We’re frequently asked for our thoughts on how best to “convert” events originally planned as in-person into a virtual experience. The Challenge? It’s not an apples-to-apples conversion. The Good News? You can rely on the same solid process to make it happen. Using Grinnell College’s campaign launch events as an example, we offer this how-to for taking your show on the digital “road.”
Grinnell College, a private liberal arts college in central Iowa, launched its most ambitious comprehensive campaign, The Campaign for Grinnell College, in October 2019. Taking into account its farther-flung alumni, the college planned a series of regional launch events across the U.S., London and Hong Kong. Level5 Events partnered with Advancement colleagues to design and produce an experience featuring a theater-style seated program followed by a dinner reception that showcased faculty, students and Grinnellian touch points through a series of hands-on activities.
“The events were a success! The campaign was off to an incredible start in terms of participation and dollars raised,” according to Michael Preston, EVP, Sales for Level5 Events. “More alumni attended than anticipated, including the targeted younger alumni group. The tour was fully underway – and then the world changed.”
Our team kept in close contact with the Grinnell team, offering guidance and industry perspective on how best to adapt to present-day circumstances. In spite of the seemingly ever-changing situation, one thing remained constant – the desire for the college and its communities to engage and connect in meaningful ways. Together, we would find a way to continue the tour.
“Discontinuing the tour and hindering campaign momentum was never an option,” says Jaci Thiede, Vice President, Office of Development and Alumni Relations at Grinnell College. “In true Grinnellian fashion, we immediately began to assess how to continue to engage our alumni and bring to them not just campaign and campus news, but to connect with them around the topics that are most pressing and important right now.”
As the Level5/Grinnell team resumes planning for the Fall, re-evaluating the foundational questions of who, what, where and why has led to broader consideration around how videos and opportunities for online learning and volunteering might be inter-woven with the virtual events to create an engagement tapestry. The new touchpoints will continue to explore campaign priorities, while also allowing attendees to gather around areas of interest and provide an element of interactivity and fun.
Creative Director Lindsey Davis shares her thoughts on the approach, “Our process didn’t actually change that much as we conceived of this conversion to virtual. We still needed to focus on conveying what makes Grinnell distinctive and the impact this historic campaign has on current and future Grinnellians. We’ve just altered the offerings for the virtual space, knowing people are engaging with content and with one another differently.”
In the first collaboration with the college in the virtual space, Level5 Events helped Grinnell announce in July the hiring of Anne F. Harris as its 14th president via live-stream broadcast. As the college planned for this momentous occasion, the realities of a remote presentation surfaced. Working together, Level5 quickly developed a production plan and together with Grinnell colleagues tackled the necessities to make the broadcast a reality, including scripting, speaker coaching, remote location scouting and creative direction.
“Level5 always gives us such peace of mind. Even if something is a “first” for our internal team, we have confidence that they have the experience and patience to guide us through the process and ultimately, a fantastic outcome,” says Thiede.
Grinnell plans to offer re-imagined campaign events later this year and looks forward to potentially attracting even larger audiences to various online programs. Silver lining: the ensuing analytics from the remote events will further allow for revision and re-calibrating along the way.
As you ponder your institution’s foray onto the digital road or into the virtual space, we offer the following tips to help you plot your route.
- Storytelling remains paramount – How you express information will drive the success of the event – just as it does in person.
- Shorter is sweeter – Length of the event, regardless of how well you produce it or the stories you tell, should be kept tight.
- Elevate your presentation – Attendees now expect the same levels of finish and professionalism for online events as in-person.
- Acknowledge different learning styles – Offer interactive and passive program elements because we all receive information differently.
- Know your audiences – Collect demographic and psychographic information through pre-, during and post event activities and then adjust future events accordingly.