Hosting Community Events

Events, whether in person or online, are essential to the success of communities. They foster a sense of belonging, provide opportunities for people to bond through shared experiences, and provide an excuse for communities to have fun (and laugh!) together. It can be difficult for a community manager to come up with new and different online event ideas that aren't the same old, same old. To assist you, we've compiled a list of ten virtual ways to bring members together.

So, if you're ready to turn up the heat on online event ideas, keep reading for a list of some of our favorites—and start bringing your members together in fun, educational, and engaging ways!

How Important Is Hosting Online Events?

Virtual events became extremely popular during the first year of the pandemic. Most events and gatherings that were supposed to happen in person were canceled or moved, so virtual social events, concerts, and other online gatherings became the norm.

Now that we're further along in the pandemic—and we've all experienced online event burnout at some point—virtual events are here to stay and to provide high-value opportunities for brands, businesses, and organisations.

What are the advantages of hosting online events? There are a couple of things that stand out. Things have changed with so many online event platforms and software improvements, as well as some creative approaches to hosting. Many virtual events have evolved from glitchy, semi-discordant occurrences (where the audio cuts out or an attendee leaves their mic on while eating pretzels, among other things) to immersive, enlightening, and enjoyable experiences.

Furthermore, virtual events have far lower overhead costs and provide access to a wealth of data that an in-person event would not have provided. That is, when everyone watches a virtual event online, it is much easier to track who is watching, listen in on real-time chat box conversations, and archive (more on archiving later).

Best Practices for Participating in Virtual Events

Do you want to know how to host a virtual event? Here are a few things to consider when considering best practises for engaging online events, as well as how to host something that contributes to your organization's overall goals.

1. Define your event's objectives and timeline

What is the event's overall goal? And when do you want it to take place?

These are obvious questions, but many events continue to take place simply because "we've had one every year" or "our CEO suggested it." Everyone on your team should be on the same page when it comes to the goals of your event.

For instance, do you want to use your event to build relationships with a specific audience or to promote your brand or business? Perhaps it's all of the above. If that's the case, it's time to prioritise these objectives.

Before you can create specific and measurable objectives for the event, you must first define your goals. (And you won't know if your event was a success unless you set specific, measurable goals.)

Assume the primary goal of your event is to promote your products or services. (Note that we said "market" rather than "sell"). In this case, a good goal might be to collect a certain number of email addresses from potential customers/leads.

After you've established your goals and objectives, it's time to set a date and develop a work-back plan. Which tasks must be completed under each objective, who on your team will be in charge of those tasks, and how much time will they require?

A word of caution: it is not yet time to begin publicising your event date. You may have an initial timeline, but it may need to be adjusted as your plan evolves.

2. Gather your event team

Even though an online event can be held with only one person. However, a larger, more complex event may necessitate the participation of multiple people in each of the roles outlined below; for a tiny event, a single person may perform all of these functions.

  • Event Coordinator:This person assists in the coordination of tasks on the day of the event, juggling logistics, people, and attendees to ensure the event runs smoothly. They usually collaborate with the event planner to ensure that everything runs smoothly (and according to plan).
  • Venue point of contact: Many events take place at a physical venue, which is a separate business. The venue's point of contact handles all venue-specific details such as on-site staff, food/beverage, parking, restrooms, storage, and technology requirements. Even if the venue is low-key, you'll need someone to manage the space, ensure that it has adequate utilities (such as restrooms and outlets), and map out exit plans in case of an emergency.
  • Scheduling contact: For events with multiple speakers and sessions to organise, a person in charge of the schedule is required. Their job is to ensure that your event agenda is full of worthwhile activities and speakers, and that all parties are aware of where they should be and when. This person should also assist in developing the agenda, communicating directly with speakers, and ensuring that the event runs smoothly.
  • Marketing contact or promoter: Because marketing an event takes weeks of planning, content creation, and promotion, it's common to have a designated person for event marketing and communications. It is up to them to assist in the creation of an event website, spreading awareness about your event, and ensuring your branding materials are up to date and meet various metrics.

3. Create an event plan

Once you've established your foundation, you'll need to create an event plan to tie everything together. So Your event plan keeps track of all the moving parts of the event, such as:

  • A list of what needs to be done before, during, and after the event -
  • A place to manage all contact information for the venue, partners, and any third parties you're working with -
  • A detailed schedule for the event itself

4. Select the appropriate platform for your online community event

Almost every event necessitates some level of technical assistance. This could include audio and video equipment for speakers and entertainment, onsite wi-fi, badge scanners, or live video to share event content in real-time.

Here are some questions to ask to determine how technology will be used at your event:

  • Will special equipment be required for registration, badges, and attendee communication?
  • Do our speakers and session require audio and visual equipment?
  • Do we need to set up a separate wireless network for ourselves and our visitors?
  • Do we need to set up any live-streaming videos for the event?

