Categories
virtual events

Why Attendee Surveys Are Vital For Virtual or Hybrid Event Success [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

Virtual and hybrid event experiences have come a long way since the start of the pandemic, and we are about to hit a new stride in the evolution of online events.

Event planners can access more advanced event technology than ever before, enabling more engaging virtual and hybrid events. These new platforms create the necessary space for everyone to mix, mingle, and reap the greatest reward from the event experience. And many platforms also provide data that can help event planners continuously update their strategy event after event. 

But your in-platform event data can only tell you so much about what did or did not work with your last virtual or hybrid experience. To effectively improve your event strategy with each iteration, you need to actively gather feedback on the full range of attendee experiences before, during, and after your event.

Luckily, the secret to gaining this insight is pretty straightforward: ask your attendees directly. Let me help you get started.

How to Gauge The Virtual Event Attendee Experience

Post-event metrics like attendees per session, the average number of sessions per attendee, and the average number of conference connections are crucial to review. However, these metrics only provide a glimpse at how to improve your next event.

Put your attendees front-and-center during your event planning by actively surveying and connecting with attendees one-on-one throughout your event lifecycle:

  • Before your event, gauge how long your virtual or hybrid event experience should last, preferred topics, and ideal ways to engage throughout the experience
  • During your event, use quick one- or two-question surveys that capture your attendee feelings at key points during the conference or immediately after sessions
  • After your event, measure the satisfaction of each event component and session, and see how many attendees would return to an event from your team

Sample Event Attendee Survey Questions

You can learn more about how to use virtual event attendee surveys to improve your online or hybrid event experience—including sample event survey questions for before, during, and after your event—in my recent article on MarketingProfs

Tell me, what are your favorite virtual event attendee survey questions? Tweet me @AARiggs.

Categories
virtual events

All Successful Virtual And Hybrid Events Have These Five Things in Common

Over the past 20 months, as the COVID-19 pandemic upended many of our in-person events and celebration plans, we all found new ways to keep celebrating all of life’s special moments virtually. 

We cheered on graduates as they walked the virtual stage, raised our glasses to our favorite newlyweds as they said their “I Do’s,” and even took our careers to the next level at virtual conferences, hybrid industry events, and online trade shows.

At Social hour, as we partnered with people across the globe on a range of events, at a time when human connection was more necessary than ever. We gained a deep understanding of what attendees expect at a hybrid or virtual event. It may surprise you, but we’ve found it all boils down to just five elements that are essential for your event success, regardless of what type of gathering you’re hosting. 

Five Must-Have Elements for Any Type of Virtual or Hybrid Event

Event planners can transition almost any traditional event component online. In some cases, the online environment may even enhance the experience for everyone involved. 

However, many event planners are still stuck on the idea of replicating their in-person event exactly as it was—just now in an online setting. This results in one-time talks streamed from the keynote stage, leaving attendees lost in a sea of webcam streams without a way to connect meaningfully with those around them.

When planning your next event, I challenge you to focus on enabling attendee engagement throughout the entire experience as your most important element. Engagement is the single most crucial factor that determines your event’s success. 

So how can event planners guarantee engagement at their next virtual or hybrid event? We’ve found these four elements are essential to your success, and they all help drive attendee engagement, too:

  • Limit the number of participants in each session or room
  • Ensure an equitable talk-to-listen ratio to help avoid listening fatigue
  • Give attendees opportunities to take breaks
  • Track metrics and analytics that help you assess engagement disconnects at your event

Enabling Virtual or Hybrid Event Engagement

In my recent article on Trade Show News Network, you can learn more about how each of the five elements we introduced above can affect engagement at your next event. I also share my advice on how to ensure a cohesive hybrid event experience (hint: you want to focus on virtual first).

What questions do you have about virtual event engagement? Tweet me @AARiggs.

Categories
virtual events

Why Attendee Surveys Are Vital For Virtual or Hybrid Event Success

Virtual and hybrid event experiences have come a long way since the start of the pandemic, and we are about to hit a new stride in the evolution of online events.

Event planners can access more advanced event technology than ever before, enabling more engaging virtual and hybrid events. These new platforms create the necessary space for everyone to mix, mingle, and reap the greatest reward from the event experience. And many platforms also provide data that can help event planners continuously update their strategy event after event. 

But your in-platform event data can only tell you so much about what did or did not work with your last virtual or hybrid experience. To effectively improve your event strategy with each iteration, you need to actively gather feedback on the full range of attendee experiences before, during, and after your event.

Luckily, the secret to gaining this insight is pretty straightforward: ask your attendees directly. Let me help you get started.

How to Gauge The Virtual Event Attendee Experience

Post-event metrics like attendees per session, the average number of sessions per attendee, and the average number of conference connections are crucial to review. However, these metrics only provide a glimpse at how to improve your next event.

Put your attendees front-and-center during your event planning by actively surveying and connecting with attendees one-on-one throughout your event lifecycle:

  • Before your event, gauge how long your virtual or hybrid event experience should last, preferred topics, and ideal ways to engage throughout the experience
  • During your event, use quick one- or two-question surveys that capture your attendee feelings at key points during the conference or immediately after sessions
  • After your event, measure the satisfaction of each event component and session, and see how many attendees would return to an event from your team

Sample Event Attendee Survey Questions

You can learn more about how to use virtual event attendee surveys to improve your online or hybrid event experience—including sample event survey questions for before, during, and after your event—in my recent article on MarketingProfs

Tell me, what are your favorite virtual event attendee survey questions? Tweet me @AARiggs.

Categories
virtual events

4 Ways To Invite Alumni To Your Virtual College Class Reunion [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

Have you been planning your virtual college class reunion? It can be easy for your reunion planning committee to get wrapped up in all the details—from setting goals for your event, creating an exciting schedule filled with activities and fun networking opportunities, and finding a platform to meet these needs.

