When Classy’s cornerstone event, The Collaborative, went virtual, registration spiked from 1,200 participants to more than 10,000. With a crowd that large, they knew that engagement was going to be their biggest challenge, so they turned to TV for inspiration.
We reached out to the Senior Manager of Events at Classy, Taryn Crowder, to find out what tools and tactics they used to keep their audience engaged, and how they hope to evolve in the event space in the years ahead.
Lennd: Can you give us an overview on Classy’s approach to events and how they plug into the overall marketing strategy?
Taryn: We see events as a unique opportunity to showcase thought leadership, the Classy brand, what we stand for, and what we can offer the nonprofit community.
Our events are focused on delivering exceptional education to every participant. Since 2011, Classy has enabled millions of donations from over 190 countries for over 6,000 different nonprofits. We infuse stories and best-practices into our events from so many of these nonprofits to help show how others can achieve similar success. These personal, actionable examples, coupled with insights from inspirational industry leaders, and carefully curated networking opportunities make our events an immersive, educational, and inspirational experience for nonprofits.
We also integrate elements of our product throughout the event as a way to showcase how the Classy platform can help make life easier for nonprofits.
Lennd: What are the tools that you use for your events?
Taryn: We use Zoom for webinars and events to deliver educational content. And we use braindate to foster one-on-one and group networking opportunities in a virtual environment.
We also have a secret weapon in the form of an in-house guru. JP is the Senior Digital Content Producer and he is the one who keeps us looking and sounding our best.
Lennd: Do you plan to switch to a more integrated system in the future? For example, one in which networking is part of the overall event platform.
Taryn: When we first started planning our 2020 flagship event, the Collaborative, in March of 2020, there weren’t many all-inclusive virtual tools on the market. Today, there are so many more options with all the bells and whistles that are fully integrated.
We’re looking forward to using a fully integrated one-stop-shop in the future to help improve the user experience for our conference attendees and continue to deliver on the items that are important to us, like exceptional education and networking opportunities that will keep our attendees engaged.
Engagement Through Networking and AI
Lennd: What features will you be looking for in your future virtual events platform?
Taryn: One of the biggest components for us when evaluating these types of tools is making sure they can deliver on our goals for our specific cohort of attendees.
For example, networking is important to us and our attendees. We want to provide nonprofits with similar interests and struggles an easy way to connect with and learn from each other.
In some ways, networking is easier in a virtual setting because certain tools allow you to segment attendees based on interests, so they can easily find one another. It’s important to us that this function is available on mobile as well as desktop, especially as we look toward hybrid events in the future.
We also love machine learning for things like session recommendations, as well as sponsor activations, built-in gamification functionality, custom branding, survey functionality, and the ability to easily capture attendee data.
And finally, a big piece that often gets overlooked are integrations via APIs and single sign-on (SSO). While they aren’t the sexiest of topics, they are important pieces of the planning process.
Even if your virtual event platform is all inclusive, you still need to think through the registration platform and all of the session data appropriately pulling over the way you want it to in your virtual platform.
And if you use one service provider for all of your event experience pieces, where is your email marketing happening? Where are those lists being pulled from? Will you need your registration system to speak to your email marketing system so you can send out emails to everyone upon completion of their registration?
What about your CRM? Do you need data about your attendees available in Salesforce for your sales team to follow-up on? These are all very important things to think about, as they are all tied to your overall event planning process.
In addition to this, before pulling the trigger on a virtual event platform, check to see if there is also a streaming video provider included in the bundle, or if you have to source that outside of this deal. This will be yet another API to look into adopting and implementing.
TV Tactics for Audience Engagement
Lennd: Engagement of a virtual audience is one of the biggest challenges for event professionals. What are some of the ways that you have been able to increase engagement at your events?
Taryn: While we benefited a lot from being able to turn our flagship event into a virtual event—we were able to grow our event from 1,200 registrants to over 10,000 registrants—we knew at the outset that audience engagement was going to be one of the challenges we had to overcome.
The key was to provide an experience that they wouldn’t have anywhere else, one that was created just for them.
