Virtual events can be the backbone of your community’s activities calendar. When done right, they give members opportunities to take part in the community and build personal connections, and they can be valuable learning experiences for both members and your team.
But ‘done right’ can be difficult to achieve. From the topic to promotions to engagement, there are so many things to plan for — and so many potential roadblocks in your path.
The good news is that it’s possible to avoid these roadblocks altogether. Take a step back and break up your event planning checklist into smaller, manageable steps. Whether it’s a one-hour talk or a multi-day blowout, we’re here to help you make the process a little easier so you can host a spectacular virtual event every single time.
Let the planning begin!
If you’re asking people to take an hour or more out of their day to attend, be intentional about why you’re hosting the event and what they will gain from attending.
This first step will help you decide whether an event is the right format for this activity, or whether your community will be better served with a blog post, podcast episode, or interactive activity (such as an AMA) on your platform.
If a live event is the way to go, use your purpose and goals to craft a value proposition for your event. You don’t have to make this public — your value prop should guide your decisions further down the planning process.
Start with your endgame when zeroing in on potential speakers, guests, or hosts, and understand your community’s needs so you can choose people who can advise and guide participants through those needs.
“I choose speakers based around the core takeaways I’d like the participants to leave with,” says Izzy Ortiz, Community Manager at The Community Club. “For example, if I’m having an event around the importance of mentorship in your professional career, I’d love for the speakers to touch on what it’s like being a mentor or mentee, how the relationship helped with their professional growth, and be able to give tips or advice on best practices to cultivate that relationship.
“I’d find speakers by researching or networking in other communities to see if folks know a great mentorship program. Every time I reach out to someone, I usually get connected to another person and then another person or program and find amazing speakers that way.”
Once your speakers are confirmed, ask them to share a few basics you’ll need for promotions (more on this later):
The number of platforms that promise all the bells and whistles can be overwhelming to choose from. Don’t get sidetracked by the long list of features — first and foremost is the experience for both speakers and guests.
“Look for platforms that create an easy-to-use experience for your attendees — the last thing any event organizer wants is for their attendees to get lost in the virtual hallway,” says Cole Zerr, Community Operations Manager at Commsor. “So what makes a platform easy to use? Essential features, nothing more, nothing less.”
These essential features might look different from event to event. While a summit or conference will need booth areas for sponsors, an hour-long fireside chat probably won’t. Some basic things to consider while picking a platform are:
“If it’s a workshop with a speaker, I would most likely use a platform like Zoom or Whereby,” says Izzy. “If it's more social and informal, I would definitely use a platform like Toucan or Gather. Also, some community platforms like Discord already have great built-in event features I use to host block parties and live AMAs right inside the community.”
Cole recommends coming up with a shortlist of platforms, then attending an event hosted there to understand what your members’ experience will be like. “But be sure that you're considering both the attendee and organizer tooling when reviewing platforms,” he says. “The organizer needs proper tools at their disposal for an event to run without a hitch.”
Have a separate landing page for each event where people can get the relevant information and register. Some platforms (like Hopin, where we hosted the 2021 Community Club Summit) have an attendee-facing event page built into their features.
Whatever platform or website you use, these are some must-haves for your event page:
When: The date, time, and duration of the event so people know when to show up. Be sure to specify the time zone!
What: The event topic — what it’s all about and what you’ll be discussing.
Who: The main players — who’s hosting and who’s speaking. Don’t just share names and photos. Add short bios too, so people know what makes the speakers credible.
Where: A small blurb to let people know they’ll receive the event link when they register.
For longer events with multiple sessions, break down the ‘when’, ‘what’, and ‘who’, so each session gets its own section.
Of course, have a registration form that collects names and email addresses to send the event link to.
If the platform allows, customize your page so that it matches your community’s look and feel on other marketing platforms, like your social media and community website. You might not be able to change colors, but make sure to upload your logo and a custom graphic for each event.
Now that you have the logistics nailed down, it’s time to start promoting.
Chalk out a promotion plan that covers announcements and reminders within your community platform to reach your active members. “I usually like to market events within the community a month before, with reminders two weeks before, the week of, 30 minutes till time, and at the start of every event,” says Izzy. “I also ping folks who would benefit based on their expertise or questions they may have asked in the community.”
To reach less-engaged members — as well as folks outside your community who might be interested in the event — use other media such as newsletters and social media, and share the event in other communities you might be part of. You can use referral codes, giveaways, and discounts to encourage members to sign up and to help you reach people outside the community, too.
Multitasking with multiple tabs open, real-world things competing for attention — it’s easy to see why attendees might lose interest and drop off during an event. Make it interactive so they’re contributing to the conversation instead of being passive observers.
“Have icebreakers to start or create conversation,” says Izzy. “This allows folks to start speaking, getting to know one another, and just simply get the conversation going. I’ve also sent out a poll during an event to gauge excitement and answer any questions folks may have.”
The platform’s chat section is the perfect place to let attendees participate without disrupting the flow of the event. Many platforms now also have tools built in to keep people engaged. “Toucan has this amazing feature where you can send a laughing emoji or hearts to someone while they’re speaking to show you agree with them or just think what they’re saying is humorous,” says Izzy. Start conversations in the chat yourself to make others feel comfortable in doing so unprompted.
Naya Joseph, Community Events Manager at The Community Club, suggests holding a mini trivia contest or raffle during the event to make it interactive. You could give away items such as prizes from sponsors, community swag (socks, anyone?), home office items, free or discounted products or tools, or new experiences such tickets to a show.
You can’t control technical glitches with the platform. You can control how you respond if something goes wrong during your event.
“If there are any technical difficulties and you’re flying solo, send a message in your community in a general channel, or where you can send an instant notification, to let participants know you’re trying to troubleshoot the issue,” says Izzy. “If it’s an audio or visual issue, try rebooting the platform and send a message again to let folks know they can rejoin you for the event or workshop.”
You should also rely on the platform’s support services to help you troubleshoot. “Have the platform’s help center page open at all times,” says Naya. “Confirm the technical glitches are impacting other attendees too, review the support page, and reach out to the platform’s support team. Chat is usually available and faster than email.”
Try to have a teammate attend the event when possible to help if you run into technical problems. Add remember, it’s not the end of the world if you face technical trouble. Try to keep calm and let people know you’re working on it.
Every event is a chance to see what worked well and what you could do differently to host spectacular events for a long time to come.
Both Naya and Izzy recommend gathering feedback from attendees (including your teammates who were there) to learn about their event experience. You could reach out to a few people to ask for anecdotal feedback or send a post-event feedback survey to all attendees (or do both!).
Many platforms will also have event reports with data that will help you understand how people responded during the event. Two important metrics to examine are:
Attendance: How many people RSVPd vs. attended the event? This will help you understand whether you need to change how you promote your events or whether to experiment with aspects like timings.
Engagement: How did people interact with your event? You can look at the number of chat messages and reactions sent and what percentage of people responded to polls to learn what type of prompts attendees respond to. Some platforms also let you see who the most engaged attendees were, so you can elevate them in your community or simply reach out to say thanks.
It’s not over when it’s over — share the event in the days after, so members can see its value and learn from it. “If there were polls or Q&As at the event, I would resurface these the next day and drop the answers in a general channel or thread so they can live within the community,” says Izzy.
Events can even help fuel your content calendar across different places where you reach your community and wider audience:
The days right after a successful event, when the experience is fresh in people’s minds, is also the perfect time to keep the ball rolling on future events. You could share details of the next event lined up, or simply share a ‘save the date’ for upcoming events so members can add them to their calendars and be ready to attend for another spectacular virtual event experience.