But if you spend all your time planning those above areas, your event can still fall short if you neglect one key area: promotion.

It’s hard to forget that your reunion is just around the corner when you’re part of the planning committee. But your alumni need ample notice in a few different places to maximize their likelihood of attending and ensure they have a fulfilling reunion experience.

 Let’s explore the best practices for promoting your upcoming virtual college class reunion. 

Create A Virtual Class Reunion Hub

Before you start promoting your online college class reunion, create a central location for your alumni to access key information about the event. Then, regularly update this hub as new details emerge and the reunion gets closer. 

If multiple communications hubs pop up as you plan and promote your event, your alumni will likely become confused about where to receive the most up-to-date information. Instead, maintain one core page—be it a dedicated website, an event page on an existing alumni site, private social media group, etc.—that links out to all the alumni resources for the reunion.

Your virtual class reunion hub should, at a minimum, include these details:

  • Date, time, and location of the reunion
  • How to register or RSVP for the reunion, including any fees
  • A detailed schedule of events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Contact information for more details
  • Asks/considerations for guests
  • Answers to frequently asked questions, like the ideal attire
  • Technology troubleshooting guides

4 Ways To Promote Your Virtual College Class Reunion

It’s not enough to send a single invite to your alumni and expect your registrations to skyrocket. Your reunion planning committee needs to send multiple invitations and reminders through various channels to maximize your RSVP count. 

Partner with your alumni association to source contact details for your alumni. Use this initial list to start your outreach, but you will need to expand this list and your outreach strategy to get in front of more alumni.

Consider a combination of these four primary ways to reach your potential college class reunion attendees:

Digital or Physical Invitations

Share a digital or physical invitation to start promoting your virtual reunion. A direct invitation is a perfect way to announce the event, and these invitations should guide your alumni to your class reunion hub.

Ideally, start inviting alumni up to a year before your event. This leaves ample time for your invitations to navigate the mail system and eventually reach your invitee. However, digital invitations are a much more direct (and potentially trackable) way to invite your alumni.

Consider a combination of both print and digital invitations if your time and budget allow.

Email Newsletter

Create an email newsletter to keep your alumni up to date on the latest plans for your college reunion. Start light with the number of your messages, ideally sending just one update every one or two months when you are a year out from the event. Then, as the reunion gets closer, you can send weekly or more frequent emails as needed.

Use the email newsletter to drum up excitement for the reunion, encourage donations to the university, and ultimately drive more attendance.

A few ideas for what to include in a virtual college reunion email newsletter include:

  • Fun photos from your graduating year, presented in a fun trivia style, such as, “can you guess what this is?”
  • Spotlight notable alumni who will attend the reunion, ideally with a quote about why they are excited to attend
  • Promote speakers or sessions at your reunion
  • Discuss the networking opportunities available to your alumni at the reunion

Social Media

Social media channels will widen your net of invitees. There are a few ways to maximize the effectiveness of your social media promotion:

  • Reunion event page. Invite your former classmates to an event page on Facebook or LinkedIn. Ensure that a member of your communications and marketing committee monitors these event pages for questions or comments from your prospective attendees.
  • Hashtag. Create a hashtag to accompany your reunion posts. This will help your alumni sort through information about the event and connect with others who are attending.
  • Direct messages. Social media’s “social” aspect is vital for getting people excited about your online reunion experience. Have each member of your planning committee directly message any of their friends and former classmates, and encourage those friends to invite their friends. 
  • Paid posts. Promote your virtual college reunion with sponsored posts that will directly target members of your alumni network. Most social media channels offer cost-effective promotion that can greatly boost the reach of your event’s promotions. 

Phone a Friend

This strategy will be necessary if your alumni network is not particularly active on social media channels. However, it will require a more significant time investment. Directly call alumni that you have not been able to reach by other means, and quickly let them know about the reunion and where they can get more information.

It’s important to respect your alumni’s time when calling. Leave a clear and concise voicemail if you cannot reach them live, and only call them up to three times leading up to your event, ideally one time a month.

We'll help you make it an alumni event to remember.

Delight Your Alumni Network For Reunions to Come

As your team continues promoting your reunion, tap into your alumni network to refine and improve your reunion experience. Share short surveys and polls to gauge what your alumni hope to gain from the experience, and use this information to put the finishing touches on your planning. 

By directly engaging your alumni ahead of your event, they’re more likely to be excited about your event—and possibly return for your next reunion.

But promotion is just one part of hosting a successful online college reunion. Learn more about how to plan a virtual college reunion event that your alumni will love, and see how MIT used Social hour to support its alumni reunion here. Once you’re ready to get started, see how Social hour can help you make it an event to remember.

Categories
virtual events

How Your Online College Reunion Goals Should Adapt To New Alumni Needs [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

Are you hosting an upcoming college reunion? Although it is natural to default your planning to a traditional in-person reunion experience, there are several advantages to hosting an online event experience. But how can you tell which event style will be best for your alumni?

To help plan your college class reunion, let’s explore the pros and cons of virtual event experiences and in-person event experiences, and how your audience needs should shape your reunion agenda and activities

How Is A Virtual College Reunion Different From An In-Person Reunion?

Virtual college reunions provide many of the same benefits and possibilities as an in-person reunion without the costly hurdles of travel for your alumni. 

You can replicate most aspects of an in-person college reunion online using on-demand or live-streamed videos and a combination of open networking rooms and channels for your alumni to mix and mingle. 

