Alumni & Community Manager, Merryn Parks from an Australian co-educational school shares her working thoughts on making the shift from a physical to virtual Alumni reunion event.
We barely got the school year started in Australia before Covid-19 saw us cancel every - single - event in the school calendar, including our reunions. This story is now all too familiar across the world. While we can still connect with our communities via social media channels, email or if we are fortunate enough to have it in place through a virtual community network, I believe it’s time to start grappling with doing a virtual reunion. The traditionalist among you may think such an idea can’t provide the real connections of a physical event (and to some extent that is true). It is not true to say they are not worth thinking through. Plus, there is the bonus of no event pack down or clean up!
The traditionalist among you may think such an idea can’t provide the real connections of a physical event (and to some extent that is true). It is not true to say they are not worth thinking through. Plus, there is the bonus of no event pack down or clean up!
So, if your school is braving this idea as well; read on as I share my working thoughts and considerations for planning a successful virtual reunion.
Enlist your platform expert
The first and probably the most important consideration for your virtual event is one I am going to gloss straight over. The platform and technology you will use to host the reunion. Just like venues, there are pro’s and con’s for various choices and there is much written online already about Zoom, Google Hangouts and others by more qualified than me. Plus, with weeks of remote learning under their belt many schools may have already made the decision for you. If your school has already chosen a platform, spend your time understanding it. It's features and it's limitations. In addition of paramount importance, what I would recomment is, just like any good venue is to ensure you have an event manager for the plaftorm. Rather than a traditional event manager you need a technical one. By this I mean recruit someone who can support you in the operations, likely someone in your IT department. Rope them in to help iron out technical issues beforehand and on the day.What format? Know your main objective
We are now all armchair experts when it comes to being on video calls be that for work of with family. It is true the more people involved the more challenging the video channel format is to manage but I think there are two formats worth considering;
If your primary goal is to strengthen the bond within a group I would implement a “CHAT” format. The CHAT format sets up smaller video sessions (all at the same time) with about 10 people in each session. Any more than 10 and people will not feel they can freely join in the conversation and it’s difficult to personally connect. Each CHAT group has a host / Emcee who is the point of contact for the 10 Alum and helps drive the conversation or manage the ‘virtual room’. There are little formalities in this format but people get to catch up and deepen connections. If you have a few CHAT groups you could consider rotating groups after 15 minutes so people get to speak more classmates.
If your goal is engagement with the school or organisation, I would run a more standard BROADCAST type format. You only run a single session, can include a few more people but the agenda needs to run tight and more formal. Perhaps you include a video update showcasing the school’s environment (if new buildings have gone up since the Alum were on site) and the Head of School ideally attending in person would do a formal message during the event. If you want to drive some connection with attendees at a personal level you need to work hard at utilising any chat functions your platform may have and run some icebreakers. Consider enlisting a popular teacher who knows the alum as the emcee so they can call on people, bring warmth and humour to the virtual room.
Finally, some practical tips
There is definitely so many more things to think about, why not jot a comment below to share your thoughts and build on the plan …
- Regardless of the format you use, keep the total length of the event to around 30 minutes give or take. It’s difficult to keep engagement up through a screen any longer.
- Be strict on your RSVP date and tell people you mean it with this event! You don’t need last minute attendees emailing you for access and links etc.
- Reminding people to bring a drink (coffee or otherwise!) which may keep people refreshed during the event and prevent early dropouts
- Test, test, test. Do a trial run maybe two. Ensure the participants are briefed. Refine and iterate each time. You'll be glad you did.
- As you can’t meet physically, consider reinvesting some of the budget of a physical event into a beautiful gift or physical invitations for each Alum sent to their home address.