Whether it’s a social, professional development, or fundraising event, chapters are coming up with creative ways to move events virtual. From recruitment events to resume workshops – everything is being rethought. Some campuses even hosted Greek Week virtually. Even during normal operations, chapters pour a significant amount of their time, energy, and money into creating engaging experiences for their members and communities throughout the year.
Organizing any event, virtual or in-person, means there is sure to be plenty of planning to do. Keeping a virtual event running smoothly requires prep work to engage attendees and make them feel the same type of social connection they would face to face.
You can help your chapters remain relevant during a time of virtual operations by showing them how to host virtual events that satisfy their members’ needs for education and connection. In our last post, we shared different virtual education formats that chapters can explore for their event programming. Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the logistical details of preparing for a virtual event.
CRAFT GUIDELINES FOR VIRTUAL CHAPTER EVENTS
Thom Singer, who’s known as a “professional master of ceremonies” 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.”
Chapters should design their virtual events to hold their attendee’s valuable attention, especially with at-home distractions. Instead of attempting to replicate an in-person event, they can use the virtual platform to their advantage and choose to present live and provide supplemental on-demand recordings. Arianna Rehak, co-founder and CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media, suggests chunking content into shorter pieces 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. Chapters can encourage participation by using a platform’s chat and polling tools. Or facilitate sharing by using breakout rooms for discussions and exercises.
Remind chapters to build breaks into their events to allow attendees a chance to get away from their laptop and grab a bite to eat. Breakout rooms can also be used as lounges where attendees can partake in fun activities and get to know each other in a more casual setting.
Chapters might be worried about how to shift sponsorships from in-person events to virtual. Think about how they could be added to the agenda. Consider video infomercials, demos, or dedicated breakout rooms. Stay tuned for our upcoming post on this topic. In the meantime, Matchbox Virtual Media has some suggestions.
HELP CHAPTERS PREP FOR VIRTUAL EVENTS
In our last post, we went through various formats that chapters can use to host their virtual events. Once they select the right format for their virtual event needs, share resources they can use to prepare for the event. 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:
- Developing engaging webinars
- Technical guidelines for webinars
- Technical guidelines for simulcasts/webcasts
- Webinar and simulcast/webcast roles
For chapter leaders that need programming assistance, provide a list of relevant topics along with vetted speakers. Chapters don’t have to worry about speaker travel expenses, so they can cast a wider net for speaker talent. Consider providing program templates for chapters to leverage. You can suggest a panel on a hot topic, an event agenda, discussion questions, and even marketing copy.
ASSEMBLE A VIRTUAL EVENT TEAM
It’s time for chapters to recruit members for a virtual event team. One of John Bellotti’s guides above describes the different roles needed to keep an event on track. These roles could be a great opportunity to offer virtual microvolunteering and learning opportunities to members:
- Virtual host
- Technology point person
- Chat moderator
- Breakout room leaders
Event planning roles and experience can be a great resume builder for members. Chapters can engage even more members by recruiting them to write or record a video recap of the programming they attended. This can then be repurposed into website or social media content and used to market future virtual events.
ENGAGE WITH SPEAKERS
If chapters are intending on inviting a speaker to present at their virtual event, they should prepare them for the event ahead of time. Unless they are skilled webinar presenters, they will likely need some guidance on this new experience.
Chapters should share best practices and introduce them to the event platform or format being used. A practice run is never a bad idea! They can help prepare the speaker to meet any audio/video requirements or reveal problems with weak WiFi, poor sound quality, web cam placement, and bad lighting.
ENCOURAGE PRE-EVENT ATTENDEE PREPARATION
Have a checklist that chapters can use to prepare attendees for a virtual event. Considering including the following items to attendees:
- Introduce the virtual event platform or format.
- Provide web conferencing tips (audio setup, lighting, and background).
- Remind attendees they will get the most value if they dedicate time to the event.
- Preview the agenda and extra activities.
- Discuss ways they can connect with attendees before, during, and after the event.
If the chapter is hosting a larger virtual event, encourage them to host pre-event virtual meetups. Meetups can get attendees excited for the event and build word-of-mouth marketing buzz.
It may seem like a lot of work to prepare for a virtual event, but when chapters learn how to design and host engaging events, they become more accessible to everyone. With the effort they are putting in, chapter leaders and event organizers will also gain valuable experience to speak to on their resumes and in future interviews. Their chapter can continue to build on the work they are doing to be successful in an increasingly virtual world.