At a high level, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of college reunion:

Virtual College Class ReunionsIn-Person College Class Reunions
ProsNo travel hurdles for attendees

Potential cost advantages for reunion organizers

The online format makes it easier to track engagement and essential information for future reunions

Recorded sessions can be accessed and replayed after your reunion is over, serving as promotional materials for future reunions
There is an innate appeal and excitement with in-person gatherings and reunions

The local community receives a business boost thanks to the alumni who travel to the reunion

Group activities and happy hours are easier to plan when everyone is in the same location
ConsSome attendees may not be tech-savvy and have difficulty navigating your event experience

The local community receives no boost in business
Travel needs and costs could detract alumni from attending, limiting the size and diversity of your group

In-person events require a significant time commitment and lock your attendees into the experience

Goals For College Class Reunions By Audience

When planning a college class reunion and deciding whether to offer a virtual or online event, it’s important to consider the different audiences and their respective goals for the reunion. Your alumni are certainly a priority audience, but this group is filled with unique individuals that each have their own hopes for the event. Then there is also the greater university ecosystem that relies on reunions to fulfill other needs.

Alumni Goals for College Reunions Evolve Over Time

Your alumni will have a range of hopes and goals for attending your college reunions, and these needs will change depending on if you are hosting a five-year, ten-year, or 15+-year reunion.

Generally, your alumni will attend the reunion to:

  • Reconnect with old friends
  • Relive the excitement of college days
  • Forge new professional connections or partnerships
  • Show their family their alma mater
  • Assess whether your college is a good fit for their children or other loved ones to attend

Your reunion planning committee will need to build an agenda that provides ample open networking space, as well as more structured talks and sessions to appeal to these diverse goals.

According to information from Stanford University and Harvard University, you can expect reunions shortly after college to be most popular, with a sharp dip in attendance at the 15-year celebration, followed by a pickup from the 25th reunion onward. The earlier reunions are often characterized by alumni insecurities about their work and life; it is often best to prioritize open networking opportunities and high-energy games and activities for these events. As your alumni become more comfortable with their lives, they are ready to engage in more intellectual-focused topics and presentations (typically around the 15-year reunion mark). 

University Goals For Class Reunions

The second most important audience for your virtual class reunion is the university, or, specifically, its current leadership, faculty, and students.

Reunions are an important opportunity to reconnect alumni with their alma mater and instill a sense of pride in their university. Ideally, college class reunions will encourage alumni to donate to their university, helping to sustain its work and support future generations of students. 

Actively partner with members of your alumni association to ensure that the university’s fundraising goals and other needs are accounted for during your virtual reunion planning. 

Survey Your Reunion Attendees To Understand Their Needs

The best way to build a fulfilling virtual reunion agenda is to directly ask your alumni and leadership of your university what they hope to gain from the reunion experience. Employ a mix of short survey questions and targeted 1:1 conversations to dive into the full range of considerations for the reunion. We share a few questions to consider in our college reunion planning overview.

Host a memorable virtual alumni event with us.

The Future Of College Reunions Is Online

With your audience survey results analyzed, your reunion planning committee is better prepared to deliver a fulfilling reunion experience for your various audiences. Track how your alumni needs change as you advance in your reunion years and adjust your strategy to continue delivering an outstanding reunion for everyone involved.

Even as more communities reopen and resume in-person activities, we expect virtual college reunions will remain popular for their ease of access and unrivaled conveniences for attendees—especially as committees show just how impressive an online college class reunion experience can be. Don’t just take our word for it, see how MIT’s alumni reunion on Social hour reignited MIT’s energy and excitement around virtual events.

Learn more about how Social hour can help you host an incredible virtual alumni reunion event

Categories
virtual events

4 Ways To Invite Alumni To Your Virtual College Class Reunion

Have you been planning your virtual college class reunion? It can be easy for your reunion planning committee to get wrapped up in all the details—from setting goals for your event, creating an exciting schedule filled with activities and fun networking opportunities, and finding a platform to meet these needs.

But if you spend all your time planning those above areas, your event can still fall short if you neglect one key area: promotion.

It’s hard to forget that your reunion is just around the corner when you’re part of the planning committee. But your alumni need ample notice in a few different places to maximize their likelihood of attending and ensure they have a fulfilling reunion experience.

 Let’s explore the best practices for promoting your upcoming virtual college class reunion. 

Create A Virtual Class Reunion Hub

Before you start promoting your online college class reunion, create a central location for your alumni to access key information about the event. Then, regularly update this hub as new details emerge and the reunion gets closer. 

If multiple communications hubs pop up as you plan and promote your event, your alumni will likely become confused about where to receive the most up-to-date information. Instead, maintain one core page—be it a dedicated website, an event page on an existing alumni site, private social media group, etc.—that links out to all the alumni resources for the reunion.

Your virtual class reunion hub should, at a minimum, include these details:

  • Date, time, and location of the reunion
  • How to register or RSVP for the reunion, including any fees
  • A detailed schedule of events
  • Networking opportunities
  • Contact information for more details
  • Asks/considerations for guests
  • Answers to frequently asked questions, like the ideal attire
  • Technology troubleshooting guides

4 Ways To Promote Your Virtual College Class Reunion

It’s not enough to send a single invite to your alumni and expect your registrations to skyrocket. Your reunion planning committee needs to send multiple invitations and reminders through various channels to maximize your RSVP count. 

Partner with your alumni association to source contact details for your alumni. Use this initial list to start your outreach, but you will need to expand this list and your outreach strategy to get in front of more alumni.

Consider a combination of these four primary ways to reach your potential college class reunion attendees:

Digital or Physical Invitations

Share a digital or physical invitation to start promoting your virtual reunion. A direct invitation is a perfect way to announce the event, and these invitations should guide your alumni to your class reunion hub.

Ideally, start inviting alumni up to a year before your event. This leaves ample time for your invitations to navigate the mail system and eventually reach your invitee. However, digital invitations are a much more direct (and potentially trackable) way to invite your alumni.

