How to Take In-Person Events Online | 7 types of events & services that can successfully transition from in-person to online, with examples of how local Delaware nonprofits made the switch.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

If you haven’t already made this your mantra to get through the coronavirus pandemic, you might want to adopt it. COVID-19 has drastically changed our working and social atmosphere for the foreseeable future. So we could all duck our heads down and hope it’s over soon. Or we can embrace change and make the best of a chaotic and frankly, kind of crappy, situation.

What kind of change am I talking about? With all this talk about social distancing, it’s more important than ever to reach out to each other in other ways. And we’re lucky! Technology provides so many avenues to do just that. Through video conferencing, live streaming, and other communications software, we can use technology for personal interactions, marketing, selling, education, and so much more.

If you’re convinced that your organization’s particular type of service just can’t translate to the web, let me show you some examples.

7 Types of Events & Services That Can Successfully Transition from In-Person to Online

1. Campaign Launches

When you think of launches, you think hors d’ouvres, speeches, and excited clapping from a crowd of attendees. Obviously crowds are out, but Network Delaware proved that virtual campaign launches can be just as successful as in-person ones with their Building People Power campaign launch on March 14th. In a delighted email to their supporters, Network Delaware said, “People from every county in Delaware were joining to engage despite the pandemic happening outside” and “…we believe it was the largest digital campaign launch in Delaware history!” Especially impressive given their short lead time to transition the event from in-person to online – only 48 hours.

2. Conferences

Virtual workshops, events, and even networking is old news to the savvy solopreneur. I spent well over a year “hanging out” with other entrepreneurs online in events like Amber McCue’s annual Planathon and The Joy Makeover with Ingrid Fetell Lee, and even hosting my own VOTE411 Virtual Launch Party with the League of Women Voters of Delaware.

I mention that last example both because I’m reminiscing about how much fun it was and also to make the case that this format works for nonprofits as well as businesses! Don’t believe me? Check out the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ conference ICON. In an amazingly quick pivot, they made the entire event virtual. Through live streaming, Q&A sessions, surveys, and discussion forums, AFP is maintaining the interactive nature of their event, while keeping all their attendees safely at home. AND there’s still time to sign up, if you’re interested in this one!

3. Fitness Classes

If you’re like me, you’ve watched fitness videos on YouTube before. However, I was still surprised and excited to see that YMCA Delaware was beginning to offer their own classes virtually through Facebook! There’s something about knowing the source is local that makes the whole experience feel more personal. In addition to sharing on Facebook, the Y has created a “Virtual Y” that is free to the public to help relieve some of the strain of being trapped at home and remind us to stay fit.

4. Formal Education

If you’re a Delawarean, then you no doubt are aware that the first reported COVID-19 cases in our state came from the University of Delaware. They responded incredibly quickly (maybe a little too quickly for those of us with children in their daycare facility) and are currently working to take their entire curriculum online. This isn’t always ideal and UD addresses how specific types of work like “…lab sessions, performances, clinical services, fieldwork and other academic work that cannot be done online may have to be minimized or altered.” But it’s a much better solution than writing off the end of the semester altogether!

5. Groceries

Grocery delivery is another service that’s becoming more commonplace! I know I check every few months to see if my local grocery store has finally gotten on board yet. But it means even more when a nonprofit like Second Chances Farm starts offering delivery of local, fresh produce. In response to the coronavirus, SCF is offering up to 200 Farm-to-Table packages with a combination of fresh produce.

6. Healthcare

Telehealth has been quietly (but rapidly) growing over the last couple of decades. More providers are offering it and more insurances are covering it. Recently, Medicare announced that in response to COVID-19 they would be expanding their coverage of telehealth services. “Medicare beneficiaries can temporarily use telehealth services for common office visits, mental health counseling and preventive health screenings. This will help ensure Medicare beneficiaries are able to visit with their doctor from their home, without having to go to a doctor’s office or hospital, which puts themselves and others at risk.”

