? This is not always easy and mostly not done. But it is absolutely necessary if you want to have your attendees come away feeling that they got something more than information out of your event.

This can be done as simply as setting aside special networking time and putting small groups of people in Zoom rooms for 5 minutes and then switching to let people network. This is the tactic the team from Engage for Good did with their conference.

Another option is to let your attendees share content with each other, but more on that in a bit.

Information, as you may have noticed, is everywhere! And it’s mostly free. So you need to provide community engagement along with your information to be relevant to your attendees.

The Great Virtual Event Hack of 2020

The biggest mistake virtual event organizers are making today is trying to have their whole event live.

The Great Virtual Event Hack of 2020 is pre-recording. Sounds simple right?

But so many people assume that if you are in an “event” then everything has to be going on right at that moment.

Did you see Saturday Night Live recently?

They have “Live” in their name and their entire “from home” shows have been pre-recorded!

Why? Because when the stakes are high, the tough pre-record.

Some of the most successful virtual fundraising conferences going on today are on Fundraising Everywhere. How do they do it? They pre-record the sessions and then do live Q&A. Why? Because it limits the technical challenges, gives the presenters the opportunity to fix mistakes and allows for editing to do things like add subtitles and graphics that make the whole thing more engaging.

Simulated Live

Another term for this pre-recorded content is simulated live content. Why? Because to your attendees, it’s the same as live. Think about it. How would an attendee know that something wasn’t happening in the moment? And what difference does it make anyway?

Awards recognition, and thank you videos can work best as pre-recorded video. For example, ASi used pre-recorded thank you videos as part of their program for their innovationsLIVE virtual user conference, like this one:

At Gather Voices, we are asking people to our online events to pre-record questions. And then we present those videos in the middle of our live streaming conversations. What this does is make the attendee the star, not just a passive watcher. We can passively watch Netflix, we don’t need to passively watch your event.

The Big Advantages of Pre-Recorded Content

Pre-recorded content has major advantages:

  • You can get content from a wider range of people, which makes the presentation more interesting to the viewer.
  • You can collect attendee videos, making attendees co-creators, not just passive observers. And co-creators are super engaged.
  • You can control the timing better. No one goes over time, with less room for technical glitches.
  • Pre-recorded content can have better production value — including some motion graphics, titling, captions
  • You can use the content post-event to help continue online engagement throughout the year.

As you work on your next virtual event, think about how you will pre-recorded key content, have more people participate in content creation and make your event more engaging.