Expert advice on how to host the best virtual events 

How To | November 5, 2020

This year, many social engagements are going virtual but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Here’s how to host engaging—and dare we say, fun—online events.

We’re approaching the season typically sprinkled with family gatherings, office parties, fundraisers, and other tinselled celebrations. This year the format will be different as the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to socially distance and shift online. 

We may all have attended various online events in the last six months, with varying degrees of success. Personally, I have dipped into a virtual bar complete with sassy and rude bartenders, taken free online courses, and attended my fair share of loved ones’ Zoom and Skype birthday parties.

One key takeaway? It’s not easy to make things inclusive and fun with everyone staring into a computer screen. 

An expert how-to on hosting online events

We turned to an events expert to tell us exactly how to make online events pop—from fundraisers to family gatherings. Alexa Freudigmann is the Senior Vice President and Partner of the Vancouver-based creative agency Inventa. She has worked with many organizations to plan and organize events in our new reality and has developed a strong sense of the do’s and don’ts. 

There is a lot to learn from companies, charities, and nonprofits who have successfully maneuvered this year’s changes. And there is plenty of inspiration coming from the charitable sector, where organizations are persevering and rapidly creating new fundraiser formats. “Charities and foundations are some of the hardest hit and had to change their approach so drastically, almost overnight,” said Freudigmann. 

So if you are considering creating an online event for any occasion—like an office holiday party, birthday party, or cocktail fundraiser—we have compiled useful examples and tips. These guidelines can also help build a giving movement and cultivating members through a Giving Group on Charitable Impact. (With a Giving Group, multiple people can combine forces, pool or raise money, and support one or more charities or causes together.)

Think beyond the screen

Firstly, Freudigmann advises being practical and realistic when organizing online events. Think about the length of your event and how you can keep it lively.

“Acknowledging the reality of the situation, attention spans are short and distractions are many in the work/attend from home environment,” said Freudigmann in an email interview. “We have to consider the reality of where and how the audience members are engaging with us and take that into account when designing the experience.”

Secondly, just because your event is online doesn’t mean it can have some IRL elements. Or, as Freudigmann puts it better, “create a physical connection with participants that enhances the digital. Incorporating a physical element to a virtual event helps create a bigger impact, even if it’s as simple as a downloadable colouring sheet to keep the audience engaged.”

“With respect to family gatherings, I’ve seen this come to life with shared experiences,” she adds. “For example all making the same favourite meal—like a tightly guarded family recipe for the get-together—so that there is a shared physical experience that happens alongside the online.”

Winning examples

Freudigmann worked with one company looking to replicate the impact and reach of previous events. She and the team at Inventa got innovative with at-home kits sent out to attendees of this year’s virtual conference, including play-doh for creative play while attending sessions. Exotic animals even made cameos at a lunch-time entertainment segment that included a trivia session. 

These bonuses helped generate huge social media engagement and even had the event’s hashtag trending on Twitter. While your birthday fundraiser or office party may not need to go viral or include a menagerie of lions, you can still borrow from big ideas to get creative.

Another great model is from organizations who have connected with local businesses to host online auctions. According to Freudigmann, creating a charity auction with local companies does the double duty of supporting struggling small businesses as well as nonprofits. 

5 tips for hosting a can’t-be-missed online event

Based on Freudigmann’s tips and our research, we have rounded up some quick tips you can follow towards your best online event. 

Make it charitable to create a shared mission. Adding a charitable aspect is one strategy to give your attendees a boost in how much they feel personally invested or inspired by your event. Plus it gives you something to share with the group, especially if it’s a cause you are particularly passionate about.

Set the mood. Decorate your physical space or set up a nice virtual background (or even share fun virtual backgrounds with attendees for them to use during the event). Consider creating a theme for your party so that people can feel immersed in the experience and dress up from home. For example, why not break out the Batman mask for a superhero fundraiser?

Have a group activity to rally your attendees. There are lots of great possibilities for this one. Host that online auction. Find tools online for incorporating a game or trivia aspect to your event. Send goodie bags and supplies in advance for shared group activities like a painting party or a cocktail tasting. To make attendees feel more a part of the party, encourage toasts, short speeches, or sharing pictures. Or, have a dance party and take song requests.

Bring people together and enable mingling. Zoom now has a feature that lets people move freely between breakout rooms to meet with small groups of attendees. If you enable the break out room feature and encourage your attendees to move around, you can pretty closely mimic cocktail party mingling.

Finally, keep the vibe going. If you are looking to create a bigger impact with your event or to raise more for a cause you care about, stay in touch. It’s nice to send a thank-you note to those who have attended and to follow up with anyone who may have supported your cause. “A simple phone call or handwritten note can make all the difference in donor retention and growth,” said Freudigmann. “Making the effort with those people that are already interested and engaged in your cause will pay dividends.”

Catch the spirit of togetherness

Remember, when trying to rethink important and significant events, you are not alone. Other groups, individuals, or organizations may be facing the same challenges. “One of the most positive things to come out of our collective COVID situation is the spirit of collaboration that has grown,” said Freudigmann. “The openness to working together in ways that night not have materialized pre-pandemic is so refreshing. And in that spirit of collaboration—don’t be afraid to reach out to ask for thoughts, insights, or just plain help!”  

 

We all have a brighter future that we imagine, so let’s make it happen. Charitable Impact is an online giving platform that makes it simple to give to the causes you care about. When you sign up for a free Impact Account, you can give to all of your favourite causes all from one place. It’s your giving, your way, with our support.

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