5 Lessons for Your Next Virtual Event

by Molly Hoffmeyer

In the spring of 2020, much of the world “went virtual.” No, we didn’t go into the vortex, we didn’t turn into avatars, and we didn’t feel like we were living in Minority Report. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we all went home.

At SixThirty, this meant that all of our meetings were moved to Zoom, and that we faced a new challenge -and opportunity- to bring our signature Go-To-Market Program (the Program) into the virtual world.

The “command center” for running the Program from home — Zoom, Slack & Email

As of this publishing, we’ve completed two-thirds of the Program virtually, bringing our Founders, Mentors, and Workshops together in a new format, and forging new relationships along the way. As we’ve risen to this opportunity, here are 5 key takeaways, so far:

1. Define your goals

To successfully transition from a live event to a virtual event, you first have to know what you’re trying to achieve. We knew from the beginning that simply “putting the Program on Zoom” wasn’t the optimal solution at SixThirty. We took the pandemic as a chance to consider the goals of the Program, and determined the best way to ensure that we achieve those goals.

Firstly, the Program is focused on helping SixThirty Founders build and grow their business. We do this via workshops for the Founders each week. Several of the workshops were easily adapted to a virtual format. Others required more tailoring, and still others needed to be re-thought completely. It is important that this wasn’t (and isn’t) a one-size-fits-all process. We’ll continue to update, edit, and change the workshops for future (virtual and live) Programs.

The second critical goal of the Program is to forge connections between our Founders, Mentors and Corporate Partners. SixThirty relationships aren’t “one-and-done.” They persist over time, and Mentors often continue their relationships with Founders well beyond the formal Program. Critical to success is forging strong relationships outside of the “office.” In the past, we’d done this with dinners, in-person coffees during and outside of the Program, and generally being in the same “space.”

Facilitating these relationships required some creative thinking — from planning one-on-one “coffee dates” during the Program, to encouraging all attendees to attend with video (see below), we built in ways for our Founders, Mentors, and Corporate Partners to interact throughout the Program.

2. Be over-prepared

Executing a virtual meeting, in many ways, takes as much or more preparation as a live meeting. Prior to the launch of the Program, we were thoughtful about using our Founders’ & Mentors’ time well, and that required putting in the work at the beginning. We built guides for how to interact via Zoom, we clarified expectations, and we updated our communication plans to ensure everyone would stay on the same page.

Each week during the Program, we have at least two touch-base meetings for the team leading the sessions. Roles & responsibilities are reviewed and refined, and any outstanding items are discussed.

For each Program session itself, the leadership team joins the meeting 15 minutes early, just to make sure there aren’t any unexpected technical issues. This has led to a Program that looks, on the outside, like a duck gliding along the lake, while underneath we’re all paddling like mad — and that’s the goal.

3. Use your video

Yes, you’ve heard this one before. Yes, we all have a bit of Zoom fatigue these days. But despite this, being live on-camera is a critical aspect of a successful virtual meeting. Using your camera creates accountability, it lets your colleagues know you’re there, and it creates a new level of ownership for everyone on the call.

Plus, we get to see your kids/dog/cat in the background, and who doesn’t love to know a bit more about the colleagues they work with every day.

4. Keep Learning

Throughout the Program, we have looked to the SixThirty Network, including our Founders, Mentors, and Corporate Partners to get real-time feedback, and incorporate it into the Program. We heard about the importance of reminding Founders to “present” their value propositions and updates every week, vs. simply reading them. We learned that it is more important than ever to stay on time. We learned so much more than this, and made little, live tweaks each week.

This process of continual learning has led to a virtual Program that will inform the future of SixThirty Programs, whether live, virtual, or both.

5. Have Fun

It is easy to go straight into “business mode” when you’re on a Zoom line, and skip the small talk and fun that makes business fun, and cements relationships for the long-term. For the Program, we went out of our way to add in a bit of fun throughout.

Before each workshop and mentor session, we’d play music to get everyone excited for the upcoming session. We hosted happy hours with silly games to bring groups together (my personal favorite was 2 truths and a lie, with our Program Manager giving cocktail tutorials between turns). And for the upcoming Final Event, we’ll be stacking each Founder & Mentor team side-by-side for Virtual Trivia Night.

The virtual Program has led to the SixThirty team building new skills, and taking on challenges that I know will help us be even more successful for the Fall Program, whether live, virtual, or a combination. With a lot of planning and a great team, your event can be successful in the virtual — and the real — world.

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