Consider a combination of both print and digital invitations if your time and budget allow.

Email Newsletter

Create an email newsletter to keep your alumni up to date on the latest plans for your college reunion. Start light with the number of your messages, ideally sending just one update every one or two months when you are a year out from the event. Then, as the reunion gets closer, you can send weekly or more frequent emails as needed.

Use the email newsletter to drum up excitement for the reunion, encourage donations to the university, and ultimately drive more attendance.

A few ideas for what to include in a virtual college reunion email newsletter include:

  • Fun photos from your graduating year, presented in a fun trivia style, such as, “can you guess what this is?”
  • Spotlight notable alumni who will attend the reunion, ideally with a quote about why they are excited to attend
  • Promote speakers or sessions at your reunion
  • Discuss the networking opportunities available to your alumni at the reunion

Social Media

Social media channels will widen your net of invitees. There are a few ways to maximize the effectiveness of your social media promotion:

  • Reunion event page. Invite your former classmates to an event page on Facebook or LinkedIn. Ensure that a member of your communications and marketing committee monitors these event pages for questions or comments from your prospective attendees.
  • Hashtag. Create a hashtag to accompany your reunion posts. This will help your alumni sort through information about the event and connect with others who are attending.
  • Direct messages. Social media’s “social” aspect is vital for getting people excited about your online reunion experience. Have each member of your planning committee directly message any of their friends and former classmates, and encourage those friends to invite their friends. 
  • Paid posts. Promote your virtual college reunion with sponsored posts that will directly target members of your alumni network. Most social media channels offer cost-effective promotion that can greatly boost the reach of your event’s promotions. 

Phone a Friend

This strategy will be necessary if your alumni network is not particularly active on social media channels. However, it will require a more significant time investment. Directly call alumni that you have not been able to reach by other means, and quickly let them know about the reunion and where they can get more information.

It’s important to respect your alumni’s time when calling. Leave a clear and concise voicemail if you cannot reach them live, and only call them up to three times leading up to your event, ideally one time a month.

Delight Your Alumni Network For Reunions to Come

As your team continues promoting your reunion, tap into your alumni network to refine and improve your reunion experience. Share short surveys and polls to gauge what your alumni hope to gain from the experience, and use this information to put the finishing touches on your planning. 

By directly engaging your alumni ahead of your event, they’re more likely to be excited about your event—and possibly return for your next reunion.

But promotion is just one part of hosting a successful online college reunion. Learn more about how to plan a virtual college reunion event that your alumni will love, and see how MIT used Social hour to support its alumni reunion here. Once you’re ready to get started, see how Social hour can help you make it an event to remember.

We'll help you make it an alumni event to remember.
Categories
virtual events

How To Form A Successful College Class Reunion Planning Committee [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

Are you excited to reconnect with your alma mater and its alumni for an upcoming college class reunion? 

Many colleges and universities are now hosting reunion celebrations online, which means friends and classmates can connect easier than before—providing an unrivaled opportunity to strengthen your alumni network and bolster their relationship with your university. However, while many of the same traditional reunion activities can occur during a virtual reunion, there are a few virtual reunion planning differences to address.

If you’re a part of your university’s online reunion planning committee or just getting started organizing that committee, let’s explore how to structure your virtual college reunion planning team for success. We’ll explain the ideal college reunion planning committee structure, roles and responsibilities for each member, and an ideal timeline to plan your event with ease. 

Partner With Your Alumni Association

Before making any plans for your upcoming college class reunion, contact your university’s alumni association to check if there is already a planning committee in place that you can join. 

Your alumni association should also have resources and guides to help streamline your planning. Work with them to understand any available funds to support the event, attendance of past reunions, ways to fundraise for a class reunion, an ideal timeline for planning your college class reunion, and any other historical information that can inform your planning. 

Even if your alumni association already has a team ready to plan and support the reunion, there is almost always a need for more volunteers to help with the planning. It’s a lot to get done, and it never hurts to have more hands-on-deck to help plan and coordinate events during the reunion. 

Key College Reunion Planning Committee Roles

There are a few central positions you will want to appoint on your virtual college reunion planning committee. These individuals will then partner with a group of volunteers to conduct the day-to-day planning activities for the reunion.

The size of your committee will depend on how many alumni you anticipate will attend your event. Unfortunately, there is no definite way to answer how many people should be on a college reunion planning committee. Still, it is best to have at least 20 people ready to help throughout the planning process.

These are the essential reunion committee positions and associated responsibilities:

Reunion Chair 

The reunion chair oversees all reunion planning and acts as the main point of contact for the alumni association and other planning committee members. This role is responsible for coordinating committee meetings, making all final approvals, and overseeing the planning timeline.

Alumni Support Chair

Your prospective attendees will have a range of questions leading up to and during your event. Appoint one person to oversee and coordinate alumni support services. This person will act as a traffic controller and partner closely with the communications/marketing team to route requests to the finance, technology, or program teams as needed.

Communications/Marketing Chair

The communications or marketing lead oversees a team to coordinate all alumni outreach before and after the event. In addition, this team partners closely with the alumni association to:

  • Source alumni contact information 
  • Create and distribute invitations or save-the-date cards, as well as ongoing event communications through phone, email, or other channels
  • Manage any reunion-related social media channels or online communities. Build information hubs for reunion attendees, including an event website

Finance Chair

This individual is responsible for creating and monitoring the budget for your class reunion. At the end of the reunion, the finance chair will report on all expenses and income, as well as any leftover funds. All other committee chairs must gain purchase approvals from the finance chair, and all volunteers are responsible for helping to meet the finance chair’s fundraising goals.

