How to Surprise and Delight Attendees in a Virtual Environment

If you think hosting a virtual conference makes it more difficult to surprise your attendees or incorporate small elements of fun, think again. Here are five ways to delight your participants.

At your in-person events, you may have found fun ways to surprise your attendees, whether a pop-up ice cream sundae bar at the end of the day, a performance by a local music group between sessions, or putting gift cards for local restaurants or shops under some attendees’ chairs during the keynote.

But can you translate those elements into a virtual environment? Here are some ideas to consider:

Snail mail. To get your attendees excited about the virtual meeting, consider mailing them a small package ahead of the event. It could include everything from blue-light-blocking glasses and headsets to coffee mugs and water bottles to crayons and Play-Doh.

Or consider this idea from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers: Ahead of their annual conference in November, AEM hosted a virtual wine tasting. Attendees could order a virtual tasting kit, and on the day of the event, a sommelier took them through the tasting while participants networked with one another. You could also consider having one of your partners sponsor this type of promotion.

Dance party. Are you one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have joined DJ D-Nice’s quarantine dance parties on Instagram during the pandemic? If so, you know how fun it is and how it has given people, including Oprah, a way to relax and feel connected during a time of isolation.

Just as you would for your in-person meetings, carve out time for your virtual attendees to relax and hang out in your platform. Hiring a DJ to host a dance party for your association’s members could be just the way to do it.

Games. Who doesn’t like a little friendly competition? Take a cue from the many in-person association conferences that have included everything from academic bowls to games that perfectly tie into the work its members and industry partners do. Many virtual platforms make it easy to break your attendees up into small groups so they can play trivia games, sing karaoke, or go on an online scavenger hunt.

Mini workouts. There is no reason to ditch wellness events when your conference goes virtual. Think about building a mini workout class that attendees can live stream throughout the day for a quick boost of energy, or offer morning yoga via live stream. You could also host workout breaks between session blocks.

Kids welcome, too. Keep in mind that many attendees will be participating in your virtual meeting from home—and that many will also be taking care of their kids, who are at home with them. With that in mind, add a few sessions that would appeal to kids too. It could be that dance party. Or you could host an art class that kids and adults can take part in together.

What ideas have you tried to add an element of fun or surprise to your virtual meeting? Please share in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated December 2, 2020.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers is offering a virtual wine-tasting event. ((yulkapopkova/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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