9 Tips for Hosting an Engaging Virtual Event or Class

Uncategorized Aug 18, 2020

In this POST-COVID era, the pivot towards virtual events and classes is an essential one for many business.

However, hosting a virtual event is both an art and a science, and it’s often more complicated than it may seem at the beginning.

I have been to SO many virtual workshops and conferences and classes over the last several months, and the ones that I would consider to be good investments all had a bunch of things in common.

The first hurdle with a virtual event is to get people to sign up-- and I have talked about creating and selling an offer so many times on this podcast before-- but the real trick, I think, is how to actually deliver a great experience for your attendees such that they show up, they engage, and they continue along your customer journey or value ladder, whichever term you use to refer to the different services or products in your business.

Now just yesterday I wrapped up attending what I would consider to be the absolute gold standard in virtual conferences and that was the Tribe Live event, so I’m going to talk a lot about my experience with that event today. But here’s the thing.

Stu McLaren and the tribe team have a huge, gigantic budget for events like this.

So in this article I am going to share how you can give your customers that gold-standard feel, even if you are on a much more modest budget, because the principles of a great event remain the same, regardless of scale.

Now much of this is going to be specifically geared towards a one-off event or virtual conference, but even if you have a weekly class series or something similar, this will absolutely still apply to you, so be sure to read all the way through to the end.


1) Have a Workbook or Way to Follow Along

This one may seem pretty obvious but SO many online events I have attended since quarantine did not have a workbook, either physical or downloadable, which makes it very hard for attendees to follow along with the event or retain any information.  

If you are on a budget, it’s totally acceptable to make a downloadable workshop instead of sending a physical one! 

I design all of my workbooks, usually myself without the help of a designed, in Canva using their workbook templates. I choose a template, make the workbook, then save it as a PDF file to upload to the event hub or send out to attendees via email.

Now a great way to deliver an even easier experience is to make the workbook PDFs fillable, meaning users can fill in the blanks on their phones or computers and not even need to print them out, since printing can be a big barrier people face when trying to utilize workbooks.

You may have to invest in something like Jotform or adobe acrobat to make your workbooks fillable, but to me, it has always been worth it because it increases the value people get from the event, which makes them more likely to either attend a future event, purchase something else from me, or refer a friend or peer to my business.

When I create my workbooks, I am always sure to adapt them precisely to the content, so you will probably want to make them last, after you make your slides and or script your content.

For example, if on one slide I am giving people 3 tips for creating the perfect facebook ad image, I will put a space for attendees to write those 3 tips in their workbook.

Basically, the workbook should force attendees to write down the most crucial bits of information, and not just be a bunch of blank lined pages for notes.


2) Send Attendees Something!

One thing I always love and appreciate about virtual events is getting something physically mailed to me. 

Whether it be a workbook, or even a simple postcard thanking me for registering, it always makes the experience feel more tangible and it will definitely increase the likelihood I actually show up to the event live.

With the Tribe Live event, Stu and his team went way above and beyond and actually sent us an entire box of surprise goodies, which will forever be cemented in my mind and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve already posted about it and told anyone who would listen. 

It was a super thoughtful care-package type box with things like blue-light blocking glasses since the event was 3 long days of sitting in front of a computer screen, some post it notes, a branded cookie, motivational coloring sheets and colored pencils for breaks, a tribe hat, an event specific branded pin, laptop stickers, and all sorts of other goodies.

Yes, all of those things are branded so it’s designed to spread awareness about Stu’s business, but they were all extremely practical things that I appreciated and was so excited to receive.

There were also some fun silly things like a blow up beach ball, confetti to throw, things like that, that really set the expectation for me that this event was not only going to be extremely valuable and well done, but that it was going to be FUN.

Now I am usually not super excited to attend long virtual events but I was PUMPED for this-- in large part due to all of these goodies.

I know for sure that for my next event I will be sending a physical workbook and a few small treats that fit into an envelope (I can’t break the budget with a full goodie box just yet) just to give all of my registrants that personal touch to make their experience truly memorable.


3) Create a Community Around the Event

One thing that is missing from many online events is the networking value that is typical of an in-person conference.

The WORST experiences I have had with virtual events all had this major thing in common-- there was no communication or collaboration between attendees.

I had no idea if there were 50 people watching or 50,000-- and I was not able to bounce ideas off of other attendees or get their contact information for future partnership opportunities.

One thing that I loved about Tribe Live was that the team created a pop-up (i.e. temporary) Facebook group for all attendees to join and discuss the event.

I loved seeing all of the posts leading up to the event, like for example when people would receive their boxes in the mail, because it created such a strong sense of community and belonging and it generated so much excitement  leading up to the event.

In addition to the Facebook group, we also had the opportunity to chat with attendees in small breakout sessions which the team used Zoom to facilitate. All 3 or so thousand of us were randomly divided into Zoom rooms of 6 where we were then given specific instructions (for example, share stage 1 of your membership success path) to make the conversations productive and clear.

This feature really made it feel so much closer to an in-person event because it’s not just the event leader that can bring attendees value. Everyone has different experiences and perspectives to bring to the table and for this event, those breakout sessions were for me probably the most valuable part, and they had nothing to do with Stu or the speakers!

The Tribe team also encouraged all attendees to leave their cameras on which I loved. I loved scrolling through and seeing everyone’s set up and seeing real live faces listening and learning. It made the event more engaging and enjoyable overall.


4) Make it Easy for Attendees to Attend

Speaking of keeping cameras on, that isn’t always easy or appealing for attendees.

