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10 Tips for Hosting a Virtual Event

At this point, we all know it: virtual events are here to stay. While a return to what was once normal is still everyone’s hope, the industry has adjusted to our new reality and is starting to thrive. As we execute against more virtual events each week for our nonprofit and corporate clients, some truths are emerging about the way to make these successful. We wanted to share with our community and build this ‘playbook’ so we are all driving the most fun events possible.

Here are 10 tips to keep in the back of your head the next time you are knee deep in the planning and execution of your event. 

  1. Less is always more when it comes to virtual. We beg you not to try to recreate an in-person gala in the ether. It won’t work. 
  2. That said, we need to take advantage of what virtual can do, namely, create a new level of interactivity not previously possible. We see fundraising goals being met and exceeded because of the increased scale of having hundreds of guests beyond normal capacity. We see new ways for participants to make their voice heard through surveys (pre and post), live chat, and more efficient networking. 
  3. Small point here but bites are better than a meal. Treat this as a cocktail party, not a gala. Each segment should be “bite-sized” (i.e., no more than 5 minutes).
  4. Remember that your guests have more things competing for their time. Guests may have pets, children, a spouse, all competing for their attention with your benefit. Let’s be highly aware of what it takes to get someone to sit down at their computer at 6pm on Thursday night and be present. (hint: it ain’t easy). 
  5. Virtual events can make your brand really stand out. You can brand practically everything about your event. Brand your emails, your newsletters, the frame around the broadcast screen, the t-shirts, the drinks, the giveaways. If it is all well coordinated, it can be a home-run opportunity to control the message. 
  6. No formal invitation is necessary. Digital is king. For special guests, follow up with phone calls and explain what you are doing and why.
  7. A celebrity can be a big draw. Make sure the celeb matches your brand. Public Prep (a creator and manager of single-gender charter schools) asked Serena Williams (a classroom is named for her) to record a PSA as a piece of the invitation (Billie Jean King was being honored). The video introducing Ms. King was longer than a few minutes, but contained clips of former champions in a variety of sports, as well as 2 US and 1 South African Presidents). Bernadette Peters thanked the honorees at PowerMyLearning in a short video. These names can draw big crowds (and big dollars). 
  8. Make it interactive. This could be sending out the ingredients for a signature cocktail to your guests and mixing it live at the top of the show. It could be a chat that is active during the show. A Zocktail (Zoom Cocktail) Party before the show can get people hyped up.
  9. If you are asking for money, make it a live segment, not canned. Everything else can be canned, but a good Emcee can really get a pledge drive going by taking into account the news of the day, or alluding to something said in the chat, or mimicking a gaffe when the host made the signature cocktail live.  
  10. Always leave them wanting more…in the old world, we relied on one gala a year or season. Now we have the ability to drive a fully connected marketing journey that keeps the event going even when the night is done. Think about what content you can pull out of your event to use to follow-up, think about smaller sub-events that can follow the big one, think about pop-up moments that keep the themes discussed alive. So many possibilities! 
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