Which Event Formats Work Best?

event formats including ihn-person, hybrid events, and virtual events

Which Event Formats Work Best? Tips for How to Choose

To maximize attendance and engagement at your next nonprofit event, you need to choose the best event format for your audience. Many considerations go into deciding between in-person, virtual, or hybrid events. While some options allow more people to attend, other formats can increase engagement or offer chances for participants to engage more deeply.

In this guide, we’ll walk through common event formats and considerations to help your nonprofit plan events that supporters will want to attend again and again.

Popular Event Formats

In-Person Events

In-person events occur in a specific place, such as a community center, park, or hotel. They require that speakers, attendees, and exhibitors travel to a central location to meet. Examples of in-person nonprofit events include galas, walk-a-thons, workshops, and volunteering sessions.

In-person events have several advantages:

  • Build lasting partnerships with event vendors.
  • Nurture personal, face-to-face relationships with supporters.
  • Allow people to connect with others who share their interests and values.
  • Better engage attendees in fundraising and other event activities.

The downside is that in-person events can be expensive. Plus, they may not be as convenient for potential attendees who don’t live in your local area or lead busy lives.

Virtual Events

Virtual events take place entirely online. Examples include webinars, live-streamed sessions, online conferences, and virtual trade shows.

Key advantages of virtual events are:

  • They are generally less expensive than in-person events, although initial technology
    investments may be required.
  • They are accessible to those unable to travel and can be recorded for on-demand
  • They make it easy to collect and track attendee data.

However, it can be challenging to keep attendees thoroughly engaged during virtual events. Success depends on attendees having reliable technology and internet connections. You’ll need to plan activities such as polls and breakout sessions to build a sense of community.

Hybrid Events

Hybrid events combine in-person and virtual components, accommodating both local and remote attendees. They can include conferences, roundtables, workshops, and trade shows.

The main advantages of hybrid events include:

  • The ability to reach a larger and more diverse audience while providing an in-person
    experience for those who prefer it.
  • Easy data collection and enhanced engagement using event technology platforms.
  • Flexibility with scheduling in-person and virtual activities.

However, hybrid events can be costly, combining expenses of both in-person and virtual formats. Your nonprofit must plan carefully to ensure a satisfactory experience for all your attendees.

Essential Considerations When Choosing an Event Format

To make the best event format choice, there are several key factors your nonprofit should consider:

Attendee Characteristics

By knowing your audience, you can tailor your event to meet their needs and expectations, ensuring a higher level of participation and satisfaction. To do so, you need to deep dive into their characteristics and preferences.

Assemble your event planning team and ask yourselves the following questions:

  • What common demographic characteristics do potential attendees have? For example, think about their age and interests.
  • Where do most of your potential attendees live? Are they all located in a relatively small geographic area, or are they spread out? Do you have a large international community of supporters?
  • How do your attendees engage best? For example, do they prefer visual or auditory content?

Gather feedback from previous events and ask questions throughout the planning process. Find out whether your audience prefers to gather in person or engage in the comfort of their own homes.

Event Goals and Objectives

Next, consider your event goals and objectives. Use them to guide every aspect of your event planning, from content creation to logistical arrangements.

For example, you might want your event to:

  • Educate or inform attendees.
  • Inspire people to support your nonprofit.
  • Promote your nonprofit’s brand.
  • Encourage networking or community building.
  • Gather input from your supporters.

Your event can cover one or more of these goals. Depending on what you choose, identify which format best supports those goals.

Logistics and Resources

Resources are key to any event format decision. Resource considerations include:

  • Venue availability and capacity: If you hope to draw a large in-person crowd, you’ll need a spacious venue. However, there might be a limited availability of large conference sites in your area. If some of your potential attendees are interested in engaging virtually, a smaller venue and hybrid format could work instead.
  • Budget constraints: In-person events tend to require a large budget; however, sponsors and exhibitors can help offset the cost. Hybrid events could add the cost of technical equipment to in-person costs. Overall, virtual events are often less expensive, especially after you’ve made the initial equipment investment.
  • Technical requirements and capabilities: To engage your audience, especially a virtual one, your nonprofit needs to use digital tools like polling and live chats effectively. You might need to conduct training sessions beforehand to prepare your staff and volunteers for a smooth event experience.

Additionally, you’ll want to think about your event’s accessibility and sustainability. How will you ensure that all attendees have an easy, memorable experience? What measures will you take to reduce energy consumption and waste at your event? Which format will best allow you to accomplish this?

Event Format Best Practices

The ideal event format for your nonprofit will meet your goals and satisfy your attendees while still being within your budget. Regardless of the format you choose, keep these best practices in mind to host a successful event:

  • For virtual and hybrid events, choose a user-friendly, reliable event platform.
  • Plan your event early and test your technology ahead of time.
  • Market your event through various channels, including your website and social media.
  • Engage and interact with your audience before, during, and after the event

For each event, track metrics such as attendance, poll participation, and return on investment (ROI) to gauge your performance. Then, when planning your next event, make adjustments as needed.

Choosing the right format lays a strong foundation for a successful event. Regardless of which format you choose, be sure to plan carefully. Adopt a mindset for continuous improvement and innovation. Regularly evaluate your events and adapt your approach as your organization’s and audience’s needs change over time.

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