Caitlin King Khoury
5 Tips for Planning Can't-miss Virtual Events in 2021
Planning a can’t-miss virtual event takes work, but boy is it worth it — especially in these pandemic times. Virtual events can be vital for fundraising, maintaining member benefits, and staying in touch even though we’re all miles apart.
Here are five helpful tips to make your virtual event the best it can be:
1. Do your homework
Of course, you can’t leave out the prep work when planning a virtual event. It’s important to not only talk to industry colleagues that have already planned virtual events, but to also attend them yourself.
It’s easier than ever to attend the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which will be held virtually from March 23-25, 2021. Not only will you benefit from over 125 community-led sessions about how to address the challenges and opportunities our organizations and sector face today, you will witness what is sure to be an expertly executed virtual nonprofit conference.
There are countless other nonprofit virtual conferences this year as well, including the 2021 NAYDO Gateway to Giving Conference and The Funders Network 2021 Rise Together Conference.
If you’re into podcasts, you’ll definitely want to listen to this episode on “Creating 5-Star Special Events in the Virtual Age” that features some great case studies.
You should also survey participants from previous years to get their input and buy-in for this year’s virtual or hybrid event.
2. Make the most of digital tools at your fingertips
We know there’s so much to keep up with when it comes to figuring out the best tools to digitally promote and execute your event.
Local event planner, Keneé Walton, has been planning virtual, hybrid, and in-person conferences and fundraisers for years. In Keneé’s experience planning virtual events, she’s found that it’s important to create an event that is fully tailored for an online audience.
“Don't try to recreate your in-person event virtually,” Keneé said. “Instead, embrace the opportunity to present a virtual event that can allow you to try things that you could not try in-person and extend the reach of your organization to a broader audience.”
Out of all the platforms she’s tried, Keneé highly recommends the American Program Bureau’s (APB) recently launched “Virtual In-Person” interactive platform.
Features of APB’s platform include interactive live video networking, post-event engagement, gamification, and outstanding tech support. Read a case study about how one university engaged their alumni virtually using the APB platform.
We’ve also worked with the Whova platform with great success. Their live session streaming, video replay, virtual booths, event app, attendee engagement and networking options lend the platform perfectly to nonprofit conferences. Check them out.
This unique moment calls for creativity. One tech conference opted to move their event into the Nintendo Switch game, Animal Crossing!
3. Create fun engagement opportunities
You’ve probably been to a snoozefest virtual event or two, possibly even in the past year. It’s clear when the effort is put in for engagement opportunities, and when it’s not.
So, how can you make your organization’s event fun and exciting? We’ve found gamification to be a great way to engage participants. This could be trivia, a points system for prizes, or maybe a photo contest (a great way to get participant photos, too).
Think BIG client, Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations (PCFR), created engagement opportunities for their members before their February 2021 virtual Lunar New Year Celebration event even started. Event registrants received packages snail mailed to them prior to the event. Each participant received an envelope that included a beautifully designed (if we do say so ourselves ☺) Lunar New Year card. Participants each received a different fact about cultural traditions and history across Asian countries that celebrate Lunar New Year. The icing on the cake was a red money envelope that had a gold coin in it, and if you were lucky, you received a golden ticket. The golden ticket holders won prizes!
During the event, PCFR members shared their experiences celebrating Lunar New Year in China and Vietnam. Attendees then watched a highly produced video where friends of PCFR members from Vietnam walked through the importance of Lunar New Year to their culture and how their families celebrated. Following a traditional toast (ideally with a cocktail in hand), participants got to choose their breakout room adventure, where they read out their factoids with the group and got to enjoy networking together.
During a time where everyone is at home, going the extra mile to make members feel special goes far in creating community.
4. Keep the conversation going
Give attendees the chance to network and stay connected. This can be through a Facebook group or Slack channel, and some virtual events have even seen success in event app use beyond the event.
Of course, follow-up with attendees and soliciting feedback is vital to improving your event for next year -- whether it’s going to be virtual or not.
Some questions you should definitely ask in your post event survey include:
What could we have improved upon?
Would you attend another event with us?
Were you satisfied with the virtual networking opportunities available during this event?
What was your favorite part of the event?
How easy was it to navigate the virtual event platform?
5. Define the ROI
It’s more important than ever to show attendees why they NEED to attend the event. You may even want to directly answer the question in your marketing — what will I get out of this event and why do I need to attend?
But it’s not just about attendees. Keneé finds it incredibly important to not neglect your sponsors and exhibitors when considering the ROI, since these will be the first organizations that you go back to once your event is in person again.
“One of the biggest challenges for medium to large events is how to generate interaction between the attendees and the sponsors and exhibitors,” Keneé said. “Take the time to understand what your sponsors and exhibitors would like to get out of the virtual experience and tap into creative digital marketing to help them achieve their goals.”
With so many nonprofits struggling to meet fundraising goals, engagement from attendees, sponsors and vendors is critical.
Our client, Arizona LeadingAge kept their key stakeholders engaged in their 2020 Virtual Conference in the following ways:
Created a Virtual Exhibit Hall where exhibitors paid to have their own page on the event website that included a promo video, contact info and links to resources.
Sold banner ads for sponsors and exhibitors to advertise throughout the event website.
Sponsors that provided door prizes (gift cards) for attendees were given the benefit of recording short videos introducing themselves and their business, and announcing the winners to all attendees.
And another client, Arizona Pest Professional Association, even offered their high level sponsors the opportunity to include a one minute video "commercial" that aired prior to virtual workshops at their annual conference, similar to the "podium time" that big sponsors sometimes receive at events.
We hope this gets your wheels churning and adds some excitement to your virtual event planning.
Whatever your virtual event needs, Think BIG’s team of digital experts would be happy to help your nonprofit choose the best platform and strategies to make it a wild success. And, we can handle your event marketing as a cherry on top!
You’ve got this — and we’re here to help our nonprofit friends through hard times and beyond.