Check to see if your company already has access to any of these tools if it's a corporate event. If not, look for websites that compare event vendors and try to narrow down what might work for you.

Physical Location

The atmosphere of any in-person event is set by the venue. It also has an impact on other aspects of your event plan, such as promotion, travel logistics, speaker booking, and, of course, your budget, to name a few.

Consider your must-haves for the space when looking for a physical venue for your event, such as:

  • Minimum seating capacity/number of attendees - Booth space
  • Stages for keynote addresses and entertainment
  • Catering options
  • Transportation - Parking

Create a shortlist of cities and venues that make sense for your event, then research venues that meet the essential criteria you've established so far and obtain detailed quotes.

If you want to host a virtual event, you must take a different approach. You'll need to find a digital event platform instead of a physical venue. Consider the following as you weigh your options:

  • Maximum virtual capacity - Ease of use for event hosts and attendees - Capabilities for live streaming
  • Reliability and connectivity - Extras like chat rooms, interactive components, moderation functionality, audio, and tech support

5. Create a marketing strategy

As previously stated, marketing for an event requires weeks of planning and coordination that begins well before your guests arrive. That is why it is critical to collaborate with your marketing team to create an event marketing plan that you and all stakeholders in your event are proud of.

Any of the following elements can be used to brand an event:

  • Email marketing - Social media posts - Social media banners - Digital and out-of-home advertisements
  • Sponsorship management - Flyers, brochures, and print materials

6. Invite special guests

Despite the fact that this is entirely dependent on you and your budget. However, inviting a special guest always draws more people than usual. So you can talk to a few experts in your industry or a related field (celebrity status helps) who have a large social media following. If you find someone mutual to this speaker, you can search your network or ask your connections to make an introduction.

7. After your virtual event, solicit feedback from attendees

After your virtual event has concluded, solicit feedback! Not every attendee will respond, but those who do will provide critical information about how everything went, what they liked or disliked, and how things could go in the future. Authentic feedback, even if it is minimal, is essential for making your online events the best they can be.

A Virtual Event Ideas List (to Involve Your Online Community!)

We've all been Zoomed and online event-ed out. But, as we move forward and into more remote times (both circumstantial and out of necessity), it becomes increasingly important to find ways to connect, communicate, and share who we are with one another across the digital divide. We also need to be able to laugh, have fun, and interact with one another as real people. Not only is laughter a form of medicine, but it also helps us feel closer and more connected when we share it with others.

We've curated the following list of virtual event ideas with laughter, fun, connection, and personal growth in mind. We hope that these will assist you in bringing members together and creating a healthy, engaged, and authentic community. Because, at the end of the day, authentic engagement benefits not only your members, but also your organization's bottom line. Win, win, win!

Okay, here we go—time it's to connect your remote teams and community members in new, genuine, and enjoyable ways.

1. Virtual Campfire (plus ghost stories and s'mores) from attendees

Gathering around fires is in our DNA as humans. It is associated with food and communication, as well as storytelling and survival. It's also... very nice.

Have you ever participated in a video bonfire? You'd be surprised how soothing a fire recording can be (not quite the real thing, but rather mesmerizing and calming nonetheless). Plan a virtual campfire event for a fun and easy virtual social event where members can get to know one another by sharing ghost stories or personal stories centred on a given theme or adjective.

If you decide to go with ghost stories (no, it doesn't have to be close to Halloween), we recommend that attendees either turn off their room lights or use creepy virtual backgrounds.

Make your virtual campfire a competition by having people vote on the best ghost story. Alternatively, incorporate a teambuilding element by dividing attendees into breakout rooms and giving each room a few minutes (10-ish) to craft their best-ever spooky tale.

When the lights come back on, there will be s'mores for everyone (just make sure you let your attendees know ahead of time that s'mores kits will be available)!

2. Organize an Interactive Workshop

Hosting a virtual interactive workshop is one of the best ways to bring members together (in a way that feels useful to them). Leaders from your organisation can attend and share information, anecdotes, and insights into their expertise while community members soak it all in.

Make this type of virtual event as interactive as possible (no lectures, please).

3. Arrange for a Virtual Pet Event

Cats, parakeets, turtles, dogs, and mice are all welcome to the virtual pet event! Pets are family, too, and people enjoy showing them off. Put out a call for members to introduce their beloved pets to the community for your virtual pet party. An online pet party, as one of the best free virtual social ideas, allows people to shine a light on the little loved ones in their lives. It also brings people closer together by allowing them to see each other outside of their online community selves.

4. Online Trivia Night (featuring themed bonus rounds)

Hosting an online trivia night is another entertaining virtual event idea (or multiple nights over the course of a year, with themed bonus nights throughout). Online trivia nights bring members together through socialisation, entertainment, and shared mini-goals (who will win?).

