Guest post written by: Victoria Reid
Whoops! Did you raise your hand to volunteer to host a virtual celebration? Oh no!
Now you are left with trying to figure out how to make it special. Don’t stress. It will be special if you plan it with a purpose and keep the guests’ needs in mind. Look beyond the checklist to create a memorable experience that your guests will be happy they attended. As a twenty-year veteran in the event industry I have learned that when you keep these two things in the forefront, you can design a virtual party celebration that will be special.
Here’s the key to a successful event – the magic happens when you immerse them in an experience. You want it to be fun, emotional, involved, active and enjoyable. When people share a positive experience, they will feel seen, heard and happy.
Transforming your event from the dreaded virtual meeting to an event that everyone looks forward to can be done when you keep these things in mind.
Have a Purpose
Any event professional will tell you that the number one thing to know when planning an event is to have a goal. Ask this simple question – what do I want my guests to experience?
Do you want it to be a celebration, build team, build morale, gratitude, or to give back? Starting with the end goal in mind you can create a delightful event that lets the guests know you care. Stephen R. Covey said “Begin with the End in Mind”. Which means begin your event with a clear vision of what you want. When you know what you want to accomplish you can begin to organize your virtual event.
Write a story
When you know what you want to accomplish, begin to layer the elements of your event to create a larger picture. Think of your event as a story with a beginning, middle and conclusion. Your guests are the characters, the setting is the virtual platform, the plot is your theme, the conflict is the goal, and the resolution is the amazing time your guests will enjoy! When you build these basic steps into your program, your event will unfold like a great novel or movie that your guests can follow.
People will always remember how special you made them feel. Keep this forefront in your mind when planning. Create something that makes people feel. In other words, make it emotional. Not crying in a tissue emotionally (unless that’s your goal), but fun, exciting, playful.
Consider planning something that you, yourself would enjoy experiencing. Would your celebration make you feel excited, warm, a part of something greater than yourself? If it doesn’t, look for occasions to incorporate emotion.
If it’s a fundraiser, have someone who has been impacted by your cause to share their personal story. If it’s gratitude, have people share why they are grateful for the team. Some fun team building activities your guests might enjoy; play games, break off into teams and have them write a song, decorate cookies, virtual gift exchange, mix a cocktail, cook a dish or have a virtual taste testing. Using polling features a couple of times during the event will keep it engaging too! Whatever your theme is, incorporate the five senses; smell, taste, touch, hearing and seeing. We want to experience and feel. People remember things that are tied to emotion and the senses.
Build a Solid Timeline
You snooze, you lose! Not on your watch. Build a timeline that keeps people interested in what’s next.
Keep the segments short. We have 6,000 thoughts a day. Our attention span is 8 seconds, which falls below a goldfish at 9 seconds. Keeping it short will allow your guest to stay attentive and engaged. Trust me, they will appreciate the shorter pace.
A purposeful approach opens the door for a smooth and joyful experience. You and your production crew will be the only people who know if you’ve gone off script.
A sample of a simple and effective 1-hour timeline:
- Play music as people join! 10 min.
- Share the timeline, 5 min.
- Get people engaged with a shared icebreaker, 10 min.
- Deliver the main message. No more than 15 minutes please!
- Wow your guests! Plan something unexpected. They will be thrilled. 15 min.
- Re-engage your guest with another shared experience.
- Conclude the festivities and say thank you! 5 min.
When you plan on the forefront, you will increase your chances of the event running smoothly. Seeing a stressed host spells disaster on camera. Give yourself grace if your timeline is off. Conclude when you say you will. People will appreciate it.
Give Permission to be Authentic!
Having fun interactive icebreakers games are great ways to build community. You want to create an event that is inclusive of everyone. In the beginning of the party, give people permission to opt-out of participating and to be off camera. Here’s why, in your group there may be someone who doesn’t feel comfortable on camera or may not enjoy games. For some people this can result in social anxiety. Be inclusive! It’s not going to hurt anything if they don’t fully participate.
It’s a celebration, not a business meeting. This may be quirky, but upfront gives your guests permission to be authentic. Tell them it’s okay to use the chat feature, move around, be on or off camera, sing, or show off their dogs. We want to see people who are genuine and authentic.
As the organizer, have a really good game plan, rehearse it, and allow things to flow somewhat organically. If things happen with the production, don’t sweat it. They will always remember the silly things that happen.
Respect people’s time! One of the things we have learned through the pandemic is that time is precious. Be respectful of time. If your celebration gets off track, don’t sweat it. As long as you end when you said you would, things will work out okay.
Schedule a time that works best for most. We spend hours in front of a screen, have kids, committees and other obligations to deal with. Post-COVID, we have learned to set personal boundaries. If you don’t schedule the celebration for a time that works for most, you will get a solid – NO! You want to schedule it for a time that people can look forward to, relax and enjoy themselves.
If it’s the end of the year, when people are overcommitted with festivities, consider alternative dates. For example, hosting the event in January where everyone can celebrate by ringing in the new year! If you have the event in November or December, think about hosting an event earlier in the day, over shared coffee, breakfast, or lunch. Enjoy a good laugh in the morning to boost their moods!
Tell Them What to Do
In my many years in the industry I’ve learned that people want to be kept in the loop. Communication is key. Different from a live celebration, you will want to communicate more than before. Guests will be grateful for the extra instructions.
When to send invitations will depend on how much planning time there is and who you are inviting. There is also debate on the best day of the week to send. What has worked for me is to begin email communications two months in advance, followed by a series of emails. People are overwhelmed with emails to read. A very effective and enjoyable way to communicate your celebration is to send a short video. Your chances of them watching a video over an email communication shoots up greatly. Below is a sample communications timeline you may find helpful.
Communications for a Two Month Timeline:
- Send a Save-the-Date email or video invitation, 2 months
- Event details emailed, 1 month
- Event details emailed. Update the calendar appointment and add log-in information, 1 week
- Reminder details emailed with log-in information, 2 days before
- Reminder details emailed with log-in information, the morning of the event.
Include a number for someone to text/call if they can’t log-in.
Sprinkle the Simple Sparkle
To make your virtual celebration spot on, follow K.I.S.S., keep it simple silly!
Don’t make it complex. The last thing you want is to see your guests confused about what to expect. Think of your event as a movie. It is supposed to be enjoyable! Remember you want your guest to relax and escape for a bit.
Keeping these few things in mind when you blueprint your event, you can feel confident and relaxed knowing you have delivered an experience which every person will sign-off feeling seen, heard and happy. Your guests will thank you.