Giving Chair

A core goal of many college reunions is to help raise funds for the university and garner ongoing support for the university’s mission. Appoint a member of your committee to advance this goal. They will partner with the alumni association to determine the best approach to encourage donations to the university. They will also coordinate all follow-up and thank yous for donors. 

Program Chair

Appoint a person who will oversee the creation and management of your class reunion agenda. This individual will not be solely responsible for organizing the series of activities, but they will be the one to finalize all agenda elements ahead of the reunion. 

Technology Chair

The main difference between a virtual and in-person college class reunion is the technical requirements for hosting each. With a virtual college reunion, it’s essential to designate a tech-savvy individual who can partner with the finance chair to find an event platform that will meet your alumni’s needs. In addition, the technology committee should partner with the communications committee to create FAQs and how-to documents to help alumni navigate the tech elements of your reunion. 

An Ideal Online College Class Reunion Planning Timeline

Your team should start planning your reunion at least one year in advance. The first step is to identify the right people to serve as the committee chairs we described above. Then, meet at least once a month, or more as needed, as an entire planning committee to oversee the next steps and encourage each chair to host separate meetings to coordinate their team’s activities. 

Ideally, follow this timeline when planning a virtual reunion:

12 months before event: 

  • Identify all committee chairs and align on responsibilities.
  • Partner with your alumni association to source contact information for all prospective attendees. 
  • Conduct a pre-reunion survey to understand what your attendees want out of your event. This survey can also invite alumni to volunteer to help your planning committee. Field this survey for at least one month, and then use it to inform your next steps.

11 months before event: 

  • Set a general budget for the reunion based on your anticipated attendee count, which you will gauge in your pre-reunion survey. 
  • Divide existing volunteers into appropriate committees.
  • Begin planning your agenda elements and inviting speakers.
  • If there is an in-person component of your reunion, begin sourcing group hotel rates or other travel logistics.
  • Confirm reunion date.

Ten months before event: 

  • Begin exploring event technology vendors.
  • Finalize fundraising plan.
  • Send initial save-the-date postcards or emails.
  • Publish reunion website to serve as a hub for prospective attendees.

Six months before event: 

  • Open registration for alumni. 
  • Coordinate a bi-weekly communications cadence to remind alumni of the reunion and promote your registration. Include social media posts, emails, and other communications channels to reach as many alumni as possible.
  • Post a preliminary reunion agenda to drum up excitement.

Four months before event:

  • Start collecting any memorabilia for the reunion, including photos for the slideshow.
  • Plan and purchase alumni gifts or swag bag items.

One month before the event:

  • Release full reunion agenda.
  • Research and develop remembrance ceremony materials. 
  • Finalize all planning elements.
  • Receive any final presentation or other agenda item files for your reunion. 

One month after the event: 

  • Share a photo slideshow, talk recordings, and other relevant files with attendees.
  • Debrief as a planning committee on post-reunion statistics, including how many people attended and how much money was raised for the university. 
  • Draft a document that collects the lessons learned and outcomes from the reunion to act as a resource for the next reunion’s planning committee.
  • Send all donors a thank-you card.
Design your dream virtual reunion platform today.

Sustain Your College Class Community Between Reunions

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to hosting a virtual college reunion, and we encourage you to structure your planning committee and timeline in a way that can best support any range of fun activities or ideas that your team has in mind. 

Once your reunion is finished and everyone has received their thank-you notes and said their goodbyes, it can be easy to slip back into your “normal” life for another five years until your next reunion. If possible, have a subset of your reunion planning team keep in touch to plan additional events between your reunions to keep the excitement high. 
Learn more about how Social hour can help you host a memorable virtual alumni event, and see how MIT used Social hour to support its alumni reunion here.

Categories
virtual events

How Your Online College Reunion Goals Should Adapt To New Alumni Needs

Are you hosting an upcoming college reunion? Although it is natural to default your planning to a traditional in-person reunion experience, there are several advantages to hosting an online event experience. But how can you tell which event style will be best for your alumni?

To help plan your college class reunion, let’s explore the pros and cons of virtual event experiences and in-person event experiences, and how your audience needs should shape your reunion agenda and activities

How Is A Virtual College Reunion Different From An In-Person Reunion?

Virtual college reunions provide many of the same benefits and possibilities as an in-person reunion without the costly hurdles of travel for your alumni. 

You can replicate most aspects of an in-person college reunion online using on-demand or live-streamed videos and a combination of open networking rooms and channels for your alumni to mix and mingle. 

At a high level, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of college reunion:

Virtual College Class ReunionsIn-Person College Class Reunions
ProsNo travel hurdles for attendees

Potential cost advantages for reunion organizers

The online format makes it easier to track engagement and essential information for future reunions

Recorded sessions can be accessed and replayed after your reunion is over, serving as promotional materials for future reunions
There is an innate appeal and excitement with in-person gatherings and reunions

The local community receives a business boost thanks to the alumni who travel to the reunion

Group activities and happy hours are easier to plan when everyone is in the same location
ConsSome attendees may not be tech-savvy and have difficulty navigating your event experience

The local community receives no boost in business
Travel needs and costs could detract alumni from attending, limiting the size and diversity of your group

In-person events require a significant time commitment and lock your attendees into the experience

Goals For College Class Reunions By Audience

When planning a college class reunion and deciding whether to offer a virtual or online event, it’s important to consider the different audiences and their respective goals for the reunion. Your alumni are certainly a priority audience, but this group is filled with unique individuals that each have their own hopes for the event. Then there is also the greater university ecosystem that relies on reunions to fulfill other needs.

Alumni Goals for College Reunions Evolve Over Time

Your alumni will have a range of hopes and goals for attending your college reunions, and these needs will change depending on if you are hosting a five-year, ten-year, or 15+-year reunion.

