The A to Z’s of virtual event ideas for your next virtual event
Are you in charge of planning a virtual event? Say a virtual holiday party for your office this year?
If you want to make your people feel great about your next virtual event, there is ONE BIG secret that can give you success…
Make your event interactive.
Here you will discover 26 of the best tips, tricks, and proven techniques for creating more participation (and fun!) at your next virtual event. Why 26 ideas? Because this list has you covered from A to Z…
See Related: 10 Virtual Team Building Ideas For Remote Companies
1. ATTENDEE input
Attendee input is critical to a successful virtual event. Invite as much involvement from your attendees as you possibly can. And remember, you want feedback before, during and after your meeting. Don’t wait until a few days after your virtual event to survey your audience.
Your goal from the get-go is to have your team feel that it is their virtual event—not just yours. Invite feedback and input even during the program. Example: If the presentations are running long and boring your people, listen to that feedback. Use your next break to make an adjustment on the fly. Your attendees will feel heard and empowered.
2. BOXES to experience
I’m not talking about a “swag bag” with your company’s logo on a mug, hat, and shirt. No! This is about giving your virtual event attendees an experience they will remember. Experience boxes (or bags) can help you create the interactive effect that makes for wonderful virtual events.
Here are three things to remember: First, fill the box/bag with interesting and surprising items. Note: They don’t have to be expensive. You could include dice, a pack of cards, or a funny gag scratcher. Second, make sure your attendees receive this experience box prior to your virtual events—but tell them not to open it early. Finally, create a shared experience for your attendees by opening the box together.
This way you can create memorable moments that are shared by everyone in your audience. More tips about what to include: A simple recipe and special ingredients you can cook together; a wrapped present the entire group will open together.
3. CHAT in real time
Never think of online chat during your meeting as “side noise.” Live sharing from your attendees is one of the big keys to a great virtual event. Invite comments from your attendees within the first minute or two of starting your program.
You are sending an important message here: You value them and what they have to share. Give shout outs to the most responsive, engaged attendees. Have your event M.C. say: “Theresa just raised a great point, Mike.
This year we need to feel more connected as a team.” Pointer: Direct your attendees to share via one or two main vehicles. Don’t overwhelm them with too many channels. I see a number of meeting planners making this mistake. “You can chat, email us, call us on breaks, give feedback on the app, and make comments on social media.” Don’t do this! Invite participation. But make engagement easy and focused.
4. DEMOS that involve attendees
Your audience wants to interact. If your virtual event theme is “Building Together,” don’t have your main leader do all the talking. Have her demonstrate the theme by building community with another speaker and your attendees.
She could interview a professional chef as all of your attendees create a dish together. Share a demo of how to paint a sunrise, create a mega-puzzle, or solve a Rubix cube. Relate the activity to your event’s theme. People remember what they do. The main thing is this: Don’t tell me about it. Show me and involve me.
5. ENTERTAINMENT that engages
Consider hiring a professional comic to host a virtual event. Humor is inherently interactive because laughter connects people. It’s also great medicine that can revive life into your upcoming virtual events. But you have many options beyond straight stand-up comedy.
Consider: A juggling workshop, an improv show/training time, a mind-reading show, a sing-along showcase with some pros AND several of your own performers. Don’t forget to include the interactive fun factor at your next virtual event.
6. FOOD delivery surprise!
Most of your attendees will be joining in from their homes or offices. You can delight and engage them by having food delivered to them. Recently I was hosting a virtual sales kick-off event for Wolters Kluwer.
The leadership thrilled everyone by sending e-gift cards—during the meeting—for Door Dash food delivery. Remember the link between good eating and great meetings. Add the surprise factor of food delivery and you will wow your people. Make sure you invite the sharing of food pics and happy smiling faces.
7. GAMES and contests
As a virtual event host, I have led attendees in trivia contests, game shows (including versions of “Name that Tune” and “Family Feud”), and even a “Share the World’s Worst Pun” competition—which was a surprise hit and created a buzz. Many of your attendees are competitive people. Put them in the spotlight and create excitement with an interactive game that ends with award winners and prizes.
There are games that can include your entire audience via smart phone polling apps. You can also spotlight your people by region. Note: Prizes can be cash, gift cards, fun trophies, or simply bragging rights. The best virtual events have a spirit of play. Get your game on.
8. HOST or professional emcee
When you hire an experience virtual host you accomplish three important things: First, you tell your audience that this meeting is important ahead of time. Second, you have seamless transitions and an expert who can cover the inevitable bumps in the road that come with a live virtual event. Finally, a professional M.C. will help you engage your audience through humor, participation, Q & As, and much more.
Bonus tip: Spend some quality time with your host before your meeting. Have him/her learn your culture, common phrases, and key leaders. Reminder: Just because Tony in the accounting dept is fun around the office, doesn’t mean you want him to emcee your virtual meeting. You won’t regret hiring a professional virtual emcee.
