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On June 22, 2011, we kicked off the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit (MDS11) — conducted exclusively online. A collaborative effort between Achieve, Johnson Grossnickle and Associates (JGA), and the Case Foundation, the virtual summit brought together more than 1,000 participants to spotlight the unique characteristics of the rising generation and help nonprofit executives attract and engage Millennials in their work.

This is the final post in a four-part blog series that will culminate later this week with the release of a white paper and a “#MillennialChat” on Twitter on October 11 to share our experiences and discuss lessons learned.

Reflecting back on the Millennial Donor Summit, one thing is certain, underneath all of the fancy new technology, attendees must find value in their participation. Sessions can be packed with great content, but attending all of the sessions back-to-back, while sitting in one place all day, can also result in information overload.  

Throughout this blog series, we’ve detailed the basic elements of a virtual convening for both speakers and participants. What follows are some of our biggest takeaways to help ensure a virtual convening comes to life for all involved.
1. Solid planning and execution:  Virtual conferences need good planning and execution. It takes time and effort to get this right, and without appropriate planning on the front end you risk losing control of your participants in a bigger way than if you were trying to troubleshoot in person.  

2. Trusted technology provider:  Streaming and live video is wonderful in concept, but it needs to have a solid technology foundation so it will work no matter what the participant’s environment happens to be. Just because the technology works on your side doesn’t mean the users aren’t running into difficulty with their own firewalls, connection speeds, etc.  

3.  High energy, informative, and interactive sessions:  Just like an in-person convening, without these elements, a conference can fall flat and disappoint those who have set aside the time and paid to come together to be inspired. The same holds true in a virtual setting, but getting that right can be more of a challenge.

4. Rockstar panelists:  To create interaction, presenters need to be creative, well-prepared and have a plan for engaging the audience in the Q&A process. Engagement cannot be left up to chance, and is vital to the success of a session. Suddenly in a virtual format, participants have easier access to speakers—if the speaker is responsive to comments and questions from audience members the session will be much more engaging for all.  

5. Strong visual appeal:  Just like an in-person conference, the appearance of a virtual conference requires attention as well. When our site was initially set up, it featured a bunch of white men in business suits hanging around the main entrance—that was not the look and feel we were going for and we worked to diversify the crowd. Signage is also important so that participants know exactly where to go and how to navigate to the various venues, be it the discussion lounges, registration, expo hall, etc.
Perhaps some of the above mentioned sound like common sense, but that’s what it takes to make sure a virtual conference “pops.”

Have you participated in or presented at a virtual meeting? If so, what might you add as your biggest takeaways?

If you missed the first three posts in this series, A Virtual Convening—the Basics, Keeping It Social, or Preparing Your Speakers and Participants, you can still read it on the Case Foundation blog. Also, check back later this week for the full report as we detail the most important takeaways that we learned from this experience.

Join @CaseFoundation, @socialcitizen, and @MillennialChat at 3:30pm ET on October 11 for #MillennialChat on Twitter, as we discuss virtual vs. in-person conferences, and you’ll get a chance for Q&A with Kari Saratovsky.
RSVP here.

Watch Jean Case's interview on the Importance of Millennials

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