Virtual Events: How to make them interesting and show your personality

With in-person events on hold for the foreseeable future, it’s time to shift to virtual fundraising events to engage with supporters new and old. Though there are similarities between in-person and virtual events, there are some distinct differences. (Visit our earlier post for an overview tying the methods you currently use–Call Time, Events, Email, and Donor Relations–to using them effectively during a pandemic.)


Maintain the balance between fun and information


Virtual events can actually improve your connection with your audience. In person, you may only get five minutes with an attendee, if that. With the captive audience of a virtual event, you share your message with everyone—simultaneously and for longer—for engagement you can’t get from a quick one-on-one interaction, or a speech to a large group in a crowded room.


Start by reminding people why they’re there and discussing those things you would in person—who you are, why you’re running and why you need their support—critical details that shouldn’t be skipped. After discussing your campaign and the role those in the room play in it, be creative with the time you have left. This is where the magic happens, when you open up and show a bit of your “non-candidate” side.


Like to cook? Garden? Make cocktails? Spend time with your kids? Partner with an expert in an area you enjoy and create an event around it.


Structure your event to avoid “Zoom Burnout”


It seems everyone is on multiple Zoom (or other video technology) meetings each week or even each day. Between the eye strain caused by hours spent staring at a screen and the lack of social interaction offered by many virtual events, Zoom burnout is a real concern. Your events won’t add to the burnout if you keep the following in mind:


Hold shorter events.  Many of the donors I’ve worked with shard that they get the most from virtual events that are 30 to 60 minutes. Plan your event around those critical things you want to accomplish in that amount of time.


Allow for “brain breaks” and participation. The attention span for a single topic is about seven minutes, maybe 10 if it’s something really interesting. Break up what you’re doing or saying with new speakers, polls and breakout rooms.


Leave time for Q&A. Attendees may ask questions they wouldn’t be comfortable asking in person. Before the event, think about the audience. If it’s a smaller event consisting of industry professionals, perhaps you can let people unmute themselves to ask questions. If you’re not sure about the types of questions you’ll get or if the audience is too big for open questions, use the chat function; a moderator can review questions as they’re submitted and ask the relevant ones.


Make sure everyone is up-to-speed on the technology.


With the right team and tools, virtual events can appear effortless and be comfortable and engaging for attendees.


  • Unsure of guests’ technology knowledge? Include a tutorial link with the registration confirmation and remind attendees to log on a few minutes early.
  • To avoid being hacked, only provide the video conference link after receiving payment. Add additional security with password protection and a waiting room.
  • You probably won’t record your event, but others may want to. Include language at the event start to help dissuade recording. (Contact us for the language our clients use.)


Have help, in front and behind the scenes.


Managing a virtual event is almost impossible to do on your own. A moderator can keep the event moving, introduce speakers, spotlight attendees, and as I said earlier, manage questions. Have a technology person available to handle platform issues and problems people have getting online.


Stumped for an event? Try these.


Cocktail Party:  Have a distillery in your district you like to support? Invite the owner to create a custom cocktail online while discussing operating a small business during a pandemic.


Trivia night. Maybe you’re a history buff. Put attendees into breakout rooms to answer the questions. When everyone comes back together, you, the moderator and a panel discuss the answers.


Birthday party/DJ dance party. Is your birthday coming up? invite your kids to join you. Talk about those things you’re happy for this year and then turn the party over to a DJ. 


Your virtual event won’t be the only one your constituents attend; so do those things that make yours stand out from all the others, whether that’s a martial arts demonstration or a conversation with your children. During this unsettled time, with its higher-than-normal stress and anxiety, people need breaks from the day-to-day, and your virtual event can provide that while showing off your other side.  


Don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help you plan your next virtual event.