In 2020, to ensure the safety and health of our network and staff, we held our annual gathering virtually for the first time. Though we couldn’t be in the same room, we were committed to hosting an event that was engaging, valuable and energizing.
Our team tried new things, learned as we went and gathered feedback along the way. The result — the 2020 Cradle to Career Network Convening — was one of our best events yet. We’re excited to share what we learned for other virtual event hosts as we continue to take advantage of the accessibility and creativity made possible through online events.
Here are our top 10 virtual event tips. For more, download our complete virtual events guide here.
- Create a distinct themed experience each day. If your event spans multiple days, use themes to curate content and connect your attendees to the experience.
- Co-design with stakeholders. Collecting attendee feedback is important, but so is co-designing your event with attendees — actually including them in planning.
- Re-think traditional keynote structure. We all have shorter attention spans when experiencing something through a computer screen rather than in person. Instead of a traditional keynote, consider hosting the keynote as a fireside chat between the speaker and a moderator. This structure creates more interaction, helping to energize and engage attendees as they’re watching.
- Turn on the chat box. At an in-person plenary, attendees can feel the energy of the room and can hear and see reactions to what’s being shared on stage. The chat box of your virtual event platform can replicate that same energy and connectivity among attendees.
- Add closed captioning services, including translation, for accessibility. Determine what features you need to ensure that all attendees can engage in the plenary sessions and keynotes.
- Make space for affinity groups. Attendees find incredible value in having a supported and brave space in which to gather with those who share their identity and lived experience. Prioritizing including affinity groups in your event’s schedule will create an engaging, connected experience for attendees.
- Offer asynchronous programming. Differentiated, on-your-own content offers a meaningful option for learning. This content could look like a video to watch, a podcast to listen to, an activity to experience or reflection questions to journal about.
- Incorporate music and display trivia and other fun or useful information before virtual sessions start. Play intentionally chosen music as attendees enter your virtual spaces to create excitement and show slides offering event updates and more.
- Create small group opportunities with break-out rooms. Include break-out rooms in session design to create opportunities for attendees to connect with each other and process learning.
- Model and encourage using pronouns. To create an inclusive environment for all participants, create norms or agreements around using pronouns in display names and facilitator and speaker introductions.
These are just some of the lessons learned from StriveTogether’s events and programs over the past eight months — and we are still learning! We are grateful to be among so many other organizations and leaders sharing insights on how to create meaningful virtual engagement. For more lessons and specific examples of what we tried and what worked, access our virtual events guide below.