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Putting together a virtual event is not unlike planning an in-person event, but there are some distinct differences to prepare for. There is a commitment to attending in-person events for many alumni – attire, travel/drive time, childcare, etc. – and everyone invited will consider the cost-benefit of attending. Virtual events, though, don’t require that same commitment – only have to change their shirt, don’t have to travel, no cost for a babysitter, and if they do not think they are getting value from the event, then leaving is literally a click away. A successful virtual event is more than just moving things online, though. Here are some basic tenets to keep in mind in planning an impactful virtual event.

1) Purpose

Why this event? What purpose does it serve? The answers to these questions are critical factors for the success or failure of an event because these answers will compel attendance, or not.

Invitees need to understand the purpose of the event and see personal value in it. Purpose and value are two things that will increase the probability of attendance.

2) Keep Your Audience Engaged

In-person events allow for natural mingling and one-on-one interaction. Even if an attendee is not interested in the event’s content, they can still find value by interacting with other attendees. However, with virtual events, everyone is focused on what is being presented to them on the screen, so the content (what’s being presented) needs to engage them.

When possible, it is important that virtual events incorporate opportunities for attendees to interact, whether that is with each other, the host, or the content. Depending on the size of the event, personal introductions humanize the event. Interactive polling also engages attendees with the content and breakout rooms allow small groups to converse with one another.

3) Choose the Right Platform

The right platform is not always the same for every virtual event. There are many platforms available with lots of different features, so matching the event’s needs with those features is important. Using the right platform can have a major impact on the effectiveness of the event, so be sure to look at different options to find the best fit. Some popular platforms include:

  1. Google Meet – Up to 10 users can meet on-demand, or schedule through your Google calendar by adding “conferencing.”
  2. Skype – Offers similar features as Google, allowing 10 or fewer users without paying for the business account.
  3. Zoom – Offers free video conferencing for up to 100 people. Calls are limited to 40 minutes with the free version, but it may be worth the $15/month in the chapter budget to upgrade the account with no such limitations, which could be used for virtual meetings and events.
  4. GoToMeeting – Has a 14-day free trial and plans starting at $14 per organizer, per month.
  5. Webex – Has a 30-day free trial that includes up to 200 participants and monthly plans starting at $13.50 per host, per month.
4) Scheduling

One thing that is great about virtual events is that “booking the venue” is far easier than traditional in-person events. That said, like any event, if you “throw together” a virtual event, it will be obvious, so it is important to allow sufficient time to effectively plan the event.

For most virtual events, planning should probably begin 2-6 months prior to the event, depending on the scale and formality of the event. An event that includes a special guest speaker will need more time and planning compared to a watch party.

5) Communication

It is important that any event, in-person or virtual, include a communication plan. In developing the communication plan, a vital piece goes back to the first item in this article: the event’s purpose – why an alumnus should attend and what value the event will have for them.

All event communications should tell invitees what to expect if they attend. For virtual events, that information should include:

  1. When the event will take place and how long it is.
  2. How to attend, including instructions and a link to the event platform.
  3. Topic of the event and how it will be delivered (e.g. guest speaker, panel Q &A, moderated conversation, etc.).

Frequency of event communication is going to be based on when you send your event announcement. Generally, a 6-8 week notice is recommended for event announcements. With that kind of notice, a series of reminders can form a sound communication plan for a single event.

6) Starting and Ending the Event

Make sure the event host(s) joins the event a little early so attendees can enter the event easily. Greet attendees as they “enter” and give some guidance about what to expect.

Depending on the number of attendees, it may be a good idea to have each attendee introduce themselves. For these introductions, ask each person to spend one to two minutes to share a mix of professional and personal information. The event host should do this first to model the introduction and then ask one of the attendees to introduce themselves, rather than waiting for a volunteer.

With virtual events, it is a good idea to end the event as scheduled, even if it is going well. Virtual meetings and events tend to be more draining for participants compared to in-person. Further, it is important to be respective of the attendees’ time. Finally, if the event is going well, then it will end on a high note with the attendees having enjoyed themselves, which is good thing when planning future virtual events.

When the event is over, send a quick follow up email to all attendees thanking them for their attendance and encouraging them to continue to stay in touch.