The pandemic has changed many things about work, but one of the most dramatic shifts has been event hosting. At EntryPoint, we’ve shifted our programs and discussions to virtual events, which has allowed us to reach an even wider audience. In the spring, we launched “The Cackle,” our popular weekly interviews with entrepreneurs, business leaders, and people making an impact on our communities. We also hosted the viral livestream discussion “Fostering Innovation and the Growth of Entrepreneurship” with leading tech entrepreneurs, researchers and venture capitalists.
Since we are all pioneering further into a physically distant world, our team at EntryPoint decided to collect a few data points (since that’s what we do) on not only our successful virtual events but from other popular hosts as well. We spoke to organizations that have hosted successful virtual events, including Build Institute, Amy Cell Talent, Michigan House, Bamboo, Ann Arbor SPARK, purpose.jobs, Start Garden, Cahoots, and Inforum.
Our findings have been very informative. For instance, we found that our nearly 60% attendance rate to the livestream discussion was on par with several other live events hosted within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We also discovered that hosting anything in the early morning was generally not optimal for most audiences.
We discovered many great insights into how to best optimize attendance and participation of virtual events but overall, the takeaway is always delivering a quality product. Because it’s online, barriers are at an all-time low to obtaining the highest quality speakers and panelists from all over the globe and attracting attendees. Hosting an authentic, meaningful virtual event is still the best way to engage your audience.
Free Virtual Events Requiring Registration Remain Popular
According to many of the organizations, around 40-60% was the range of attendance for free registered events. Bamboo felt it was important that most virtual events remain free as a way to authentically build a community during the pandemic. Many saw attendance drop in the summer, presumably because of the nicer weather. Ann Arbor SPARK noted that attendance could be extremely high if there was well-known guest (they featured an author and had an 85% attendance rate). Nevertheless, attendance can be unpredictable, and Build Institute suggested that “Zoom fatigue” is most likely the culprit.
Short, Educational Virtual Events Have the Most Consistent Attendance
Many organizations noted that happy hour events were very popular at the beginning of the pandemic but now draw very low attendance. Michigan House and Build Institute noted that high-quality content largely determined the size of the audience. Start Garden noticed that educational events, especially with 30-minute time commitments or less, remain popular because people can “hop on, get some good content quickly and are able to hop off.” Purpose.jobs said they surveyed their attendees and found that they were most interested in seeing panel discussions.
Well-Organized, High-Quality Events Are the Most Successful
While there is more than one way to organize a successful event, everyone agreed that organization was key. Build Institute designates, “a tech master (e.g. the person doing all the transitions and operating Zoom), a person fielding questions, (particularly when the event is starting), and a main point of contact for the presenters, guests, featured speakers” and requires a mandatory rehearsal. Ann Arbor SPARK sends personalized reminders and clear instructions on how to troubleshoot. Purpose.jobs partners with other organizations to help grow their reach. Interestingly, Cahoots noted that not requiring people to be on camera also make the event easier to join.
Mid-Day Events Are Well-Attended
There were many different perspectives on optimal hosting times. While some organizations host early morning or post-work events, most found that hosting things mid-mornings to early afternoons were best. Amy Cell Talent has only hosted mid-day events, and Ann Arbor SPARK noted they have had success with lunchtime panel discussions because it’s more “like a visual podcast where people can eat their lunch, watch, and listen to interesting conversation, but aren’t expected to engage with Q&A, breakout rooms, etc.”
There was a lot of discussion on the efficacy in hosting post-work events and it largely depends on who the target audience is. Inforum noted that anything after 5 PM was not ideal for their organization whose audience is largely women; however, purpose.jobs hosts many of their networking and job seeker events after work. Build Institute also agreed that, “Not unlike pre-COVID, for in-person events, we’ve noticed better attendance in the early evening (between 4:00 and 6:00 start time).”