How to create engaging virtual events

Virtual Events

Whilst nothing can replace the value of face-to-face-interactions, virtual events (an event which takes places entirely online) can offer a lot of great benefits. You can reach newer, larger audiences, you don’t have the capacity restrictions of a physical venue, there’s still opportunities for real-time engagement AND they can be created on little to no budget.

You may be thinking that virtual events are only happening because of COVID-19 restrictions, but in reality they’ve been around for a while (our free charity webinars are good example of this) and will only continue to grow in popularity. We want to help you to create the best virtual events possible, so we’ve rounded up loads of top tips and examples of best practices all in our handy guide below. So, let’s get started!

Planning your event: Go back to basics

Start your event planning by asking yourself these three basic questions: Why do we want to organise this event? What are our goals? What are the key points or messages that we want to convey?

Your answers will help you to:

  • Identify if a virtual event is the right fit for your idea or if you should be looking at alternative options.
  • Decide which virtual format will work best to achieve your goals. After all, virtual events come in all shapes and sizes, such as tutorials, training workshops, ask me anythings (like this one that we recently ran with Alyssa Sweetman from streaming platform Twitch) or even conferences.
  • Start brainstorming! Once you know the whys and the whats, it will be easier to build your content and to select the right audience for the event.

Make sure you’re prepared

2020 has seen a surge of organisations going virtual, so chances are that your audience have already attended a few virtual events. This means they’ll have high expectations and it’s your job to live up to them. Make sure that you prepare what you’re going to say or do in advance, and don’t just assume that because you’re not physically in front of people that you can get away with reading notes from your phone or screen.

Schedule in some time to do a dress rehearsal so that you can run through the event and practice navigating around your virtual platform of choice. If you have a guest or co-host then make sure that they rehearse with you. It’s also a good idea to record your rehearsal and then ask a colleague for some honest feedback.

You should also think ahead about any technology issues you could encounter. Test your internet and your microphone, prepare back up visuals in case there’s any issues with your files and circulate FAQs in advance to help your guests know how to easily log on and enjoy the event.

On camera best practices

Whether you’re recording in an office, studio or your make shift home office, you want your recording to look and feel professional. The below best practices will help you to feel confident whilst also creating a great viewer experience.

  • Be aware of any background sounds and close any windows or doors nearby. Microphones pick up every little sound, from cars driving by to your neighbour mowing their lawn
  • Put your phone on silent (and we mean fully silent as your microphone will pick up any vibrations)
  • Disable pop-ups and reminders on your computer so they don’t distract you or make sounds
  • Make sure that you’re centered on the screen and that you’re aware of your lighting! You want people to be able to see you clearly, so make sure that any light is coming from in front of you. For example, sit facing a window and not with a window behind you otherwise you’ll be reduced to a silhouette
  • Check what’s in your background, no-one wants to see your clothes drying behind you!
  • Make sure that you set up the event so attendees are automatically muted. Also make sure that you mute yourself when you’re not speaking
  • If you’re co-hosting or facilitating then continue to look at the camera even when you’re not speaking

Think about accessibility

You want your virtual events to be as accessible and welcoming as possible. Provide captions and visuals where possible for audio and when using slides or video think about the size and clarity of the fonts you’re using, as well as the contrast of the colours being used. The Big Hack, an initiative created by Scope to improve digital services for disabled users, has a great free guide on the advantages and disadvantages of different conferencing apps and services, including Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Webex.

Encourage audience participation

One of the best ways to keep your audience engaged is by asking them to actively participate in the event. You’re going to need some help with this, so begin by assigning the role of facilitator to one of your colleagues. A facilitator can manage the audience’s input and filter any questions, allowing the main speaker to focus on their content. Depending on the virtual software you choose to use, there are lots of different ways that you can ask the audience to get involved. You could use polls, run a Q&A, ask people to pre-submit questions or encourage use of the chat function to either ask questions or answer some of yours.

“Just like in-person events, connecting with peers is an important factor of virtual events. Encourage your attendees to introduce themselves or share what they want to learn at the event using the chat function. Hold breakout sessions for like-minded people to learn from each other and discuss specific topics in an informal setting, or build an online community via teams/slack for attendees to chat with one another during the event.”

Katie Ager, Event Marketing Specialist at Blackbaud Europe

Ask for feedback

Whether your attendees are existing supporters or people who are new to learning about your cause, you want to use your event as an opportunity to steward people closer to your cause. Send out a follow up email after the event which thanks people for attending and offers suggestions of ways that they can stay involved with your charity – this could be attending another event, giving a donation or following you on social media.

You should also ask people to give you feedback on what they enjoyed and what could be improved. This will make it even easier for you to create great content and an engaging virtual event in the future.

Do you want to get even more from your virtual events?

If you want to go one step further then you can also watch our on-demand webinar with Nikki Bell, co-founder and director of Fundraising Everywhere. The webinar looks at why virtual events are crucial for your charity, how to get started with setting an event up, and further tips for driving attendance. You can watch the webinar for free here.

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Toni Gregory is a Content Marketing Specialist and B2B copywriter.