What We’ve Learned About Building Communities Virtually

Community Blog
Written by Clare Ryan

MARCH 3, 2021

2020 created a challenging environment for those of us who help to build and sustain peer communities, like we do at Evanta. We had to quickly adapt our approach to in-person summits and programs for C-level executives. The alternative was not being able to support our communities in 2020 -- arguably when they needed to collaborate with their peers the most. 

We pivoted to offering virtual events quickly in the spring -- and by the end of 2020, we hosted over 900 virtual events with more than 32,000 executives. We found that business leaders were eager to connect with their peers, share their experiences and challenges, and hear what others in their same situation were doing. As one executive said, “It’s good to hear validation from others that we are on the right track.”

With so many virtual experiences in such a short time, we were able to gather feedback and learn a lot. Executives suggested ideas for topics, formats, and technologies. They told us everything from, “Opportunities to connect virtually in between live events would be welcome” to “Would like to see smaller breakout sessions so that more direct questions can be answered.”

Here’s a bit more about what we learned and what we’re still working on to support our communities.

  1. The principles that are true for in-person events are true for virtual ones, as well.

Time is valuable for everyone, and for C-level executives, in particular, so we strive to use the time well. They have told us before -- and continue to tell us -- that they don’t want to be sold to. Instead, they would like to hear real-world examples, insights, and use cases. They also want to be part of the conversation, not just “presented to.” They inquired about how they could ask more questions or engage their peers further. We experimented with live polls and chat questions -- and making our programs more and more interactive is an ongoing area of focus. 

We also learned one difference with virtual presentations -- unlike a live presentation where you can see a person and their Powerpoint on the stage, in the virtual format, the audience usually gets just one or the other. (Note to all presenters: they seem to prefer your face, not your Powerpoint!)

  1. Technology stuff happens.

There’s no way around technology glitches, as we’ve all learned after a year of working remotely and connecting virtually. The best you can do is prepare. Just like an in-person event, we practice sessions ahead of time -- the flow, who is speaking in what order, how to switch speakers, when to take questions, and more. Evanta employees and community members alike have been amazingly flexible -- even switching platforms at the start of an event to make sure the conversation could go on. The other helpful thing we’ve learned is to keep it simple for people -- give them one link or one place to go. And, we pivoted to offer live chat for technology troubleshooting when things go awry.

  1. Don’t just gather feedback -- use it.

We continue to take our community members’ valuable feedback into account to adjust our formats. For instance, we’ve learned that people max out at being on screen for too much of the day, but we are still working on the ideal flow for an Evanta virtual summit. And our community members shared that they prefer shorter, more frequent engagements, rather than longer events scheduled over time. 

The last year taught us that C-level leaders in our communities still wanted to get together with their peers despite all the demands on their time and attention. They liked hearing from people outside of their own departments and organizations -- even outside of their industries. They faced many of the same challenges as their peers and didn’t want to be in isolation while they were figuring things out. 

We expect this year to be no different in terms of wanting to connect with one another. With hundreds of virtual offerings under our belt, there is more to learn and perfect, and we’re excited to keep tweaking and adjusting to provide the best possible experiences for the members of our communities. What have you learned from our year of virtual?


Clare Ryan headshot

Clare Ryan

VP, Content & Product Strategy at Evanta, a Gartner Company

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