You may be navigating how to move canceled events and conferences online in the wake of the global pandemic. Although this (understandably) poses a challenge for many organizations, there are some silver linings. Virtual events can enable your organization to engage with audiences who may not have been able to attend in-person in the first place. It also gives you a chance to reinvigorate your planned programming.
There’s something wonderful about a group of people coming together virtually from across the city, region, state, country, or globe to discuss or support a common issue. It’s inspiring to see professionals wanting to share their expertise with peers near and far. When done well, these events can be effective and inspiring sources of development, networking, and fun.
When done poorly, events risk being a missed opportunity to engage with your core audiences while strengthening your organization or cause, all at the expense of precious resources and time.
So what does your brand have to do with this?
We’ve shared before how to keep your virtual meetings on-brand, but what about an entire virtual event? Even outside of COVID-19, event planning can be challenging. It can be easy to go overboard and wind up with an event that strays away from your organization’s brand and goals. Whether virtually or (eventually) in-person, when it comes to hosting, planning, and executing, your event should be an extension of your organization’s brand.
Here are six questions you can ask that will help you plan a successful and on-brand event.
1. How will this event help my organization achieve its goals?
Hosting any event requires extensive time and money, even when done remotely. Anything that isn’t helping you achieve your mission or is watering down your brand can be a waste of your resources.
A celebration to recognize the hard work of your staff or donors is a worthy reason for an event, but only if that event inspires the attendees to continue their involvement with your organization, thereby helping you achieve your goals. Strike a balance between joyfully acknowledging and celebrating your donors and reinforcing the need for their ongoing support by sharing inspiring and compelling stories about your cause.
2. What is the big idea you want your attendees to take away?
Now that you know how your event will benefit your organization, think carefully about what your specific goal is. What are you trying to do for your attendees? Help them to think differently about something? Motivate them in some way? Introduce them to something new? Train them to better themselves, their organization, or an industry? Recognize them for their achievements?
Keep this big idea and goal at the forefront of your thoughts, and don’t stray. If your aim is to educate attendees on the complex issue of childhood poverty, weigh all elements of your event against that goal and eliminate anything that can’t support it. A virtual panel about organic gardening only makes sense if you can tie it back to being either a cause or a solution to childhood poverty.
3. Who is attending this event, and what do they hope to gain by attending?
Your attendees have their own goals for your event, and they may not be the same as yours. Meeting their needs means that they’ll be more receptive to your message and that they’ll continue to support you in achieving your goals. With your goals and the needs of your attendees clearly identified, think about how you can achieve both.
An organization that supports young fundraising professionals can be sure that attendees will be looking to network to help grow their own careers. An event that only focuses on building the hosting organization’s capacity and that doesn’t allow opportunities for networking will leave your guests wishing they spent their time elsewhere, and you risk losing their support and enthusiasm in the future.
4. What is the name and theme for this event?
Think about the last conference or professional event you attended. If you came away from the event feeling energized and excited about getting back to work, armed with the key tools and ideas, chances are that the event had an element of cohesiveness. That is, all the speakers, sessions, events, and sponsors had something in common and were reinforcing that big idea. In one word, the event or conference had a theme.
Choosing a theme is an opportunity to inject your brand’s personality into your event. A successful theme should be memorable and easy to understand. It should create a sense of urgency and reinforce the reason the event and your organization exist. With your event goals in mind, you will want to create a theme and event name that aligns with your brand and mission.
5. How can I transition an in-person event to be fully remote?
In moving to a fully virtual event, you’ll need to be more cautious about what activities you have planned to engage your audiences, as well as logistics. However, this can be a great opportunity to revisit your programming and make sure it’s timely and on-brand.
Is there an opportunity to use your brand values to create new opportunities for your audience to engage with your event that you may not have tried in the past? Virtual events are a great time to try out peer-to-peer fundraising, an online-only video campaign, social media contests, or an exclusive pre-event for VIP donors. Embrace the challenge, and use it as an opportunity to try something new.
Ensure that all attendees have easy access to whatever platform you will host this on. Ask that they participate with their video and audio – visual engagement not only helps them stay engaged, but also helps guide your speakers as well.
Increase the amount of small-group activities or networking opportunities you’ll offer during the event. Does your meeting platform offer features such as small breakout rooms? These forums can be great for small-group discussions and building connections.
Remember to take breaks – a lot of them. A remote session can sometimes be even more emotionally taxing than being in-person. Build in occasional breaks and encourage attendees to leave their space for both a mental and physical break.
6. Does this amplify my organization’s brand?
Your organization’s brand and the event theme should drive your agenda as well as other elements, such as speaker selections. And it should also drive decisions, such as the sponsors who help make it happen.
Have some fun bringing your brand and theme to life. Create a logo for your event and use it across all communications relevant to it, whether in print or digital. Remember that every experience an attendee has at your event—both positive and negative—is affecting your brand forever more.
Your event should build upon your existing brand and visual identity and never compete with it. If your brand personality is sophisticated and reserved, but your event is playful and bold, you’ve missed a chance to remind attendees who you really are. Go back and reevaluate. What adjustments can you make to ensure that your event doesn’t stray from or, worse, weaken your brand? And then make them.
Have you successfully migrated an event to being fully remote? We’d love to hear your story. Share in the comments below.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.