very remarkable; extraordinary.
If your virtual community events struggle with low attendance, zoom fatigue, or you as the community manager get a pit in your stomach when you anticipate planning your next event, then this guide is for you! This guide will provide clear and simple steps so you can feel energized for every event you host from now on (and watch your community catch fire too!).
Step 1: Purpose + Audience
When planning a virtual event, always begin with who you’re talking to and a stated purpose of the event. Be clear about who you are talking to. Some questions you can answer:
Why would they come to this event? What’s in it for them?
Who shouldn’t come to this event?
Is there a valid reason someone might not come?
The event purpose must be specific and the more disputable you can make it, the better. After crafting your outline, you should be able to come back to your purpose and make sure the content you planned accomplishes the mission at hand. You should also be able to identify content that would not belong at your event.
A terrible purpose: The purpose of this happy hour is to provide a fun space for people to connect.
A good purpose: The purpose of this happy hour is to make each attendee laugh, learn one new thing about someone else, and feel the freedom of letting the freak flag fly (just a little bit).
Step 2: Own Your Role
Myth: Being a chill host will help people feel at ease and welcome.
Truth: You are the captain of this ship. If you do not guide confidently and directly through the waters of this event, your attendees will be lost at sea.
If I had a dime for every potentially phenomenal event that perished at the hands of a chill host. Priya Parker references this nemesis in her book, but to keep it quick, you want equal parts authority and empathy.
Authority is the ability to confidently guide the call in the intended direction you set for it. If your purpose is phenomenal, you are likely taking some risks. When you dare to take some risks, you will likely encounter resistance. Maybe it’s someone who is monopolizing the conversation or someone who is putting up a fuss about playing by your specific rules. Gracefully and confidently redirect any resistance back to your vision and move forward. Be willing to interrupt someone who is commandeering the space and say “thank you for your thoughts, let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet.”
Empathy is the ability to receive feedback about what your members are getting (or not getting) from the event and the humility to pivot as needed. Empathy requires attunement and good listening ears. Empathy does not mean caving at the first sign of someone wanting to do something different, but it does mean being willing to adjust in service to those attending the event.
You will spend a lifetime mastering the dance between empathy and authority in your role, so don’t worry about getting it perfect, but consider this your permission slip to hold steadfastly to both.
Step 3: Timing
I am convinced the single most important way to ensure good attendance at your next event is to end your current event 60 seconds early. When you honor someone’s time now, they will trust you and reward you with attendance next time. As the facilitator, you are the guardian of the event space and time, take that role seriously and be willing to interject on a rogue monologue-er with a kind but firm “Thank you! Unfortunately we are out of time, but thank you everyone for coming, here are your next steps…”
Calls should be 20-45 minutes and they should begin promptly. Don’t do the “let’s just give it a few more minutes for people to pop on…” this trains and rewards your community for showing up late. Begin the event immediately with a welcome or intro and honor those who showed up on time (even if it’s just one person!). Over time your community will learn the correct behavior when you incentivize for it.
Step 4: Format
If your community struggles with zoom fatigue, sometimes simply changing up the format of the call can have a significant impact. Consider incorporating non-boring slides, or use tools like Mixily, Butter, or Work From. If you host your community in a space like Heartbeat, Geneva, or Circle, leverage the live features within the platform to give your call a different feel. If you’re stuck on zoom, consider inviting members to come with a specific background theme and give out a reward for the best background.
If you’re planning a more robust event, can you incorporate snail mail in a way that feels thoughtful and builds anticipation for the event? A little extra effort can go a long way in priming your community for your event.
To record or not to record?
Do not record the event. Make the energy and magic of seeing other people be the reward for attending live. Take annotative notes or prepare a detailed outline to publish in your community after the event so those who need the information can get it.
Step 5: Content
If you’re feeling dry for fresh and fun ideas, this section is for you! This list is intended to be a resource you can come back to time and again for inspiration on how to jazz up the content of your event. Sometimes just the tiniest tweak can infuse your event with new energy (eg. everyone press enter at the same time so our comments waterfall the chat rather than just letting them trickle in).
Introduction - Set the Space
Play some hype or chill music in the background when people are joining (Use this article to make sure your settings are right in zoom)
Open with a meditation like this
What’s one word to describe how you are arriving on this call?
Have everyone turn off their screens and look at their surroundings. Have them write down: 5 things they see, 4 things they hear, 3 things can touch, 2 things they smell, 1 thing they taste. Have them comment: what did you notice?
What is something that you need to put aside to be fully present on this call?
Collaboration / Engagement
The Waterfall: Have everyone type their response in the chat and all press send at the same time so it’s a waterfall of comments in the chat.
Use breakout rooms to allow members to discuss a set question related to your content.
Ask someone ahead of time to open with a favorite quote
Ask someone to bring a question of the day
Share an affirmation for someone else in the group
Recognize or celebrate someone’s work
Invite others to share
Invite participants to read slides for you
Invite someone to share their experience or story ahead of time or in the moment
Use Slido for collaborative polls
20 Minute to win it games (games that take 30 seconds)
Individual Scavenger hunt: the first person to bring the item you name will get a point, the person with the most points wins. See tons of scavenger hunt examples HERE
Host a trivia game using breakout rooms
Use games from the Zoom App Marketplace (lots of game integrations here)
29 other game ideas for virtual calls
Bingo: create a custom bingo board and send it to participants beforehand (or here is another version of bingo). (If you are a victim of particularly atrocious corporate meetings or disastrous family reunions, I have found circulating a bingo board specific to that context beforehand is the best antidote ;)
Raffle - spin the wheel to pick a winner
Ending - Reflect and Wrap Up
Ask someone ahead of time to close with their favorite quote
Take a group photo with a specific pose
Reflection questions (pick one and have them chat, come off mute, or discuss in a breakout room)
What is one thing you are taking away from this time?
What is the next thing you’re going to do?
What did you learn?
What was the most helpful thing for you on this call?
Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
About the Author
Bri Leever is Chief Community Architect at Ember, a splasher of water, and lover of books doing life in an ever-changing migration pattern ✈️