How to Get Chapters Started with Virtual Events

I came upon a really sad webpage the other day. I clicked “chapter events” on a national association’s website and the page was completely empty. Nothing, not even an explanation. Imagine what a membership prospect, hungry for conversations and connections, would think. Nothing to see here, move along!

Unless they’re on the frontline of this crisis, chapter members still want to hang out with their peers and learn how to deal with all the changes impacting their industry or profession. You can help your chapters remain relevant by showing them how to host virtual events that satisfy their members’ need for education and connection.

In our last post, we shared real-life examples of chapters exploring different virtual education formats and described how to help chapters kickstart a schedule of online education programs. Now, we’ll dive a little deeper into the logistical details.


Since the virtual world is new territory for most chapters, give them advice on designing engaging virtual events. Thom Singer, who’s known as a “conference catalyst” for both in-person and virtual events, said in a recent post:

“The problem with virtual meetings is too many people are simply trying to replicate the live meeting via video conference. Or they are doing talking head webinar broadcasts…without understanding that being at home and attending an online gathering is not the same as being at an in-person meeting.”

It’s just as easy to multitask at home as it is in the office, plus working from home brings its own distractions—we’re looking at you, kids! Chapters must learn how to design virtual events that hold an attendee’s attention. Instead of trying to replicate the in-person event session-for-session, they can choose some sessions to present live and provide on-demand recordings for others.

Don’t try to cram everything into one day. Think about spacing it out over several days—or even several weeks. Arianna Rehak, co-founder and CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media, suggests chunking content into shorter sessions so attendees only hear the same voice for 20 minutes max.

Peggy Hoffman, president and executive director of Mariner Management, shares several ideas on Mariner’s blog for improving facilitation and engagement activities at virtual events. You can encourage participation by using a platform’s chat and polling tools, and breakout rooms for “table” discussions and exercises. In these breakout room discussions, give attendees the opportunity to recall and apply (practice) what they’re hearing so the learning will stick.

Build breaks into the program so attendees can get away from their laptop to check on their kids or grab a bite to eat. You could also use breakout rooms as lounges where attendees can partake in fun activities and get a chance to network with each other during breaks.

Think about all the other activities that usually go on at chapter events. How can you add them to the agenda?

  • Exhibitor tabletops: Consider video infomercials, demos, session hosting, and dedicated breakout rooms.
  • Awards: Check out the ideas in these recent ASAE Collaborate discussions (here and here).
  • Sponsorship opportunities: Stay tuned for our upcoming post on this topic. In the meantime, Matchbox Virtual Media has some suggestions.


Dozens of virtual event platforms are hankering for your chapters’ business right now. Sift through the options and provide a few suggestions to your chapters for different types of event needs. In the recording of the recent virtual idea swap from Mariner Management, you can hear how some associations are assisting their chapters with virtual meeting technology.

Once you choose a platform or two, create a quick-start guide for chapters. John Bellotti, chapter program manager at the National Association of Tax Professionals, relied on his instructional design background in putting together several guides for his chapters:


Give chapter leaders practice on your selected platforms by using them for chapter leader training and networking. In fact, Mariner Management gave CRPs a chance to try out Zoom breakout rooms during their recent virtual idea swap.


One of John’s guides describes the different roles needed to keep an event on track. Some of these are great opportunities for virtual microvolunteering:

  • Virtual host or emcee
  • Technology point person
  • Chat moderator
  • Breakout room leaders


Chapters could also recruit volunteer reporters to write or record a video recap of sessions they attended. They can repurpose these posts or videos into website content and use bits of them to market future events.


Presenting at a virtual event is quite different than presenting at an in-person event. Speakers can’t read the room. Unless they’re skilled webinar presenters, chapters should prepare them for this new experience. To ensure consistency in providing an engaging learning experience, require speakers to attend a pre-recorded webinar on adult learning best practices—another resource you could provide to chapters.

This webinar can also introduce speakers to the event platform. Make sure speakers are prepared to meet any audio/video requirements. A mandatory practice run will reveal problems with weak WiFi, poor quality sound (speaker phone syndrome), web cam placement, and bad lighting.


Give chapters a checklist on preparing attendees for virtual events. This information could go out to attendees in a mix of emails and pre-event meetups.

  • Introduce the virtual event platform.
  • Provide web conferencing tips, for example, best audio setup, lighting, and background.
  • Remind attendees they’ll get the most value if they dedicate time to the event—no multi-tasking.
  • Preview the agenda and extra activities.
  • Discuss ways they can network during the event.


If the chapter is hosting a virtual conference, encourage them to hold pre-event virtual meetups. These networking meetups get attendees excited about the conference and let them see who else is going. They’re also good for word-of-mouth marketing buzz.

Some members will always prefer meeting in person. Who can blame them? But as we’re seeing now, that’s not always possible, and it’s not the preference of all members and prospects. When chapters learn how to design and host engaging virtual events, they become more accessible and indispensable to everyone. They’re also prepared for whatever the future holds.

If you’d like to join your CRP peers in a virtual event, keep an eye on our upcoming events calendar.


With all this talk about virtual events, are you getting a little FOMO? Well then, download The Complete Guide to Virtual Event Creation to learn how to transition your conference or meeting to the digital realm with ease.

About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.