By now, most people have realized that at the bare minimum virtual events need some form of audience participation to separate them from a standard webinar. Whether it is a chat feature, Q&A or polls, many platforms have some basic features built in to accommodate for this. As the country slowly starts to open back up and there are more alluring activities allowed outside of the home, many of our clients have been asking “How do we ensure people still show up to our virtual event?” and just as important, “How do we get them to stay?”
Here are some tips which can help make your next virtual event worth staying home (and online) for:
1. Create an Event Welcome Packet: Upon arrival at a live event, attendees typically receive some type of material whether it’s an agenda, name tag, or swag bag. We recommend that you use the same concept for virtual to expand the experience beyond the screen. A digital welcome packet might include:
- Pre-designed social media graphics which attendees can download and post right to their channels to let followers know they are attending. This is also a great way to encourage amplification of your messages and even expand attendance and participation. Ex. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Stair Climb (scroll down to find the “Participant Toolkit”) or The Hike for Haiti Challenge Toolkit here.
- A digital event program, which allows you to share the evening’s program, speaker bios, and provide a platform for ad sales. Including meaningful information in the program and referring to it during the virtual event can encourage attendees to peruse the brochure and simultaneously drive attention to sponsors.
- Digital or printable signage can also unify the look and feel of attendee’s pictures, posts or submitted videos. If using a platform like Zoom, which allows for a virtual background, you can send one or a selection of backgrounds with instructions for how to use them. Similarly, a printable sign can be held up at a cued moment within the program, or used re: above for social media posts. Ex. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation encouraged attendees to print a sign for posting for their Hot Pink Party using the hashtag #virtualhotpink.
2. Embrace timeliness in your messaging: It has never been more important to keep your messaging relevant to the constantly changing global landscape. While most organizations may try to avoid politics or other controversial topics, not acknowledging current events will hurt the resonance of your content and make it feel much less valuable. This is especially important to keep in mind if pre-recording content. With things changing rapidly, even week to week, pre-recording content without a larger context may leave you scrambling to re-record at the last-minute. Something to consider when weighing the pros and cons of live streaming.
- Ex. We saw this play out last week when Sequence produced the BNP Paribas Global Markets Americas Conference, which was held virtually for the first time. One of the sessions focused on the “US Political Outlook” and implications of how the upcoming election would influence the markets in 2020 and beyond. Because the conversation was streamed fully live, we were able to use the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement, which if pre-recorded would not have been so at the forefront.
3. Gamify it: Encouraging attendees to RSVP for a virtual event is one challenge, but once they are logged on, getting them to stay on also pay full attention is a whole other challenge. Incorporating some interactive fun into the program is key to keeping your audience engaged and logged on - especially with the promise of a prize or giveaway.
- Ex. Sequence produced a live cooking demonstration with PopSugar and Campbell’s featuring television personality Daphne Oz. In addition to the cooking demo and live Q&As, guests stuck around to play a game of Bingo for a prize package. Not only did the winner come into the livestream, but there was also another sweepstakes winner selected from the exclusive invite-only audience.
- Ex. #BlogHer is a community that’s centered on influencers and content creators, and has done a great job pivoting their event series to virtual. Throughout their events, they have had multiple prize giveaways within the event chat. All that is required of attendees is to pay attention for specific call outs. Our own CCO, Lizz Torgovnick, won a Moms + Babes box by being the first to comment in the event’s chat upon prompt!
- Idea: Another idea is to weave trivia throughout an event program. An Emcee can ask trivia questions, or there could even be a graphic loop played during a break. This is an opportunity to add some organizational education into the mix in a fun way. Attendees can submit their answers via the chat or poll features, or via a pre-designed form. First to answer correctly wins a prize - such as swag, Facetime with a VIP, or an offer from a sponsor.
4. Make it a real Occasion: Sitting on your couch in sweatpants with a computer in your lap is nothing new these days (or even pre-pandemic!). To make guests feel like they are actually attending a (capital “E”) Event you should definitely add a few special touches to their at-home experience.
- Consider a dress code to encourage guests to get dressed up for the occasion - and it doesn’t even have to be a ballgown and stilettos! Ex. Design Collective Moooi created a very unique experience for their guests by requesting them to design their space and dress for the occasion (we’d been looking for an excuse to dust off our Disco finery!).
- Give your guests the night off from dinner duty by adding a fun food and beverage element to the event. This will help your audience make the time to attend due to inevitable work-life balance concerns many are experiencing right now.
- Idea: For local organizations, partner with local restaurants to create prix fixe menus for attendees using a special code. This is a very cost-effective option that adds another dimension to the experience and supports local small businesses! This can even be a sponsor opportunity, or a benefit received with a higher-level ticket package.
- Ex. The New Museum of Contemporary Art holds their annual Spring Gala at Cipriani Wall Street each year. Since guests could not celebrate in person, the New Museum brought Cipriani to their guests by sharing instructions on how to make Cipriani’s famous risotto at home.
5. Include the Whole Family: A concern that keeps coming up as we’re working from home is how do parents stay engaged when they have no child care? For many organizations, getting kids engaged in an activity, or even within the event, would be an excellent work around and even add to the impact.
- Idea: You could employ the distraction method and send coloring pages, activity sheets, or an indoor scavenger hunt to keep kids occupied while the parents enjoy the virtual event. If budget allows, or sponsors are interested in this as a giveaway opportunity, that could be even more creative and interactive. Think of ways to tie-in the messaging of the organization as well. For a non-profit that focuses on affordable housing, you could ask kids to build houses out of supplies they have at home such as Legos, Lincoln Logs, or Popsicle Sticks.
- Ex. With the Met Gala reschedule date pending, the #MetGalaChallenge was a great way to get the family involved, create a dress code (re: above) and keep the creativity and magic going even from home! Make this into a virtual red carpet moment, or event a competition and this brings together several more of our tips!
- Ex: Bringing in kid-friendly entertainment within a program could make your virtual event appropriate for the whole family. The CNN & Sesame Street Town Hall collaboration was a great example of this. The content resonated with adults and kids alike and initiated much-needed and age appropriate discussions at home.
- Ex: The California Academy of Science incorporated a family photo op challenge to their “Big Bang Live” program. Attendees who posted pictures of their family and children in animal costumes received a free book.
We hope that some of these real examples and ideas have gotten your wheels turning on how to amp up interactivity within your virtual events. As we work with our clients to ideate these types of experiential elements, it always starts with the overall event goals, the purpose of the event and the messaging of the organization. We would love to ideate for your next virtual event! Give us a call, or send us an email if you would like to discuss further.