9. INTERVIEWS instead of speeches
You rarely hear someone say, “I just can’t wait to hear another speech.” You can make your meeting more interactive (and memorable) by interviewing your key leaders—and your guest keynote speaker(s).
There are two great things about using the interview format: One, it’s more visually interesting for your viewers to look at two or three faces in a side-by-side split screen rather than one person speaking from a podium (or these days, from a couch!). Secondly, the person doing the interviewing can incorporate input, feedback, and questions from the audience in real time.
Extra tip: Don’t wait until the end of a session to invite this kind of audience interaction. Engage your audience throughout the presentations as much as possible.
10. JOIN a cause together
At a recent event I hosted for COX Communications our attendees—I like to call them participants—competed in an interactive game during the happy hour hang out time. But instead of winning prizes for themselves, points were converted to dollars and given to the Boys & Girls Club of America.
The sales and marking team of COX Communications felt invigorated by participating in a competitive game and simultaneously supporting a fine non-profit. Look for ways to make your team feel great and do good together.
11. KIDS and pets on camera
One of the things I say at the beginning when I host an online virtual event is this. “We are going to embrace the chaos during our virtual event.” You want your people to feel connected and encouraged to be real. When your attendees see one of your VIPs with a pet on his lap it doesn’t hurt your reputation…it actually helps to encourage attendees to feel more connected to him and your organization.
Obviously, you don’t want to encourage distractions during your online meeting. But interruptions do happen. Be ok with that. And look for ways to interact with kids during your event—without letting them steal the show. Example: I recently hosted a virtual sales awards meeting. Each award winner taped their brief acceptance speech and many of them had their kids or grandkids handing them the awards. It was priceless.
12. LEARNING track sessions
Workshops can really work at your next virtual event. Put together virtual breakout sessions and host smaller interactive seminars. Record these workshops so that everyone can catch them later on-demand at their convenience. Offer a mix of interactive sessions to choose from with virtual experts, authors, artists, entertainers.
Whenever possible make these learning track sessions hands-on. How do you do that during a virtual event? Here’s an example: I offer a workshop called You Can Do Magic! Every participant is invited to grab some simple items that are usually at hand (pencils, pennies, a rubber band, etc.) and learn a magic trick with them.
This motivational program is fun, interactive, and is a great way for the audience to feel like they are having an experience, not getting another session of “content dumping.” Key: Offer your audience workshops about topics they want to learn about.
13. MAGIC moments
Here’s a short cut for great virtual event ideas. Hire an interactive magician. But it’s important to note that a stage magician may not be the right fit for your virtual environment. You want a funny, charismatic performer like Aaron O’Brien to dazzle your people—and make it all about them.
Close up magic, mentalism, and interactive comedy magic is a fantastic option for your virtual events. Even if you don’t hire a magical entertainer look for ways to tap into the real power of magic. Surprise!
14. NETWORKING opportunities
People are hungry to connect with other people hence the appetite for social media. This is truer now more than ever in our isolated, virtual world. Make sure you do things in this arena: First, allow people to re-connect with their friends/associates within your group.
Next, invite them to connect with people they do not yet know (could be new employees, vendors, customers, guest speakers, etc.). There are some fine apps that will help you do this if you don’t have one built into your preferred platform. Gatherly.io has built their virtual platform around human networking and social media.
15. ORGANIZE a virtual gift exchange
You can help your people feel connected and tap into the fun of gift-giving at your next online events. Here’s how to pull it off in four steps:
- Put together a budget for the gifts and insist all participants honor this amount max. Note: Ideally your organization will pay for these gifts, possibly with electronic gift cards sent to attendees well in advance of the virtual gathering.
- Have your attendees randomly assigned to pairs. You can use an online Secret Santa generator like Giftster or Elfster to help create this.
- Mail the gifts. Allow sufficient time for the gifts to arrive before your virtual meeting.
- Block out time during your event for this interactive experience. Be sure to capture the wonderful reactions that will take place on the faces of your attendees. If your group is large you may need breakout rooms for this. Plan accordingly.
16. PRE-RECORD interactive pieces
Get this: Interactive moments can be pre-recorded. Use Zoom or your preferred platform to pre-record engaging interviews, funny video clips, special awards, “movie trailer” parodies with your people as superheroes, a period costume contest, a chili-bake-off, the possibilities are endless. Pre-record several segments if you have concerns about pulling off interactive moments live. You can avoid possible glitches while still tapping into the power of an engaging virtual meeting.
17. Q & A sessions
- Q & A sessions make your online event more interactive. Here are five tips to make your Q & A sessions great:
- Don’t just think about what questions to ask. What matters most to event attendees is WHO is answering.
- Consider asking someone within your organization who doesn’t get much “airtime” to be your event interviewee.
- If you have the budget for it, contact a speakers bureau such as BigSpeak.com or CleanComedians.com and conduct a Q & A session with a celebrity.
- Most importantly: Let your event audience submit questions before and or during this session via your Chat feature.
