After a tumultuous 2020, how do you hold a virtual kickoff event that gets employees fired up for the year ahead? This was the challenge the Aventri team faced when the annual company-wide kickoff went virtual for the first time in February. The event drew Aventrians from seven countries for three days of learning, inspiration, networking and fun.

For many organizers, planning a virtual event can be daunting. Fortunately, we had an advantage. Our Professional Services team had been helping customers run virtual events nonstop for the past year. This article shares their best practices for planning and hosting virtual kickoffs that set the company up for a successful 2021.

Make virtual kickoffs engaging

  1. Given today’s smaller budgets, it’s good to know hosting an engaging digital event doesn’t require elaborate solutions. Be strategic about event design instead.
  2. Don’t try to replicate an in-person meeting virtually. Each format provides a different experience.
  3. Remote attendees face many distractions; create short, snappy sessions to hold their attention.
  4. Keep variety top of mind. Mix keynotes and main-stage presentations with small, collaborative breakout sessions. Ratchet up engagement with awards presentations. Attendees can chime in to congratulate winners on your activity feed and group chat.
  5. Add bursts of attention-grabbing, recorded content, like celebrity cameos to surprise and delight. Aventri recognized top performers with personalized shout-outs, one from a world-renowned rapper/producer and another from actor Ernie Hudson of Ghostbuster.
  6. Make sessions transparent and uplifting. In his executive keynote, our CEO, Jim Sharpe, acknowledged the global challenges the pandemic has wrought. At the same time, he thanked team members for their dedication and expressed great optimism for opportunities ahead.
  7. Tailor sessions. Our kickoff featured collaborative, department-level breakouts in the afternoon, enabling us to customize content for different attendees. This boosted engagement and gave teams a chance to set the blueprint for a successful year.
  8. Leave time in your agenda for attendees to arrange impromptu “meetings-within-meetings.” Using group chat, they can interact throughout the day, just like they would at in-person events.
  9. Of course, grabbing your swag is a big part of any event. Make swag customizable and easily accessible on the navigation bar.

Let virtual event networking flow naturally

  1. For internal meetings, people like to connect and discover new things about each other. Break up sessions with insta-polls. The instant gratification of real-time polling is tough to ignore.
  2. But many organizers don’t realize polls are also powerful networking tools. Invite attendees to answer quick questions about themselves. For example: Apple or android? Favorite quarantine activities? Best films to see while staying inside.
  3. Use polls to start water-cooler-style discussions during sessions and continue the conversation afterwards in your activity feed and group chat.
  4. Virtual networking should never feel forced. Good polls generate fun banter. Invite people to join in and turn on their cameras for virtual networking that flows naturally.
  5. Leverage your activity feed to keep people connected throughout the event. If attendees miss something, they can stay in the loop via shared photos and comments.
  6. Stay connected post-event, too. Invite attendees to return to the platform and check out recorded content, photos and comments.
  7. Some people enjoy virtual happy hours, while others do not. Consider making education sessions required and networking optional. Using a customizable agenda, attendees can modify their registration and add networking events as they like.
  8. For more virtual event networking ideas, think about gamification, AI matchmaking, team trivia, baking competitions, pre-event photo contests, virtual scavenger hunts, face-to-face speed networking, mini group workouts, and birds-of-a-feather breakouts for like-minded attendees.
  9. Like every part of our industry, event entertainment companies have switched to virtual. Also consider online concerts, improv comedy teams and live deejays. They build camaraderie and add fun.

Should you cancel your company kickoff and wait till in-person meetings return?

Kristen Carvalho
Kristen Carvalho

Absolutely not. The pandemic has left an indelible mark. Post-pandemic, many people will still be unable to travel due to health or financial concerns. I believe hybrid is the future of meetings and events. Moving forward, organizations will choose easy hybrid formats to reduce risk and expand reach. So, it’s wise to master the art and science of virtual for your long-term career success.

What’s more, company kickoffs keep people connected. Team members rely on the camaraderie these events create to drive them forward throughout the year. During networking breaks at Aventri Kickoff 2021, attendees gathered in breakout rooms and turned on their cameras. Team members from India joined coworkers in Sweden, Belgium, the U.K. and across the U.S. An employee from India commented, “This is incredible. I catch people’s names on emails and sales calls. But with an event like this, I can see them and get to know who they are.”

It’s amazing to see the power of a virtual kickoff event to bring team members together and get everyone fired up to go above and beyond in the year ahead.

Kristen Carvalho is Director of Events & Content Marketing at Aventri, a leading global technology provider of virtual, hybrid and in-person events.