5. Online Skills Learning

Some of the best virtual event ideas involve learning new skills (the kind you've always wanted to learn) in the company of others. When members collaborate with other members of the community to learn a new subject or skill, they expand their support network and dispel any misconceptions about perfection. In other words, people learn that they are not the only ones who make mistakes—everyone is a beginner at something!

Here are a few "new skill ideas" for your virtual event:

  • Sommelier 101 class - Coding bootcamp
  • Journaling workshop
  • Self-defense training
  • Cooking classes
  • Language classes for beginners
  • Meditations with a guide
  • Workshops on creative writing (We enjoy poetry a lot)
  • Photography 101 - Art classes for beginners

Whatever new skills you choose to teach during your virtual event, group learning frequently transforms people into cheerleaders and coaches. That is, by allowing members to collaborate and assist one another, your community becomes stronger and more connected.

6. Hold a Question-and-Answer Session About How You Started Your Organization

One of the numerous advantages of hosting online events is that you can reach a much larger audience than you would otherwise (like, at a live event). With this in mind, why not host a virtual event that includes a Q&A session about how you got your organisation started?

Hosting an online event like this not only brings members together, but it also aids in the removal of any intimidating walls or hierarchies that may exist between your members and the organisation itself.

Also, people want to know how you did it! This is your opportunity to tell your story in a more intimate and interactive setting. In terms of interactivity, feel free to solicit questions from your members ahead of time and to take live questions during the virtual event.

7. Virtual Happy Hour

Virtual happy hours, whether cocktail, mocktail, kombucha, or craft-beer style, are a lovely way for people to gather at the proverbial "watering hole" and shoot the sh*t.

Here are a few pointers on how to successfully host your own virtual happy hour for you and your community:

  1. Choose a day and time (perhaps conduct a poll to determine which days/times work best for the majority of your members).
  2. Distribute virtual invitations.
  3. Prepare a few topics and activities ahead of time to help get things started at your virtual happy hour (you may not need to, but just in case).

8. Virtual Mixers (community subgroups come together)

A virtual mixer is an excellent way to foster community relationships. A mixer is an event that brings together people from various groups. When you host a virtual mixer, you can bring together teams from various departments as well as members from various community subgroups—all on one video call.

Here are some pointers for organising your first (of many) virtual mixers:

  1. Reach out to community leaders and subgroup leaders to get the word out and gauge interest.
  2. Conduct a poll to determine the most appropriate day and time for your virtual mixer.
  3. Distribute your fantastic video call invitations.
  4. Begin introductions among the various groups and subgroups.
  5. Preparation games, fun discussions, and online event ice breakers for everyone!

9. Virtual Open Mic Night (one-two-one-two)

Open mic nights are ideal for showcasing your community's hidden or little-known talents. At an open mic, almost anything goes, from poetry and guitar solos to comedy sets, juggling acts, and more. The same goes for a virtual open mic, except you're doing it online rather than in person at a dimly lit coffee shop or smoky bar.

Here are some pointers for hosting your own virtual open mic:

  1. Distribute enticing invites to your virtual open mic.
  2. Establish guidelines for what participants can and cannot do (you don't want to alienate anyone or make the online event feel anything less than a safe space).
  3. Provide 5- to 10-minute time slots and encourage members to sign up.
  4. Appoint an emcee to facilitate and announce each act (someone engaging, fun, and conversational).

Aside from having a good time, what is the overarching goal? Give your neighbours a way to appreciate one another on a much more personal level. Such valuing fosters genuine connections and increases community engagement.

Tips + Final Thoughts

Before we say goodbye (until next time) and send you on your way to hosting the best virtual event ever, here are some final pointers to help make your online event hosting experience a success. Best wishes, and here we go!

  • Some of the best online events are similar to those held in person. If in doubt, ask yourself, "How would I host this event in person?" and proceed from there.
  • Memorable experiences and personalization are key components of the best online event ideas (see our full list above!). Personalize at every touchpoint if possible, and your attendees will feel much more connected and invested (both of which lead to more community engagement).
  • PLEASE record your online events and make them easily accessible to both attendees and newcomers. Why make valuable content inaccessible? Always, always make your content work for you in multiple ways!
  • There's no need to create your virtual event on your own. Nope. Whether you bring in sponsors, a virtual event production team, or both, bringing others into the fold of your online event can help it achieve the reach you desire and be as successful as you had hoped.
  • Whether you choose Zoom, Google Meet, Pensil, or another virtual event software, make sure to shop around and use the virtual event software that will provide the best experience for you and your attendees.
  • Virtual event inspiration can be found anywhere we look. To get a sense of who is hosting the best online events and how, look outside of your industry.

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