Engaging Your Alumni Virtually – How To Transition Your In-Person Events Onlineby Alumni Content in Corporate Alumni, Crisis Management | Last Edited: 31st March 2020
Virtual events and bringing people together in the comfort of their PJs is a pre-requisite to a strong Alumni program, whether this is small gatherings of like-minded people, fireside chats, or webinars. However, with the recent spread of Coronavirus and work from home policies being implemented, this is an opportunity to rethink your digital strategy around virtual events.
Citi, for example, hosted a webinar for alumni this week with their head of retail banking. Discussions centered around how the bank is preparing for more virtual interactions and the impact of COVID-19 on the global markets. There were also insights provided into best practices for organizations and small companies to work out what their strategy should be as many are having to enact policies that have only been hypotheticals up until now.
From an event perspective, online interaction is not new; webinars and live streaming have been part of the program for years. Although virtual events are somewhat more complex as they attempt to match the in-person experience by providing networking and discussion group opportunities, a combination of the right technology and strategy can provide alumni with equally enriching opportunities as sitting alongside their peers.
How To Transition Alumni From In-Person To Virtual Events
Obtain Support To Transition The Format
Initially, in cases where months of organization and large budgets have been poured into putting together an alumni event, and extensive travel plans are already in place for those involved, deciding to switch to hosting virtually from in-person can be difficult. Aside from the issue of possibly having to cut some losses, physical person to person interaction is typically one of the primary drivers for attending these sorts of events.
To determine whether your alumni community plans to support pre-organized events if they are no longer in-person, it is best to draw a consensus on the matter. Ask for feedback on whether they are willing to transition to virtual events, or feel that postponement or even cancellation is in order.
If planning hasn’t commenced yet, you are in better stead. Advertising a virtual format from the outset means that expectations are aligned and preparations are straight forward for everyone involved.
During this time, emphasize that despite the absence of face to face interaction, plugging into the event online can still provide alumni with networking opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing. Budgets can be lowered, location is no longer a limiting factor, and participation can scale to a size that might not have been previously possible at a physical meeting point. Attendees will also get access to the event content right away, and be able to recap on presentations recordings or speaker notes when they need to.
Managing The Virtual Experience From A Production Perspective
Virtual events are different beasts to organize. Primarily because both organizers and alumni attendees have to adopt the technology needed to pull it off.
Provide Technical Guidance On The Supporting Technology Pre-Event
During in-person events, the onus lies on the organizer to set up the technology infrastructure required for engaging attendees. However, transitioning the format to present online means that alumni are required to access specific streaming software, and depending on the size of the gathering, event engagement tools such as mobile apps.
Provide guidance in simple terms on how to navigate the technology so that attendees can easily overcome any barriers to accessing the event. For example, share step by step instructions on how to download or set up a profile on the streaming platform you have selected.
Practice Using a Test-Run
As the event host, you need your wits about you on the event day. This means you need to know how to execute the behind-the-scenes processes to ensure that everything runs according to the program.
In light of this, it is a good idea to execute some sort of test-run. During this, ensure that the streaming software works, and include speakers or anyone involved in the process so that they are familiar with it too. Do a full practice according to the schedule so that all of the stakeholders can get a feel for how the time will pan out.
Greet and Familiarize Alumni With The Format Upon Arrival
Set the tone for the online interaction by welcoming attendees to your virtual events. The same formalities that would apply in-person are relevant here too. Ensure that each person knows how to interact with the platform you are hosting on, and each other, and can access the presentation materials. It is also important to share guidelines on how to answer and ask questions to keep order online.
Create An Engaging Environment That Facilitates Interaction
While being in a room with people focused on a common subject enables attention, the environment surrounding a screen can provide distractions. It is, therefore, crucial to promote engaging interactions at every moment.
Keep conversations flowing, share live content, provide online networking rooms, and even utilize a mobile event app to promote engagement. Through these, you can set up Q&As and live polls to allow alumni to ask questions or provide their opinion on a matter, as well as display a feed with participants’ comments and thoughts.
Compile Data Using Event Analytics and Attendee Feedback
Hosting virtual events means you can collect data on the levels of alumni engagement with the online format. Most platforms should provide an analytics dashboard from which you can draw data. This includes mobile event apps that have the added benefit of a feedback feature.
Tracking and measuring activities such as attendance, chat interaction, engagement with polling or questions, attendee feedback, and document downloads allow you to identify areas where the experience can be improved for the next round.
Engaging Alumni Online With A Digital Strategy
Global pandemics aside, mastering your digital strategy can equip your organization with the tools to create an engaging, complementary format for in-person alumni events in the future. Regardless of the format, bringing alumni together for events ranging from webinars to global conferences drives value and keeps them aligned with your organization and dynamic community.
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