Here are three things you can do now to engage attendees, and create community and connections at your events — without blowing your budget.
Community and connections have never been more vital than they have been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and meeting and event planners have been doing a heroic job of creating virtual ways to engage attendees so they can connect and share online when meeting face to face is not an option.
While in-person events are coming back, the delta variant has caused many meeting organizers to yet again put their plans on ice. How can you engage attendees and keep them connected to each other and your organization in this era of uncertain in-person plans and Zoom fatigue? Prevue asked Velvet Chainsaw Consulting’s Vice President of Professional Connexity Sarah Michel, CSP, for a few ideas on how to create and sustain those connections without breaking the bank. Here are a few she shared:
Create social learning opportunities
Your attendees likely have been inundated with webinar invitations, most likely available for free, over the past year and a half. While webinars are a great way to disseminate information, just providing even the best content does not engage attendees or create connections and community, she said. People can find content anywhere — “Context, not content, is now king.”
What does that mean? First, you have to show your audience that you understand their pain points in the current moment — any content you could have delivered in January of 2020 is no longer relevant, she said. “You have to show them you get the reality that they’re dealing with right now.” Watch your social media feeds for clues on what not just keeping them up at night, but what’s keeping them up last night. And don’t wait a month to put together a slick webinar, Michel said. “Get out in front of whatever their issues are and help them figure out solutions. Just create a space where they can come together and talk about what they’re experiencing. Be nimble and be responsive.”
The vehicle you use to engage attendees doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. It could just be creating a weekly Zoom room with topical breakouts that are safe places for people to share and connect, she added. It could be a regular podcast, or even an old-school email listserv. The important thing is that “Your audience knows that you understand where they’re at right now, that nobody ‘gets you’ the way your organization does. And they’re getting information that’s current and fresh, and they will be more connected to their tribe by being a part of the conversation.” You may not have the answers to all their questions, and that’s OK, she added. “Transparency in communication has never been more important. If you don’t know the answer, say so, and let them know you’re monitoring the situation and will update them as soon as you have the answer.”
Engage your “super users”
Every organization has high-profile people who are all over social media — and who are listened to. Invite them to send you informal videos they can shoot on their cellphones, again, nothing super slick, talking about how your organization has made a difference for them or supported them during a difficult time. “One of the best ways to engage attendees is through video, and these types of raw, authentic videos will be shared and re-shared on social media,” said Michel. Remember that people are engaged not because of your great content or programs, but because they want to connect with your community.
Curate a “human library”
Ask your subject matter experts to serve as literal “open books,” either on site at an event or during your weekly community online gatherings. People can “check out” any member of the human library for a set time, say 15 minutes. “All they have to do is show up and be willing to answer questions. Everyone loves this, but it’s a particularly good way to engage younger attendees who are looking for both expertise and to build their community — I’ve seen people say that those 15 minutes changed their life,” said Michel. “Think of it as a Braindate only without the price tag.”