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.


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.

Help Chapters Explore Options for Virtual Education

Before the coronavirus shook up our world, we detected an emerging trend in the association community: virtual chapters. Increasingly, associations are establishing virtual chapters to host online education and networking events because members can’t or won’t travel to chapter events. Little did they know how reliant every association would soon become on virtual events.

While in-person meetings have been put on hold, the member desire and need to learn and connect is as strong as ever. Members don’t want to wait a few months to see how things turn out. If they have the time now, they want chapter programs now—and virtual is the only way to provide them.


You can help chapters kickstart a schedule of online education programs by first getting chapter leaders comfortable with the concept. Use an online platform for chapter leader training so they can experience virtual education themselves. For example, host a webinar or virtual meeting about converting in-person events into virtual events.

Create a step-by-step guidebook as well since they’ll want to refer to something as they go through the process with their team. If CE credits are a concern, explain how to meet credentialing standards. Will they have to track attendance through polling or quizzes? Check with credentialing bodies because, in some industries, CEs can’t be earned online—although these rules have been changing during this crisis.

For chapters that need programming assistance, provide a list of relevant topics along with vetted speakers. For now, chapters don’t have to worry about speaker travel expenses, so they can cast a wider net for speaker talent.

You might even consider providing program templates. For example, you could suggest a panel on a hot topic, along with the types of members or experts who would be best for that panel, an event agenda, discussion questions, and marketing copy.


We’ve already seen chapters making the switch to all kinds of virtual programs. NAIOP is offering their chapters access to their Zoom platform. They’re also highlighting chapter-produced programs on their website so chapters can see what their peers are doing—we’re sharing a few of those ideas below.



Chapters of the National Strength and Conditioning Association are turning their in-person state clinics and regional conferences into virtual events. Virtual conferences are sprouting up everywhere lately. Our friends at StarChapter recently hosted one: Pivoting to Virtual Engagement in the COVID-19 Era.

Why not have chapters pool their efforts? Instead of each holding their own virtual conference, perhaps a few of them can compare programs and partner together on regional virtual conferences or summits.

Remember also that virtual conferences don’t have to mimic the in-person schedule. Members might prefer them spread out over several days—or even weeks—so they’re not tied down to their computer for an entire day, not always possible when everyone’s at home.



The team at Matchbox Virtual Media has mastered the art of virtual summits. Check out the one they’re hosting on Fridays about creating engaging virtual experiences. Speakers are pre-recorded so they can participate in a live chat with attendees while the presentations are aired. Although these sessions are only an hour long, you may remember this same format being used for the afternoon-long Association Success SURGE events.



NAIOP’s Wisconsin chapter hosts an In the Know: CRE Conversations with the Front Lines weekly webinar series.



NAIOP’s Utah chapter produces a Weekly Market Watch video series.



In our last post on chapter social connections, we told you about a weekly noontime series hosted by the Mississippi chapter of The American Institute of Architects called In Lieu of Lunch. “Using a virtual meeting app, member firms talk about what they’re doing and post discussion questions to the group. Guests are asked to each get takeout from a local restaurant, and the component posts the logos on their social channels to let local businesses know architects are supporting them.”



NAIOP’s Pittsburgh chapter produces MIC DROP: CRE Views with NAIOP Pittsburgh Developing Leaders podcast. For more podcast inspiration, check out Mariner Management’s post on podcasts as an option for chapter events.



Encourage chapters to use a web conferencing platform to host exam study groups or group discussions about industry events, articles, or books. These informal events serve the dual purpose of socializing and learning.


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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.