Generally, your alumni will attend the reunion to:

  • Reconnect with old friends
  • Relive the excitement of college days
  • Forge new professional connections or partnerships
  • Show their family their alma mater
  • Assess whether your college is a good fit for their children or other loved ones to attend

Your reunion planning committee will need to build an agenda that provides ample open networking space, as well as more structured talks and sessions to appeal to these diverse goals.

According to information from Stanford University and Harvard University, you can expect reunions shortly after college to be most popular, with a sharp dip in attendance at the 15-year celebration, followed by a pickup from the 25th reunion onward. The earlier reunions are often characterized by alumni insecurities about their work and life; it is often best to prioritize open networking opportunities and high-energy games and activities for these events. As your alumni become more comfortable with their lives, they are ready to engage in more intellectual-focused topics and presentations (typically around the 15-year reunion mark). 

University Goals For Class Reunions

The second most important audience for your virtual class reunion is the university, or, specifically, its current leadership, faculty, and students.

Reunions are an important opportunity to reconnect alumni with their alma mater and instill a sense of pride in their university. Ideally, college class reunions will encourage alumni to donate to their university, helping to sustain its work and support future generations of students. 

Actively partner with members of your alumni association to ensure that the university’s fundraising goals and other needs are accounted for during your virtual reunion planning. 

Survey Your Reunion Attendees To Understand Their Needs

The best way to build a fulfilling virtual reunion agenda is to directly ask your alumni and leadership of your university what they hope to gain from the reunion experience. Employ a mix of short survey questions and targeted 1:1 conversations to dive into the full range of considerations for the reunion. We share a few questions to consider in our college reunion planning overview.

The Future Of College Reunions Is Online

With your audience survey results analyzed, your reunion planning committee is better prepared to deliver a fulfilling reunion experience for your various audiences. Track how your alumni needs change as you advance in your reunion years and adjust your strategy to continue delivering an outstanding reunion for everyone involved.

Even as more communities reopen and resume in-person activities, we expect virtual college reunions will remain popular for their ease of access and unrivaled conveniences for attendees—especially as committees show just how impressive an online college class reunion experience can be. Don’t just take our word for it, see how MIT’s alumni reunion on Social hour reignited MIT’s energy and excitement around virtual events.

Learn more about how Social hour can help you host an incredible virtual alumni reunion event

Host a memorable virtual alumni event with us.
Categories
virtual events

How To Form A Successful College Class Reunion Planning Committee

Are you excited to reconnect with your alma mater and its alumni for an upcoming college class reunion? 

Many colleges and universities are now hosting reunion celebrations online, which means friends and classmates can connect easier than before—providing an unrivaled opportunity to strengthen your alumni network and bolster their relationship with your university. However, while many of the same traditional reunion activities can occur during a virtual reunion, there are a few virtual reunion planning differences to address.

If you’re a part of your university’s online reunion planning committee or just getting started organizing that committee, let’s explore how to structure your virtual college reunion planning team for success. We’ll explain the ideal college reunion planning committee structure, roles and responsibilities for each member, and an ideal timeline to plan your event with ease. 

Partner With Your Alumni Association

Before making any plans for your upcoming college class reunion, contact your university’s alumni association to check if there is already a planning committee in place that you can join. 

Your alumni association should also have resources and guides to help streamline your planning. Work with them to understand any available funds to support the event, attendance of past reunions, ways to fundraise for a class reunion, an ideal timeline for planning your college class reunion, and any other historical information that can inform your planning. 

Even if your alumni association already has a team ready to plan and support the reunion, there is almost always a need for more volunteers to help with the planning. It’s a lot to get done, and it never hurts to have more hands-on-deck to help plan and coordinate events during the reunion. 

Key College Reunion Planning Committee Roles

There are a few central positions you will want to appoint on your virtual college reunion planning committee. These individuals will then partner with a group of volunteers to conduct the day-to-day planning activities for the reunion.

The size of your committee will depend on how many alumni you anticipate will attend your event. Unfortunately, there is no definite way to answer how many people should be on a college reunion planning committee. Still, it is best to have at least 20 people ready to help throughout the planning process.

These are the essential reunion committee positions and associated responsibilities:

Reunion Chair 

The reunion chair oversees all reunion planning and acts as the main point of contact for the alumni association and other planning committee members. This role is responsible for coordinating committee meetings, making all final approvals, and overseeing the planning timeline.

Alumni Support Chair

Your prospective attendees will have a range of questions leading up to and during your event. Appoint one person to oversee and coordinate alumni support services. This person will act as a traffic controller and partner closely with the communications/marketing team to route requests to the finance, technology, or program teams as needed.

Communications/Marketing Chair

The communications or marketing lead oversees a team to coordinate all alumni outreach before and after the event. In addition, this team partners closely with the alumni association to:

  • Source alumni contact information 
  • Create and distribute invitations or save-the-date cards, as well as ongoing event communications through phone, email, or other channels
  • Manage any reunion-related social media channels or online communities. Build information hubs for reunion attendees, including an event website

Finance Chair

This individual is responsible for creating and monitoring the budget for your class reunion. At the end of the reunion, the finance chair will report on all expenses and income, as well as any leftover funds. All other committee chairs must gain purchase approvals from the finance chair, and all volunteers are responsible for helping to meet the finance chair’s fundraising goals.

Giving Chair

A core goal of many college reunions is to help raise funds for the university and garner ongoing support for the university’s mission. Appoint a member of your committee to advance this goal. They will partner with the alumni association to determine the best approach to encourage donations to the university. They will also coordinate all follow-up and thank yous for donors. 

Program Chair

Appoint a person who will oversee the creation and management of your class reunion agenda. This individual will not be solely responsible for organizing the series of activities, but they will be the one to finalize all agenda elements ahead of the reunion. 