Something that many virtual events have done is designed virtual backgrounds, which you can do for free in canva, and make them available for download.

For my next event I am going to design 6 or 7 branded options with different styles for attendees to choose from to allow them to show their personality a bit.

This can be done at no cost to you but can be such a helpful feature for attendees who may not have a home office or a suitable background for live events. Or, maybe they just don’t want everyone to know they are tuning in from bed!

The virtual events I attend are typically done using zoom which supports the use of these virtual backgrounds but I know other softwares do as well.

Speaking of software, I think it is also so helpful to have an event HUB of some sort.

For me, this hub would be a product in Kajabi, where users can access downloads, calendars, instructions, links, bonuses, replays, etc.

I have seen many events just try to use zoom plus email to convey all of the needed information but this can make it very difficult for attendees to have easy access to everything they need.

Even if you just have a simple website like squarespace, you can create  a password protected page for attendees only where you store all event information in one place.

The takeaway here is that you MUST make it as easy as possible for attendees to attend and access materials, or simply put, they won’t.


5) Gamify the Experience to Increase Engagement

Now this is something that Tribe Live did so well that it blew all other live events out of the water and it made it super motivating to engage in every aspect of the 3 day event.

They had their website hooked up to give users “points” for all sorts of stuff-- from downloading things, to clicking social media links, to attending sessions, to filling out their workbooks and answering quiz questions.

They then had a leaderboard which displayed the top points receivers, and people were going nuts completing all of the event tasks so they could win and maybe win some cool prizes.

BUT-- you don’t have to get that fancy to make this strategy effective.

For example, if you have a lot of buzzwords typically used in your events or classes, make attendees bingo cards! This will help them pay attention because they want to be the first to win BINGO and it will also add an element of fun to the event which can be so hard to do virtually.

You can also create quizzes or surveys in google docs and offer some incentive for getting the answers correct to give the same effect.

I have also seen people reward the top engagers in a pop-up Facebook group with some sort of prize or incentive, which is easy to do with Facebook groups. Not only does this add fun, it also offers an incentive for people to engage with one another, which can really increase the value attendees take away from your event experience.


6) Don’t Offer a Replay (For Free)

Now, hear me out on this one, because it can be pretty controversial.

One of my biggest takeaways from Tribe Live was that if the success of your event relies on people showing up and being engaged-- do NOT promise recordings of all sessions for free.

I think around 3,000 people signed up for this event and there was consistently about 2,500 people online at all times -- because there was major FOMO due to the no-replay rule.

This was crucial for this event because there was an offer at the end and a very strict short deadline to act on that offer. So if a ton of people just watched the replay, they would have missed out on the offer and the Tribe team would have missed out on a ton of sales.

And honestly most people would have forgotten all about the replays and therefore not gotten any value from the event.

If your class or event does NOT rely on people showing up and being engaged-- then by all means, offer a replay. But just know, it WILL drastically decrease live attendance and engagement.

7) Have a Support Team or Virtual Assistant

This is a big lesson I learned the last few months. If you are speaking LIVE -- you cannot offer support.

So if something is going wrong with the sound or the video or if someone can’t login-- there is no way you can help them and get them to where they need to be.

So if you will be doing any sort of live event I would highly recommend hiring even just a temporary virtual assistant to help out.

Something I also have learned from my own events is that I need to be in a clear, energized head space to deliver a great presentation. If I am constantly answering support emails and putting out tech fires-- I can NOT teach at a high level. I will be very stressed and unable to deliver a quality presentation which is the whole point of an event.


8) Over-Deliver and Make it Fun!

This is one that I have talked about on this podcast so many times but I want to reiterate it once more. 

Throw in unexpected bonuses, engage more than promised with attendees, send surprises in the mail, have surprise speakers-- this will drastically increase the perceived value attendees get from the event and its great to keep them engaged throughout.

Plus, if something you promised does not go as planned, like for example say a speaker or presentation falls flat and doesn’t resonate with the audience, having over-delivered in other areas will entice the attendees to give you a little more grace and patience and will give you time to fix these errors or shortcomings while keeping everyone happy.

One other way the Tribe Team over delivered again when it came to making it fun and keeping engagement up was they sent us these really fun emoji sticks that we were asked to hold up to show our reactions at given times. This was such a fun unexpected thing and it’s certainly something I will be thinking about and sharing for years to come-- which is exactly what you want as an event host!


9) Have an Offer at the End

Most in-person events will have some sort of offer at the end. If attendees were already asked to have some prerequisite (like for example, had to be users of a certain program or had purchased a course previously) then maybe there is a high level coaching offer or a mastermind offer.

If the class is a series then maybe there is another series available to purchase after this one wraps up.

If it’s an open event maybe there is a course or membership or program to purchase.

The idea here is to NOT let your attendees journey end when the event does. Give them next steps. If they loved the event and want to work with your business more, give them something else to purchase or sign up for.

DO NOT assume just because you have their emails or their contact information that you can count on them to purchase next time you have a new offer, whenever that is.

Make your offer extremely time sensitive, like ONLY available during the event, for example, to really give people a reason NOT to wait. 

For offers that are always open, like an evergreen course for example, I also have seen people give event-participant-only discount codes or bonuses to provide a strong incentive for attendees to buy then and there without giving them a false illusion of scarcity which many rightly believe to be ethical.

 Think to yourself-- what do they need next? What is the next logical step for event attendees? How can I keep them moving along my customer journey or value ladder?

That is the best way to make sure you are putting an offer out there that will actually convert.


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