View from the Spare Room: Running a Virtual Event

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Somehow, it is the end of August. Somehow, I am still working in my spare room. I don’t even want to say “under normal circumstances” anymore, so I won’t. Fall is a busy season for The Friends and Library Strategies. At this point, I think it is understood that when I say: “we’re busy gearing up for our annual fundraising gala, Opus & Olives,” that what I mean is “We’re getting ready for another night of watching people present as the Roman-bust screen versions of themselves that we’ve all grown used to in the past six months.”

We’ve learned quite a bit about what it means to put together a virtual event, whether that event is an award ceremony for 900 or an intimate, moderated conversation between three authors that might have previously gathered 25-60 people in a library meeting room.

While we also continue to learn from our fellow nonprofit orgs as they roll out their own fundraising events –  things are changing all the time –  there are some things we’ve learned that I hope can be useful across the board.

DON’T try to replicate your in-person event.
We have found that shorter is better. Trying to contain the event to an hour seems to be a useful guidepost. To encourage this, we have found that some degree of pre-production is useful. That way, if you say five minutes for a speech, you can mean five minutes. Some spontaneity is lost, but the polish gained is worth it.

DO try to replicate the togetherness of your in-person event.
Togetherness can mean a lively (monitored) chat going at the same time, so everyone can react in the moment. We’ve found this to be a pretty incredible tool for audiences to feel as though they are all in the same space.
Community can also be created with “value-added” items, like goodie bags given with ticket sales. Also encourage guests to post photos on social media. Your audience should see that they are “connected” with a group of other invested folks, especially in cases where people are rather familiar with each other. “Look at Emily wearing her I HEART the Library tee-shirt with a silly party hat on?! Isn’t it great?”

DO find a host or emcee with broadcast experience
In another life, I did some voice-over work. Speaking into the void and reacting is bizarre. It is not at all like standing in front of a crowd and reading the room. Hiring someone who is used to broadcasting gets you the power of connection in a different way.
Lean into the weirdness when it is appropriate. When we ran our Book Awards event last spring, we decided to just give in to the strangeness and “telethon” like atmosphere from time to time. It helped that our hosts were actors. (Trust me.)

And remember, when these virtual events go well, you have evergreen content that is an illustration of the kind of work your organization can do which should serve as outreach all on its own.  

Good luck!

If you’re curious to see how our event comes together, tickets are available here.

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