Technology Chair

The main difference between a virtual and in-person college class reunion is the technical requirements for hosting each. With a virtual college reunion, it’s essential to designate a tech-savvy individual who can partner with the finance chair to find an event platform that will meet your alumni’s needs. In addition, the technology committee should partner with the communications committee to create FAQs and how-to documents to help alumni navigate the tech elements of your reunion. 

An Ideal Online College Class Reunion Planning Timeline

Your team should start planning your reunion at least one year in advance. The first step is to identify the right people to serve as the committee chairs we described above. Then, meet at least once a month, or more as needed, as an entire planning committee to oversee the next steps and encourage each chair to host separate meetings to coordinate their team’s activities. 

Ideally, follow this timeline when planning a virtual reunion:

12 months before event: 

  • Identify all committee chairs and align on responsibilities.
  • Partner with your alumni association to source contact information for all prospective attendees. 
  • Conduct a pre-reunion survey to understand what your attendees want out of your event. This survey can also invite alumni to volunteer to help your planning committee. Field this survey for at least one month, and then use it to inform your next steps.

11 months before event: 

  • Set a general budget for the reunion based on your anticipated attendee count, which you will gauge in your pre-reunion survey. 
  • Divide existing volunteers into appropriate committees.
  • Begin planning your agenda elements and inviting speakers.
  • If there is an in-person component of your reunion, begin sourcing group hotel rates or other travel logistics.
  • Confirm reunion date.

Ten months before event: 

  • Begin exploring event technology vendors.
  • Finalize fundraising plan.
  • Send initial save-the-date postcards or emails.
  • Publish reunion website to serve as a hub for prospective attendees.

Six months before event: 

  • Open registration for alumni. 
  • Coordinate a bi-weekly communications cadence to remind alumni of the reunion and promote your registration. Include social media posts, emails, and other communications channels to reach as many alumni as possible.
  • Post a preliminary reunion agenda to drum up excitement.

Four months before event:

  • Start collecting any memorabilia for the reunion, including photos for the slideshow.
  • Plan and purchase alumni gifts or swag bag items.

One month before the event:

  • Release full reunion agenda.
  • Research and develop remembrance ceremony materials. 
  • Finalize all planning elements.
  • Receive any final presentation or other agenda item files for your reunion. 

One month after the event: 

  • Share a photo slideshow, talk recordings, and other relevant files with attendees.
  • Debrief as a planning committee on post-reunion statistics, including how many people attended and how much money was raised for the university. 
  • Draft a document that collects the lessons learned and outcomes from the reunion to act as a resource for the next reunion’s planning committee.
  • Send all donors a thank-you card.

Sustain Your College Class Community Between Reunions

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to hosting a virtual college reunion, and we encourage you to structure your planning committee and timeline in a way that can best support any range of fun activities or ideas that your team has in mind. 

Once your reunion is finished and everyone has received their thank-you notes and said their goodbyes, it can be easy to slip back into your “normal” life for another five years until your next reunion. If possible, have a subset of your reunion planning team keep in touch to plan additional events between your reunions to keep the excitement high. 

Learn more about how Social hour can help you host a memorable virtual alumni event, and see how MIT used Social hour to support its alumni reunion here.

Design your dream virtual reunion platform today.
Categories
virtual events

How to Plan Hybrid Events That Engage Your Attendees and Make Them Come Back for More [via Frameable]

This post originally appeared on the Frameable blog.

A global pandemic doesn’t have many upsides for event planners and marketers. What we do have is a year of lessons learned. When every type of event imaginable was suddenly shifted online, we learned some truths about the “old” way of hosting events. The result is a changed expectation from event-goers as venues reopen their doors for online and in-person events. 

While 2020’s online event transitions were not always smooth, with many far from perfect, what we learned was that having the opportunity to attend virtually made many events accessible in ways that in-person-only events could never be. Ultimately, we have learned that there is no going back. The future of events is the hybrid event — a seamless blend of in-person and virtual experiences to create greater value for both groups. 

You might think that planning a hybrid event simply means planning your event as usual and then bolting on the online component. Alas, the best way is the complete opposite. There are many considerations you need to make when planning.   

What we learned from moving events online

To understand how to build the best hybrid event strategy, we need to look at some of the challenges. The pandemic arrived, and lockdowns went into effect around the world. Events of every type were suddenly either postponed indefinitely or moved online. And it wasn’t just event organizers for large-scale events suddenly having to learn a new approach. 

For companies and business groups, after companies had sent everyone home, the operations team scrambled to work through digital transformation projects they’d expected to have significantly more time to execute against. It was now critical to figure out how to handle company meetings and conferences on top of day-to-day collaboration. Investment in business collaboration tools boomed, but it also exposed their limitations and feature gaps. Workers began suffering video conference burnout. Corporate event planners knew they needed a new strategy to keep their audience engaged in the face of “Zoom fatigue.”

Performers, events staff, and venues all faced unique challenges. Bars, clubs, and concert halls closed. Streamed performances began to pop up across platforms — from solo artists broadcasting via Facebook Live to DJs streaming live sets via Twitch (traditionally seen as a video game streaming service).

At first, all these experiences were jarring as they represented the huge hole that cancellations and closures had left in our lives (and social calendars). Over time, as we all adapted, some silver linings emerged. It was fun to dance in our living rooms. Events we may not have been able to attend physically were easy to tune in to. Workers and family members alike were relieved of expensive travel to attend meetings or celebrations. 

Will it blend? Bringing together your online and in-person event experiences.

We’ve looked deeply now at the challenges and lessons learned from the pandemic. The big takeaway is that while it was hard at first, new technologies have emerged to bridge the gaps. People have adapted to having the choice to attend virtually, and the future of event planning must include this element. 

