How to Host a Virtual Community Event
We’re now well into a second lockdown, and with many older or more vulnerable parishioners still shielding, most of the community events you’d normally run may not be possible for a while longer.
Embracing and understanding virtual technologies doesn’t always come easy to most of us.
But spending a little time exploring what they offer and how they work could give you a really helpful way to host fun, collaborative and memorable community events during these uncertain times.
If you’re part of a parish that embraced digital technologies during the first lockdown, you may already know this – but if you’re still looking for ways to keep your community involved and engaged, now is a great time to explore the virtual world.
Will it still be as good?
While it’s never going to a replacement for physical get togethers, you might be surprised at how much people enjoy a virtual event. They can still be a lot of fun, and there’s a lot you can do in a virtual space.
There are no social distancing or hygiene concerns, and events can be hosted from anywhere, without the costs normally associated with putting on a ‘do’.
In fact, virtual events can bring people together in even more collaborative ways than in physical spaces.
Using online tools compels us to be more creative with the time we have, and the shorter nature of virtual events can actually lead to people feeling even more engaged and involved than they would at a physical meeting or event.
Everyone can still see each other and interact largely as they normally would. But from the comfort of their armchair or dining table, and with virtual events, you can reach a much wider audience than you normally might, since no one is restricted by cost, mobility or transport issues.
Even people who know the parish but live outside the area can take part.
The only barrier for your attendees is having a computer or smartphone with internet access, which most people do these days, even if some still don’t.
If you’re not used to video conferencing, it can take a while to get familiar with it but you could put together some useful instructions for any residents who are struggling to take part.
What platform should I use?
There are lots of free and paid-for video conferencing tools out there; all you need to get started is a laptop or smartphone to download them.
Below, we’ve listed the main tools and provided a brief overview of each one, to help you decide which is right for you:
Zoom has quickly become one of the most popular video conferencing tools in lockdown because of its reliability; even if you lose your internet connection during the call, Zoom can usually keep your video going.
Once you install the Zoom app on your computer or smartphone, you can host free video calls with up to 100 people for up to 40 minutes.
If you’d like to involve a larger audience or talk for longer, they offer a range of paid plans which let you chat with up to 1,000 people at once, with no time limit.
Google Meet is incredibly quick and easy to use, and doesn’t cost a thing; however, you do need a Gmail account to set up a virtual meeting, and while it does work for people who aren’t on Gmail, some people have problems accessing Google Meet.
Also, once you have more than a few people on your call, it can’t show everyone on the video screen like Zoom can – it only shows the person who’s talking at that time.
Teams lets you schedule video or audio meetings with a single person or a large team.
However, as well as needing a Microsoft Office 365 account to set up Teams, anyone participating in a Teams call will need to set up an account too.
Widely used in the business community over the last few decades, Go2Meeting is one of the original video conferencing tools.
It’s best for giving presentations or talks, rather than for creating an interactive space.
Whereby is straightforward tool that lets you set up a virtual conferencing room. You simply send the link to your guests and they can join without having to install any application or create an account.
It has fewer features than Zoom but offers unprecedented ease of use, and the free plan offers group video conferencing and screen sharing. However, it’s recommended that you consider using the paid version when having more than 4-6 participants to ensure stable call quality.
Skype is probably the most established and well-known video conferencing tool. It’s completely free and can be used by people with any kind of set up; they just need to download it.
The downside, however, is that Skype is known to experience poorer call quality, which is why other tools like Zoom have become more popular.
How do I run a virtual event?
Organising and hosting a virtual event is very similar to organising a physical event. You’d still choose a date that gives people at least a week’s notice, and you’d still need to plan where you’ll host it (i.e. from home, or at another location), how many people you’d like to attend, what the format of the event will be and how you’ll make it fun or interactive.
The main difference is that you’ll probably have to promote it a little more thoroughly, and you’ll need to do a bit of planning to make sure it fits the time limit of your chosen video conferencing software.
Use whatever tools you have to let people know about it; advertise it on posters in shop and pub windows throughout your parish, email it to your usual newsletter recipients, promote it on local Facebook groups, post a flyer and ask others to share it with family and friends.
How do people take part?
When it comes to inviting people to take part, there are a few options. When you advertise the event, you could ask people to send you their email address if they’d like to attend, and you can email them an invite or a link to the event. Once you’ve invited them, it’s simply down to them to log on and attend.
Alternatively, you can use free event registration software like EventBrite, although this would make the event open to anyone outside of your parish. The benefit with EventBrite, though is that it will email event reminders to your participants in the lead up to your event, so you don’t have to remind people yourself.
Once people have confirmed their attendance (and remember, not everyone who RSVPs will attend – the same as at any physical event), it’s useful to email them a set of instructions for how to join the event, and any software they might need to download.
