In the last year, our Girl Scout volunteers have found virtual events to be convenient and enjoyable—there is no commute, childcare is less complex, and it is comfortable and fun to be at home in our bunny slippers. Developing an online event for adults is similar to planning an event for girls, but it is possible to offer a wider variety of experiences and include complexity for interest.
Discoveree is a volunteer-led adult event that has been held annually for 52 years. In the spring of 2020, as we began to plan for our January 2021 event, it was clear that we would have to either offer the event online, or cancel it altogether. We chose to migrate to an online format, and with the help of many GSNorCal Girl Scouts, the event was well-attended and successful. It was not easy to re-invent an event with such a long history of success, but we learned some great lessons. Here are our top take-aways on how to host a Girl Scout event for adult members.
Build a Team
When building your event team, be sure to include some people with experience managing groups online: teachers, group meeting leaders, even online exercise instructors. These people will help you think outside the box to create a fun and enjoyable event, and can also advise you about best practices when working with online groups. Gather people to help plan the event, as well as individuals who will be willing to help on the day (or days!) of the event.
Pro Tip: Don’t know any folks with experience? Attend a bunch of online events yourself and take notes! What worked for you and what didn’t? What kind of energy and activities would you like to recreate?
Think outside the box and review all the important details for your virtual event. How will you structure the event? Will everyone be in one big meeting? Will you break up onto small groups? Will you have time blocks with different options available during each time block? Will individuals have to sign up for options? When you are online, you can design an event that is really short, say, one hour, or very long, up to a week of sessions! (How to do a week-long event? Schedule a two-hour workshop every morning and every afternoon every day for a week!)
What is your goal for the event? Is it educational? Fun? Relaxing? Do you want individuals to have an opportunity to meet others? Keep these goals in mind as you plan the structure of your event.
Repeated communication is critical to the success of your adult event. Consider a variety of communication tools: website, FAQ’s, newsletters, and email. Use these communications to help your attendees know what to expect, find the materials they need, and remember to attend the event.
Also, consider mailing a letter or packet (include a patch or sticker with the info to drum up excitement) via US Mail (USPS). Be sure to budget for at least one mailing, and possibly more. If there is a craft-type activity, you can build kits of tools and materials and mail them out in a box.
Pro Tip: Become friends with your local postal service employees. They can help you figure out the best way to send these packages.
Give participants enough time
When we gather for an in-person event, early arrivals will talk to other participants and maybe look at displays set up. When we gather for an online event, plan for similar diversions. Sitting around and waiting online for even a few minutes can seem like an age. When you expect some ‘down time’, such as when people are gathering at the beginning of an event, or in the moments when you might be changing speakers, have something for participants to do! For example, perhaps develop an event-long bingo game, pop up some trivia question slides, insert a virtual icebreaker or game, ask participants to post their location or volunteer role, play Girl Scout songs and display the lyrics (and tell people to “mute yourself for a sing-along!!”), or share a short video. This is an opportunity to be creative.
If the group is learning a skill or working on a project, do not cut their time short. We need just as much time to practice online as we do in person, perhaps even more time! Occasionally ask if any individuals are willing to share their work so far.
When participants need to “move around” from session to session, or from room to room, leave some time for this to happen. Also, include breaks! We all need an opportunity to get something to drink, stretch our legs, and take a break from staring at our computer screens.
Give some thought to the event opening. As participants arrive, post instructions for them to see. Also consider having someone talk through details throughout the half hour or so that late arrivals can get up to speed.
Practice, practice, practice
Plan to run through EVERYTHING. Practice starting up the meeting software, transferring moderation from person to person, making announcements, tracking participants (are people in the correct place? Are they actually registered?). Two full run-throughs of the event are ideal. Be prepared for the first run-through to feel disastrous, but it is guaranteed you will learn a lot, and the second run-through will convince you that you are ready to hold your event online. If you have session leaders, plan practices for anyone who has not run a similar session online. You will learn what is engaging online, and the session leader will learn what works and what doesn’t.
When planning an adult virtual event, think ONLINE. Place the event description online, make every attempt to manage registration online, email confirmations of registration and reminders as the event approaches, and post supply lists (if needed) online.
Plan for a “help desk” and imagine why your participants might need help. Here are some ideas to start with: participant cannot get into the event. Participant cannot find login codes to get into event. Participant forgot what parts of the event they signed up for. Participant has technical problems (can’t hear, no video, etc). Develop guidelines for assisting with these issues. “Help” can be a combination of live assistance (chat), an email helpdesk, FAQ’s, and possibly all of these options.
Assume that 15% or more of your participants will not attend, especially if the activities will be recorded. When people are attending online, there are more issues that might cause them to choose not to attend at the last minute. It’s not personal, just the name of the digital game.
General Tips and Tricks
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before your event.
- Ask primary ‘hosts’ for the event to connect their computers directly to internet using an ethernet cable rather than wireless.
- Use laptops or desktop computers for management – tablets and phones will make jobs much more difficult.
- If you have different sessions, let your attendees know when each section is scheduled to start so that they can join whenever they can make it!
- Once you are online, have some questions to ask the group to make the event fun. What did the girls in your troop enjoy most this year? What was your greatest success? Ask each leader to introduce herself with name, troop level, location, size of troop.
- When planning your event, pick a theme! That will help you decide on activities, people to lead those activities, and even who to invite.
Although in-person events have yet to be beat for prioritizing connection and networking, virtual events are an incredible medium for education, enthusiasm, and accessibility. Girl Scouts will be hosting virtual events for years to come, so I hope this advice will encourage you to make your next event virtual!
What to do next:
- Visit the Discoveree website to learn more about the event and how we made it virtual.
- Planning a virtual event for Girl Scouts instead of adults? Find tips here.
- Check out more GSNorCal resources for planning your troop year.
- Discover other volunteer events!
Sheila Pallotta—Sheila Pallotta is a long time Girl Scout and the chair of the Discoveree Committee. Discoveree is an annual adult Girl Scout event. In its 53rd year, Discoveree successfully migrated to a completely online event. Sheila can be contacted for advice or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.