But, successful hybrid event planning means far more than just creating an in-person event and bolting on a virtual component. You must be “virtual-first” in your planning and then build your in-person experience around that. There are several questions you must consider as you are planning that will guide your approach. 

For meetings, seminars, panels, and the like, think about interactions between the audience and the presenter(s). This is a common pain point, especially for the speakers themselves.

Some questions you must consider are:

  1. How will attendees of each type interact with the presenter(s)?
  2. Will audience members of each type be able to interact with each other?
  3. How will virtual attendees be represented in the physical event space?

More intimate events like weddings and receptions pose additional challenges to ensure that virtual attendees aren’t stuck as observers in the proverbial corner. This requires rethinking not only what technology we use but how we use it. 

Let’s take a high-level walk-through of the hybrid event planning process.

Step 1: Plan your hybrid event’s online approach

First, you need to understand the event’s objectives and fully commit to it as a hybrid experience. This means unifying the online and in-person experiences to create equally great value for both types of participants. Let’s plan an example event: an industry trade show. First, we need to identify all the elements that we wish to include in our event:

  1. Keynote speech
  2. Individual speaker presentations with Q&A
  3. Panel discussions with interactive audience
  4. Trade show floor
  5. Prepared lunch
  6. Networking social hour

To properly build out this hybrid event, we must start by looking at the virtual elements for each piece. How will our virtual attendees experience each one?

Keynote Speech

The keynote speech doesn’t include a Q&A, so the audience passively observes, although they may be sharing points that resonate on social media. We want to make sure we deliver an engaging experience for our virtual audience to build the same level of energy and excitement the physical audience experiences. 

Individual Speaker Presentations with Q&A

For these presentations, we must make sure that our virtual audience can interact with the speaker for questions, see all presented materials, and of course, see and hear the speaker. We also want our virtual audience not to feel like they are watching from the sidelines — what are some clever ways to increase engagement and interactivity?

Panel Discussions

Like the speaker presentations, we must fully engage the virtual audience and then identify how to integrate the physical attendee experience. Virtual attendees need equal levels of interaction and representation to the panel — how might the overall format of the panel be shifted to accommodate this?

Trade Show Floor

The true highlight of any trade show is the showroom floor. Here vendors have booths full of swag and potential access to important names. Plus, attendees have the chance to meet and interact with each other. Virtual attendees want to have this immersive experience and ability to network — how will we place them inside the showroom floor?

Prepared Luncheon

A catered luncheon with 2-3 meal options. A casual opportunity to talk, network, and make new connections/friendships. What does a virtual luncheon look like? How might virtual and physical attendees connect? How do you keep it from being a sad desk lunch for those not there in person?

Networking Social Hour

A more free-movement opportunity for networking than the luncheon, this is a happy hour style social event. Similar questions as the luncheon apply here. How will virtual attendees “roam the room” and have helpful chance encounters and conversations?

2. Build out your hybrid event

Now that you’ve considered all the event’s online elements and asked all the pertinent questions, it’s time to build out the rest of your event experience. Let’s look again at each portion of our trade show event and think about what features and technologies will create a valuable and interactive experience for your attendees. You will need to determine your Virtual Event Platform. Prepare to build out a custom app that does far more than just provide a map and schedule — it will need to build in connection, communication, and interactive functions (or choose a VEP that has a mobile-friendly interface). 

  • Individual speaker presentations with Q&A: Broadcast via livestream to virtual attendees with camera views of both speaker and in-person audience. Dedicated moderators work with both audiences to gather questions. Virtual attendees can ask questions/provide comments via audio or submission to a moderator. Additional interactivity comes in the form of audience polls and games via the app. 
  • Keynote Speech: Broadcast via live stream to virtual attendees. The trade show app gives both virtual and in-person attendees a commentary feed projected alongside the stage. 
  • Panel Discussions: Questions are collected through the trade show app ahead of time from all attendees. Moderators feed these questions to the panel, which is live-streamed. Live comment feed is broadcast (similar to the keynote). 
  • Trade Show Floor: Mail swag bags to all virtual attendees. Create a 3D rendering of the trade show floor to allow virtual attendees to see displays and setups. Create virtual sponsored booths for remote attendees to visit and interact with. Use a remote platform that makes swapping contact info easy and fun.
  • Prepared Luncheon: Select your lunch menu based on what is easy to ship prepared to attendees’ homes or that can be delivered through a nationwide delivery app partner. Make sure your menus are the same for both. Use a platform that provides accessible breakout rooms or tables for attendees to chat and connect. 
  • Networking Social Hour: Create lounges and fun spaces for virtual networking. Allow virtual and in-person attendees to connect through a networking “wall” and trade info using the app. Set up game or discussion tables that physical and virtual attendees can join.

3. Market and promote your hybrid event

You’ve built out your event and determined what features and functions you need. Now you need to sell tickets and get word to your audience. You need to engage both virtual and in-person attendees with a value statement — meaning you need to demonstrate equal value no matter how they attend. This includes emphasizing what makes each special and exciting, whether it be the immersive experience or flexibility and accessibility.

When marketing to both groups, keep the focus on integration and interactivity. Highlight how both groups can benefit from networking and connecting with each other. Provide online networking platforms pre-event to get attendees connected and build hype and excitement. And think about how the addition of interactive platforms enhances both experiences. 

The future of events is hybrid

Event coordinators and conference planners are faced with a new event planning landscape, and their event strategy must adapt. Participants have new expectations, and meeting them means investing in a new way of thinking and new technologies to support it. Remember, there is no going back — hybrid events are here to stay. But with the right tools and strategies, you’ll be able to plan and host interactive and engaging events that wow your attendees, no matter how they attend. 

Learn more about how Socialhour.com can help you create a more engaging hybrid event, or schedule a demo.