You’ll only have to do this once; you can use the same instructions for any future virtual event after that.
Once you’re hosting your event, remember that people may have a number of technical issues; don’t worry too much about trying to solve them during the event, as that may lose other peoples’ attention.
We all have technical issues from time to time, and it’s just one of those things. As with a physical event, make sure you greet everyone personally as they log in, and make them feel as included and welcome as possible.
To give you a little inspiration, we’ve put together 12 fantastic virtual events to try in your parish. These could be run purely in your area, or in collaboration with a neighbouring parish.
Don’t worry too much about making your event look professional – the key is to just keep it simple.
#1. Host a Community Quiz with Prizes
A fun prize will give people an extra incentive; ask a local shopkeeper to contribute a nice bottle of wine, or put together a little hamper of local cakes and biscuits.
#2. Host a Free Exercise Class
Even as gyms and leisure centres reopen, lots of people will still be reticent about attending as they wait to see what kind of social distancing measures are in place.
There are countless exercise classes on YouTube and many people have been following the daily video classes from Joe Wicks, but if you have anyone in your parish who runs or teaches classes, ask them if they’d be happy to host a virtual class for free.
#3. Put on a Virtual Concert
Is anyone in your parish musical? If so, would they consider hosting a short virtual concert from their living room?
Virtual concerts have grown in popularity during lockdown; musically-minded Airbnb hosts all over the world, for example, have been putting on virtual concerts, from jazz in Barcelona to tango music in Buenos Aires.
#4. Run a Cookery Demonstration
There’s no doubt that we’ve all been doing a lot more cooking in lockdown, but by now, most of us are getting a little tired of our usual rotation of go-to meals.
Is there a fabulous cake maker in your parish? Or someone who’s perfected the art of the BBQ? A virtual cookery demonstration is a great way to bring people together to learn something new.
#5. Take Residents Down Memory Lane
Lots of people live in the same place for years, without knowing too much about its history. If there’s someone in your parish with a longstanding connection and good local knowledge, could they host a talk?
Alternatively, it could simply be an open discussion where residents share their memories of the parish’s past.
#6. Host a ‘Swap Shop’
A virtual ‘swap party’ is another fun way to bring people together. Everyone brings an item or two that’s in good condition but they no longer need, and shows it to the group; whoever wants it can have it, or swap it for something of theirs.
Items could be anything from an item of clothing to a small piece of furniture, and after the event, residents could simply leave the items outside each other’s front door.
#7. Give a Talk on Wellbeing
The lockdown has made us more mindful of our wellbeing than ever, and there are now a multitude of virtual talks and classes available online, from meditation and mindfulness to yoga and skincare.
If you know anyone locally who specialises in any of these things, ask them if they’d be willing to host a short talk, or simply give a demonstration.
#8. Run a Knowledge Transfer Session
Everyone knows a little bit about something; it might be fun to explore a virtual ‘knowledge transfer’ session where everyone gets a 5 or 10-minute slot to share tips and advice on something they know about.
Topics could be wide-ranging – anything from dog training tips, houseplant care and growing veg to basic car care advice, how to change a light bulb or putting a gift hamper together – and everyone will leave having learned something new.
#9. Host a Film or Book Club Meeting
Lots of book clubs have gone online since the lockdown; it’s a great way to make people feel involved and entertained, both during and after the event.
You could all agree to watch a particular film or read a particular book, then discuss it at a monthly virtual meeting – and don’t forget to encourage people to have their own drinks and nibbles to hand!
#10. Put on a Talent Show
Has Morville got talent? Is there someone in Dorrington who has ‘The Voice’? Any residents in Wem with the X factor?
Sorry, we couldn’t help it – but a virtual talent show, where residents perform their special talent (as long as it’s family friendly!), is a fun and entertaining way to bring people together.
#11. Take People on a Virtual Tour
Social media tools like Facebook Live are useful for hosting virtual tours, though many video conferencing tools like Zoom can be downloaded onto your phone and used to host a virtual tour of somewhere in your parish.
Perhaps the local farm to meet some of the animals? Or inside a local church or historic venue? You could even take residents on a nature walk to explore some of the wildflowers and edible delights from the hedgerows.
#12. Start a Virtual Happy Hour
If there’s anyone in your parish who’s missing the pub or the sense of community a pub brings, but who doesn’t feel comfortable going into a pub, think about hosting a virtual happy hour.
Participants could simply come together weekly, fortnightly or monthly to enjoy an evening of chat, accompanied by the drink of their choice. To support your parish pubs, you could even arrange for them to distribute small, paid-for boxes of local ale to each participant’s front door, so that everyone’s sampling the same thing.
We hope you’ve found this guide useful – do check out our other guide on How to Raise Parish Funds in the COVID Era.
If there’s anything else we can do to support your parish, please do let us know.
The Right Home, Right Place Team