7. Mindfulness Training

When you think of mindfulness and meditation, the last thing you imagine is technology. And yet the prevalence of meditation apps suggests technology can pair with mindfulness very well, whether it’s reminding you to take a moment to breathe or walking you through a guided meditation. Delaware Changing Lives is a local nonprofit who offers mindfulness trainings that have, up until this point, been conducted in person by a trainer. DCL is currently in the process of taking those same meditations online via live streaming and a new phone app, with the goal of hosting the first virtual session in June. While we can all sincerely hope that the current pandemic is over (or easing up) by June, you can still take their 14-day email meditation challenge with daily sessions to help keep calm in this time of stress.

How to Take YOUR Event Online

Ok, so how does this apply to your organization or event? Let’s go through typical elements of in-person events and what technology you can use to substitute.

Speakers

Let’s start with the easiest one! You simply replace the stage and microphone with a live-streamed presentation. This does rely on your presenters having their own microphone and camera (unless they’re sharing a presentation on their screen instead), BUT these are standard features of laptops and even some desktop monitors, so chances are your presenters already have this technology even if they need help using it. The part you need to figure out is the platform. Should you live stream on social media or do a traditional webinar? That really depends on…

Engagement

How much engagement do you want to offer your audience. Webinar platforms like Zoom or GoToWebinar offer audience members the ability to ask questions or chat, BUT the interface tends to not encourage as much engagement as, say, Facebook. If you really want to encourage audience members to talk to each other, I recommend creating a Facebook group where people can comment and ask questions during live videos and also start their own conversation threads independently of the speakers.

Registration

If you use a webinar platform, this is built in. In Facebook I suggest making an official “event” to go with your group. That way when people sign up for the event, they’ll get reminders and notifications from Facebook as the event occurs.

Programs & Event Materials

Anything you would have provided in a printed format now needs to presented digitally! Pain in the butt, maybe, BUT at least you’ll save on printing costs. This can be a landing page on a website with the schedule, or a post within a Facebook group, or even just a graphic. If you’re using a Facebook group, “pin” the schedule post so that it’s easy for audience members to find.

Tech Check

If you’ve set up larger events, you know that even in-person technology can have issues. Many organizations will do a run-through the day before to make sure all the technology they need is present at the venue, and in working order. It’s just as important to do that virtually! Connect with each of your speakers and make sure they can connect to your platform with their camera and video. Similarly, ensure all your helpers or volunteers can navigate your presentation platform so they can engage with the audience and answer questions as they come up. It’s not a bad idea to find an FAQ or troubleshooting article from your platform ahead of time even if you’re not having tech issues, in case your audience does so you can be prepared to answer their questions. Keep in mind that no matter how simple you make it, some people will still struggle. If you can’t figure out their particular issue, reassure them that you’ll make the content available afterward.

Goody Bags

Yes, you can still give people something to take away as a reminder of the event! But it won’t be a physical thing. Just like the event materials, you need to translate this digitally. So maybe instead of notepads and pencils, you can give away content. Guides, workbooks, quizzes, the slides from presentations. Get creative! Of course, you can also give gift cards or some kind of digital version of the gifts you’d normally give. If you have sponsors, consider brainstorming with them to see if they have ideas and if you can get a similar type of giveaway from all of them.

Promotion & Follow Up

I’m going to assume you already promote your event online and send a follow-up email after, in which case nothing really needs to change here. However, if you’re not promoting your event to an email list, on social media, and through digital event listings, now’s the time to start! Ask for help from sponsors and speakers so you can tap into their networks as well as your own. And make sure you’re sending out a follow-up email thanking everyone for attending and providing a simple survey for feedback.

Hopefully that inspires you to think creatively and not completely give up on your own organization’s events or services. And just think – even if a Facebook “party” would normally be lackluster, the longer people are trapped at home, the more likely they are to seek out any kind of human interaction! So help keep your constituents engaged even amid the isolation.