There are two things you don't want to see when hosting a virtual event: yawns and audience members leaving. It's challenging to keep audiences, especially virtual ones, engaged and listening; computers create extra distance, watching from home means constant distractions, and the pull of streaming movies is super strong. You're up against a lot of competition for your audience's attention.
But there are also lots of ways to ensure your audience enjoys themselves and that you keep their attention (and donations). Here are some activities to think about when planning your virtual event and handy tips to help you engage those prospective donors.
Talk to the Source
The absolute best way to know what your audience wants to see, hear, and engage with is to ask them. Have you already put on a few virtual events? Send out an audience survey! Gather that feedback and see what people think. Better yet, ask for feedback as people leave the event.
Was the event too long? Maybe no one could hear the speaker or people couldn't figure out how to join the livestream. Did you have activities planned or was it all talk? Ask your audience and they'll make your job so easy by telling you exactly where you can improve for next time.
Keep Virtual Events Short
Hosting a virtual fundraiser is not the time for a five-hour event. People don't want to sit at their computers, after work or on the weekend, for that long. Just think about the Oscars: how many times do you walk away or switch the channel for awhile?
When planning your virtual event, be mindful of the time. If you have a guest speaker, make sure to place them earlier on or in the middle. Saving them for the end of a long event won't guarantee that people stick around. In fact, you're more likely to lose your audience if you go this route.
We recommend keeping things under an hour, if possible. And if you need more time for your event, be sure to plan breaks and activities to break up the monotony of staring at a screen.
Virtual Events are Unique
When hosting a larger in-person event, it's hard to get around the room and talk to everyone. You might have a few moments where you address your audience, but there's only so much handshaking and conversation a single person can do in a couple of hours.
Now, when that same person is hosting a virtual event? They can address individuals much faster and more directly! Virtual fundraisers give nonprofit organizations the chance to talk directly to their donors, in real time, and make a connection that will (hopefully) turn into a lasting donor relationship.
Not sure how to connect with donors directly? Here's how you can flex those virtual event muscles:
- Respond to audience comments/questions in real-time on platforms like Zoom, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, etc.
- Acknowledge people by name when they join the event
- Bring people to the video fore when addressing a question
- Create breakout rooms so audience members can brainstorm or discuss more intimately (Zoom is great for this)
Use Activities to Engage your Audience
Some virtual events call for talking heads (guest speakers, panels, etc.) and that's perfectly okay. But if you really want to get your audience involved, or you're needing to grow prospective donors, then adding in some activities is a great way to relieve the tedium of staring at a computer screen.
Ask your audience questions throughout the event or have a quiz at the end that attendees can complete in to win a prize.
Raffles are a great way to keep people listening and raise money. Most platforms automatically number attendees, so all you need is a random number selector and you can call out raffle winners throughout the event. Tip: require people to be present to win.
Silent or otherwise, auctions generate a lot of excitement and energy. Not only will you raise money at your event, but you'll probably bring out the audience's competitive spirit, too.
Virtual Events Need Diversity
Diversity of people, voices, and activities all add to the overall success of any virtual event. It's like the difference between a one-man show and a full musical cast. People want to hear diverse voices and perspectives, as well as ways of speaking, engaging, and joking.
If your events seem to be plateauing, bring in a guest speaker and promote the special topics they will discuss. You can also invite your board chair to talk or have staff members on to share their own experiences with the nonprofit. If you're hosting a livestream, let a few people take over in sections so it's not just one person the entire time. Diversity makes everything better and it should be an essential part of any virtual event plan.
These are all great ways to not only keep your audience engaged during events, but to make your events extra-engaging as you go, build a reputation for awesome events your organization can be proud of.