When kicking off our planning, we realized that we actually knew more about online entertainment and content than we thought. Most of us have been watching television and engaging with digital versions of things like Hulu, Netflix, HBO for many years. Television producers have been keeping our eyes glued to the screens for years, so we learned to think like a television producer.
Meeting Planners International (MPI) did research on the types of formats people are interested in for virtual or hybrid events. It’s not surprising that online audiences want more dynamic and engaging formats instead of the speaker and PowerPoint format.
- Talk shows
- Man-on-the-street interviews
- Award Shows
These formats make it feel like you’re not on just another Zoom call.
And, what do all of them have in common? Engaging hosts.
- Think about shorter time blocks. Most shows are 30- to 60-minutes. Keep your content in relatively short, easy-to-digest segments.
- Build in breaks between sessions. Online audiences need more opportunities to take breaks than in-person audiences.
Also consider things like participation, inclusion, activities, interactions, movement, and entertainment as various forms of engagement.
In order to choose the right engagement tactics you can’t simply replicate your in-person experience to a virtual one. It’s important to lead with the goal of your event, whether it’s education or networking or something else, and then shape the event around that. The event becomes a conduit to reach your goals and objectives. From that foundation you can layer in the appropriate engagement tactics always keeping in mind who your audience is and what they want most.
Lennd: Can you share 2 or 3 strategies you’ve used to help grow and strengthen your event community?
Creating an event community should be at the heart of all events you plan. One of the main goals of events is usually to bring people together to learn from one another, network with one another, and create connections. We’ve had success with this format over the last several months as we’ve pivoted to create some of our smaller field marketing events to virtual and with our larger flagship event, Collaborative. With that in mind, here are two tactics that have helped:
1. Be strategic about the groups of people you bring together for your event.
2. Continue the dialogue outside of the event.
This could be creating smaller, more intimate events for like-minded people who, for instance, are all trying to figure out how to move their in-person galas online. This could also be creating space within the larger event for these more intimate moments to take place. For instance, you create networking breakout sessions throughout the day for the different cohorts of people you know are attending your larger event, who all share a common interest or problem.
No matter the event, you should always add in an element of community to ensure that people are leaving with more connections than they started with. Creating these opportunities for people to come together who already have a shared interest is a sure-fire way to do just that.
Have you ever been to an event where you learned a TON, met so many people who shared in your same issues, and really inspired you, yet you return to work and you get lost in the mundane and forget it ever even happened? Create an event that has built-in post-event interactions with one another to keep the dialogue going and to ensure the lessons learned don’t go to waste.
Here are a few strategies to use, depending on your audience:
- Create a Slack channel workspace broken out into different topics areas that the audience can continue to communicate on after your event. Think of this as their very own think tank.
- Start a Facebook or LinkedIn Group for the community to join. Similar to the above, it creates a space for people to come together during their busy schedules to continue building relationships and learning.
- Initiate smaller, more intimate events throughout the year where the different event cohorts can come together (virtually or in-person). Think of this as an event strategy within the overall event strategy. You’re creating space for these attendees to actually come together more than just once a year.
Preparing for a Hybrid Future
Lennd: What is one problem or challenge surrounding events that you are focused on solving in the coming year?
Taryn: The next biggest challenge will be moving to hybrid events. There are far too many benefits (for both organizers and attendees) of both virtual and in-person events for us to prioritize one option over the other. I truly don’t believe we’ll ever go back to doing events the way we used to.
Event organizers will have to learn to plan hybrid events, which brings its own set of difficulties, such as the costs associated with the technological tools needed to support a hybrid audience and all of the moving parts needed to pull off two significant events at the same time.
This model will have its own unique challenges, such as having two audiences to create engaging experiences for. If we put our TV producer hat on again, however, we’ll find there are a lot of examples to pull from. Pre-COVID award shows have always had two audiences, with the television audience being the primary audience and the attendees being the secondary. Each audience has their own unique needs to keep them engaged and each one needs a quality event experience.
It’s yet another challenging shift but it opens up a lot of amazing possibilities.
Lennd is a next generation event management platform that lets you manage all your events—virtual, hybrid and live—in one place. It simplifies operations and logistics so event teams can work smarter, move faster, and improve their ROI.
To learn how Lennd can support your virtual or hybrid event management needs, visit: www.lennd.com.