How to Build Community Through World Class Virtual Events in 2021

What does an 85,000 word work of Harry Potter fanfiction, a man obsessed with The Grateful Dead, and the investment industry have in common? 

On the surface? Nothing. 

In practice? They all have the ability to bring people together with words, stories, and a sense of community. 

We know what you’re probably thinking. And, if you’re in an industry as highly regulated as the financial and investment space, you aren’t wrong. You already know how difficult it can be to follow traditional marketing and outreach advice in an industry like this one. Given the layers of compliance we have to go through, it can feel like there is little room for creativity or personality in the marketing we are able to do. 

That doesn’t have to be the case. 

In his books, Fanocracy, Standout Virtual Events, as well as in a recent speaking event, Wall Street Journal bestselling author, David Meerman Scott provided us with some insight on how to create fans in the most unlikely places, and how to host virtual events that connect with an audience — no matter where they are. 

With COVID forcing everyone to pivot from in-person to virtual events, most of us are still figuring out how to do that in a way that connects with our audience. In this post, we’re sharing some of David Meerman Scott’s top tips for creating fans and hosting truly memorable virtual events. 

By the end of this article, you’ll have the know-how and confidence needed to transform your events and quarterly webinars into world class events that keeps your viewers engaged. 

1. Build a community through video

Did you know? Humans are hardwired to be part of a tribe of like-minded people. 

Many businesses get tripped up by the idea that they are the outlier to this. That they are the only ones not conducive to building a community, to building fans, but that is not the case. As David Meerman Scott explains, every business is conducive to building a fanbase and a community. 

It starts with the neuroscience behind video. Think about an actor or actress you love, and how it sometimes feels like you know them after your binge watching a TV show or series of movies. This is because when you watch someone up close for so long, it gives the illusion that you know them. Of course you don't actually know your favorite celebrities, but it can certainly feel that way. This is because when you’re close to someone, within their “social space,” the closer you feel to them. 

When you can’t engage with people at this distance physically, it becomes critically important to replicate that feeling through video. 

The same can be true for you once you make the switch to video. 

By making subtle changes, like setting yourself up four feet from your camera, and not letting slides dominate your presentation or webinar, is the first step. You can do this by making quick changes like adding a monitor, and investing in a DJ stand for your laptop. Simple things like this can make a world of difference to your audience, because especially in a time when we are all physically distanced, it allows us to feel like we’re close. 

2. Get your audience engaged — and keep them engaged

The key here is not to talk at your audience, no matter what kind of virtual event you’re hosting. 

Instead, drive engagement, make the audience feel like they’re part of something, rather than sitting through yet another slide deck presentation at the end of the quarter. There are a few ways this can be done. 

  • Use the chat box. This is a simple change that few people think about. Using the chat window that Zoom provides is a quick and easy way to get the audience thinking and involved in the presentation. Get them warmed up and talking, while keeping them engaged with what you’re saying. 
  • Take polls. Another feature that comes preinstalled with Zoom, polls are a quick way to keep your finger on the pulse of your audience. Ask about things specific to their industry, yes or no questions, etc. This not only helps you get a better understanding of your audience, but again helps them feel more engaged with you. 
  • Use breakout rooms. By getting people broken out into smaller groups, it makes any presentation feel more personal and connected. 
  • Keep segments short. Keeping the energy up in an in-person presentation or talk is easy, because we’re used to it. But how do you keep people engaged throughout an hour-long webinar? Keep the sections short and sweet, breaking them up with polls and chats like we mentioned above. This makes any event feel like it’s moving along at a fast clip, so no one starts to feel restless. 

3. Be human

So often, our quest to be professional, to be thought leaders in our industry, removes the thing that drives us every day: passion

Webinars, websites, and LinkedIn are full of industry jargon and buzzwords; so much so that everything starts to feel like background noise. How do you cut through and make an impact when everyone is saying the same thing? Be yourself. 

This sounds like such a simple concept, but think about the last time you said something about yourself on LinkedIn, or any of your business accounts. It’s probably few and far between, if it’s ever been done before. 

Something like this can elevate not only your virtual events, but your entire brand persona. People are further from each other than ever before, they want genuine connection, not another buzzword.

Another way to make your audience feel more connected with you and feel more human is to get rid of those stock photos. You know the ones. They’re all over websites in every industry, and they put you and your audience at a distance. David Meerman Scott recommends replacing them with photos of your actual business, the real people who work every day behind the scenes, to give people an idea of who you really are. 

How to get started

There are a lot of small changes that can be added to your existing video set up to help take it to the next level, like that dj stand we mentioned earlier. Another is a professional grade microphone, and a nice backdrop. 

Once you’ve done that, there are several tips from David Meerman Scott recommends:

  • Go-Pro Hero 8
  • A ring light 
  • No virtual backgrounds — replace them with a screen if needed
  • Yeti Microphone
  • DJ stand

However, before you change any of those things, you have to start with letting go of the idea that building a community is not for you or your business. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get to work. Feel free to check out our latest project, Dakota Studios, for inspiration.

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Written By: Amy Sariego, Director of Content Marketing

Amy Sariego is the Director of Content Marketing at Dakota.