6 Tips for a Killer Association Virtual Engagement Strategy
By Irene Costello, Marketing Manager
Hello COVID-19, goodbye annual conference in Florida.
The shift from in-person to digital engagement in the association world has been sudden, ubiquitous, and, for some organizations, difficult. Despite challenges at the start, online programs have the potential to reach even more members than before by removing physical limitations and costs. With these potential benefits in mind, it is important that virtual events are prepared well in advance and run smoothly.
Hosting virtual events is an art form. We’ll help you perfect your virtual engagement strategy with these 6 easy tips.
1. Choose the Right Platform for Your Organization’s Needs
Before you even start looking at technology for your virtual events, make sure you know exactly what you want. There are many programs that all offer various services. You can narrow down your choices and ensure you don’t run into any unexpected problems by asking your association a few questions. Some examples include:
- Is my event going to be interactive?
- Do I need to control audience interactions?
- Do attendees need the ability to call in on a mobile device rather than a computer?
- Does this all come at a reasonable price?
It may feel like there is an endless number of virtual event programs that offer similar benefits. However, don’t be afraid to try before you buy; most come with, albeit limited, test periods. Here at the Markens Group, we trialed four programs before deciding the Zoom Webinar 500 plan fit our needs best. We selected it because we needed a “call-in” feature so our audience could participate on the go. Zoom offered these capabilities in a much easier format than the rest.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
“Practice makes perfect,” and that includes hosting online events! Virtual sessions are uncharted territory for many associations, but you don’t need to know everything before you start. In fact, most of us know what doesn’t work because we had originally tried it and found that it didn’t fit our needs.
It’s more important to start than to be great when you start. That’s not to say, your sessions should be halting, choppy, and difficult to parse. By having a basic understanding of your tools, you now have a platform to share your unique information and perspective.
Through many trial runs, you’ll be able to catch errors in content while preventing technological snafus that may occur during an event. Some tips we’ve picked up along the way are:
- Clarify and understand the attendee experience:
- What are your attendees seeing on their side of the screen? How will that affect your operations? Use what you learn here to guide your attendees through the session.
- Assign your team roles as co-hosts:
- Assigning clear roles to staff members might be the most important step to ensure that attendees have as smooth an experience as possible. With designated people monitoring and answering questions in chat and Q&A functions, presentation/screen sharing, and speaking permissions, other team members can focus on their tasks, speaking of which…
- Let your host host:
- Will your host be responsible for any controls once the session begins? If everything else has been accounted for, your host can focus on delivering a stellar, engaging experience for your audience.
- Log-on in advance:
- Plan to log on to your technology at least 10 minutes before your scheduled start time. This gives your team an opportunity to get organized and prepare speakers and cohosts. In order to do this and keep your team behind the curtain, you should activate a waiting room where your guests will wait until you are ready to admit them.
3. Provide Focus
Has the abundance of virtual meetings left you feeling more exhausted than if they were in person? There is a reason for that! When you’re in virtual meetings all day, you’re constantly looking at yourself, your posture, and your surroundings. Whether you’re conscious of it, you’re also criticizing yourself. Do yourself (and your members) a favor and give them something other than the host to focus on!
Creating a short presentation for attendees to watch will not only alleviate some of the stress to act perfectly – it creates an opportunity to call attention to your association, updates, and information relating to your event. This can represent your brand and tease what your team has been working on. In interactive events, put a few questions on the screen to help guide conversation.
4. Be Specific
The immediate switch to digital interaction has left only a handful of people feeling comfortable and confident in a virtual meeting space. Give your audience a helping hand by preparing tips or instructions prior to your meeting. This can guide discussion, answer common questions, remind your audience of your webinar’s topic, or provide them with resources. Consider preparing answers/instructions to these common questions:
- Viewing options:
- Have you or any colleagues been confused by gallery view vs. speaker view? Address this concern as you begin to fight interruption in the future.
- Agenda Rules:
- Let your attendees know how you plan for the event to run. Will it be interactive or should participants sit back and listen?
- Participation rules:
- Do your participants have to raise their hand virtually to participate in a discussion? Clearly state how they can do this, including any participants calling in (remember, these attendees can’t see your on-screen instructions).
Don’t be afraid to remind your audience about these rules during your session. Remember, your attendees are likely new to this technology and could use a refresh from time to time.
5. Limit Distractions and Remain Professional
Connecting virtually, specifically from home, creates the opportunity for an unlimited amount of distractions and informalities. Here are a few tips that can keep you and your audience from getting pulled away from your presentation:
- Check your surroundings:
- Make sure there is nothing behind you to distract your attendees from the information you are providing. As many of us are working from home, we are opening a door into our intimate lives, so make sure you are only sharing what you are comfortable with on camera.
- Maintain appearances:
- Maintain a presentable appearance for your guests. (Even though that means you can wear your favorite sweatpants, make sure you don’t show them!) Check your lighting prior to an event to make sure your face is clear and visible to guests. As a best practice, avoid sitting in front of a window or any excessive backlighting.
- Unmute only when you’re speaking:
- Are there others actively living or working in your new setting? Muting your microphone when you are listening to others will ensure that no one hears the kids playing in the next room, or the dog barking at the mailman. Not to mention—muting yourself will also avoid all those noisy email notifications and prevent any echoing when others on the call are speaking.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Is your team still uncomfortable with their virtual engagement strategy? That’s okay, you don’t have to go it alone. If you’re looking for help starting your own virtual presentations, reach out to us at the Markens Group, we’re happy to help!