18. REWARD participation
I was emceeing a virtual event where we gave away a prize to the audience member who participated the most/best. It added energy and fun to the online sales conference. You can invite the event attendees to vote for who shared best. Or, as the meeting coordinator, you can make that call.
Two things to note here: One, make sure you are encouraging relevant engagement not just constant commenting. Second, don’t forget to give this person the promised prize! Here’s a modestly priced but awesome table-top pinball machine I gave away last week. Jim was thrilled to receive it after the virtual meeting.
19. SURPRISE your attendees
Think about the most popular shows on Netflix or other streaming services. What makes them compelling? It’s the power of surprise. Unusual characters. Unexpected endings. You get the idea. And you can tap into the power of surprise at your virtual event. Here are some tips for doing just that:
- Give your people an interactive session about self-care. Offer Yoga or meditation instruction during a break for example.
- Have a celebrity or expert provide a cameo greeting to your team.
- Encourage Instagram moments with a virtual video or photo booth.
- Give your attendees more breaks than they were expecting. Trust me, they won’t be upset about it. Even if your breaks are short interactive “Energize Exercises” your audience will appreciate them.
20. TALK SHOW format
How are you going to frame your virtual event? And how can you make it far more engaging? Consider staging your virtual event as a talk show (That’s right! Johnny Carson, Ellen, Jimmy Fallon style). This turns your speakers into guests.
It also gives you a great opportunity to plug videos into the program. “Mike, it sounds like it’s going to be an exciting year for us in sales and you have a video clip about our biggest challenge. Let’s watch it together.”
21. UNMUTE people
Want an interactive event experience? Let the people be heard! Of course you must manage this or the noise can become a nuisance. A good host can help with this by inviting feedback from individuals or the whole group at once. “Raise your hand if you have a question. I see you Tiffany. Go ahead and unmute. We want to hear from you.”
22. VIRTUAL D.J. spots
Virtual event ideas come in all shapes and sounds, and few things can add more excitement to your virtual event than music. And you don’t need to hire a famous band to rock the (virtual) house. Quiet Events offers an hour-long Online DJ Battle which includes various musical genres and allows attendees to interact with the DJs. It creates a great party-type experience.
Here’s another idea: Have your own people take turns choosing the music that plays before each session, during breaks, and at the end of each day. Use the Chat channel to invite requests. This is a no-cost, but high-impact idea that can add a lot of fun and social interactive energy to your event. Who says your virtual space can’t be turned into a virtual music festival for your lucky team!
23. WARM handoffs to speakers
In the age of the virtual meeting we can feel disconnected. Remember to model engagement when your leaders are presenting. The days of reading a long biography at the podium are gone. Keep your program m-o-v-i-n-g and conversational.
Here’s an example: I recently introduced NYT bestselling author Angela Duckworth at a marketing summit. But instead of just reading her bio, I came on split-screen with her and we had a wonderful conversation for a few minutes before she kicked off her speech. Keep your digital meeting feeling human with warm conversational hand-offs to each presenter.
Here are three things your M.C. could ask as each presenter is being introduced: “Mike how are you and your family doing? Have you had any big A-Ha moments during the pandemic? What will you be sharing with us today? You seem excited about it, why is that? “
24. X-TRAORDINARY experiences
You can never have enough virtual event ideas because the truth is, virtual meetings are here to stay. But they don’t have to be boring. Commit to making your online meeting memorable. Your attendees are craving an experiential event, so creating social events that they truly won’t forget especially in the age of covid is a great way to achieve the best results.
Here are some possibilities: wine tasting with a wine expert, an exclusive invitation to a product launch party, a murder mystery game, real-time artistic illustrations of your people, a virtual concert where the musician takes requests. The list is only limited by your imagination. And this experience factor does not have to break your budget. Build your virtual event agenda around what your attendees want to experience.
25. YOUR leaders must set the example
At a recent sales conference I hosted, one leader bailed after she gave her talk. But another V.P. spent time hanging with attendees during an interactive break cocktail hour. They loved that. If you want your people to participate, don’t just tell them to engage.
Have your leaders model it. This may require you to spend some pre-event time showing your top leaders just how easy it is to get online and get engaged. Example: If you conduct a “DJ Battle” with your attendees, have the president of your organization take a turn spinning the tunes.
26. ZOOM and other platform resources
When you are choosing the perfect platform keep two “E” words in mind. First you want the platform to be Easy-to-use. Zoom of course is just that.
Next, you want to use a platform that can handle lots of Engagement. A virtual platform is more than a website. It’s your virtual stage for live streaming and audience engagement. Big Tip: Don’t make your audience “guinea pigs” with a new virtual platform. There are two ways to avoid this big mistake. One, use a time-tested platform like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.
Next, if you can budget for it, have a production partner run the technical side of your virtual event. The big trend will be toward hybrid events with some attendees in-person and some joining via a virtual connection. A company like LiveEventSolutions.net, based in Atlanta, can make your entire meeting look and sound great.
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Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular virtual comedian, magician, and virtual speaker.