Making Virtual Events Magical

Aubrey Lear, Senior Employee Engagement Manager

Article Categories: #News & Culture, #Employee Engagement

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In the spirit of “progress not perfection” we set out to host our second-ever virtual TTT and we tried, like always, to make it even better than before.

This year has been a whirlwind for so many of us. We’ve all had to adapt, adjust, change course, and test our limits. Viget is no different. There is no way we could have prepared ourselves for the path 2020 set us on or the different routes we would eventually take.

Back in February, we were actively working to improve our cleaning standards and safety precautions in each of our four offices. In March, we made the decision to become a temporarily fully-distributed company. By April we had postponed our much anticipated 20 year anniversary celebration and retreat. And, by June, we hosted our first-ever virtual quarterly meeting, which we call Third Third Thursday or TTT.

TTT has a rich history at Viget. It is a time to celebrate how far we’ve come and map out where we plan to go next with lots of little traditions sprinkled throughout. In June we decided to table some of those traditions, like celebrating 5, 10, and 20 year Viget milestones, in hopes that we would be able to be together in person this fall. I definitely naively said something like, “I’m so glad this is the only virtual TTT we’ll ever have to host.” So when it became clear that our fall quarterly meeting would also be virtual, we set off on yet another uncharted path. Could we top what we felt like was a once-in-a-lifetime event? Could we incorporate the traditions we postponed in hopes we could celebrate them in person virtually? 

No great adventure story ever has a moment where you don’t push forward, so in the spirit of “progress not perfection” that’s exactly what we did. We set out to host our second-ever virtual TTT and we tried, like always, to make it even better than before.

June 5th, 2020 and October 22nd, 2020 felt like different universes with such intense public events surrounding them. Those moments in time hold different weights and we knew our team needed us to honor those differences. So we went into planning with three things in mind. First, we wanted to set a light tone. We aspired for TTT to feel powerful, but not too heavy. Second, we wanted to incorporate some traditions we postponed earlier this year. We had plenty of ways to make the event novel, but wanted to honor longtime traditions as well. Third, as always, we wanted to be sure we put our people at the heart of the event.

We started by leaning into our virtual reality. One of the best parts of a typical TTT is that after a day full of meetings, you get to spend time with teammates you care about doing something fun. Usually, we’re restricted by our offices’ physical locations; this year we were restricted to our homes. This became a benefit, not a hurdle. Thanks to the many other people and organizations who are charting new territories this year, we literally had the entire world at our fingertips. We did some research and picked out a few experiences from around the world for our team to attend.

Thanks to Airbnb Virtual Experiences our teammates got to choose their own adventure. We made tiramisu in Italy, we learned ASL in ATL, we met sheep on a farm in New Zealand, we attended a private cello concert in the Netherlands, we got artsy in New York, and we drank wine in Argentina. Most importantly, we had memorable experiences together.

Our travel around the world was part of the lightness we hoped our teammates would feel in spending the day together. We wanted to feel transported by novel sights and sounds. We wanted to make new memories together. We also wanted to be sure to leave space for deep breaths. For this, we turned to each other.

Teammates submitted recordings of talent performances that we showcased throughout the event. We kept these mostly secret in advance to maximize their impact – teary eyes and goosebumps were abundant. A standout included Art Director, Owen Shifflet, playing guitar alongside his daughter who gave us a dazzling rendition of Wait for It from the musical Hamilton. This magic wouldn't have been possible in person. UX Researcher, Jasmine Stammes led a chair yoga session where we released more than just the tension in our shoulders. And Digital Strategist BethAnne Dorn led a meditation session where turning off your camera was highly encouraged.

These moments gave us time to break, a chance to reflect, and allowed us to focus on the incredible work we’ve accomplished this year. Project “deep dives” are a TTT staple – we dive deep into two of that quarter's most notable projects. This fall we showcased our work with Human Rights Campaign and Project Beacon (rapid COVID testing), two clients who inspire us deeply. We worked through challenges on both projects that allowed us to flex a lot of different Viget muscles. The deep dive presentations highlighted the impact our work is having in the communities our clients serve.

All of these elements set an extraordinary tone for the end of our event: applauding each other. The kickass people who inspire us everyday – our peers, our teammates – are the ultimate source of rejuvenation. Toasting each other isn’t new; usually we spend an hour or so after a fancy dinner during spring TTT taking turns on the mic to shower each other with praise and honor career milestones. We laugh, we cry, we clink glasses, and we witness the admiration that fills the room. This is one of those traditions I mentioned. The one that we all hoped we could do in person this year. The one I was scared we couldn’t pull off. The one that, when it worked virtually, it felt like actual magic. We laughed, we cried, we raised glasses and we witnessed the admiration that filled the Zoom.

You see, there’s no secret sauce. There is not a perfect piece of swag to mail your team, there is no flawless virtual platform, and it will never be the exact right time. What you have and what you need is people. People who are passionate about the successes of those around them, people who would do anything to help their teammates thrive, people who continue to show up no matter what route you take or what route you're pushed onto. People who make you proud to work hard. Together we flourish.

Want to attend our third-ever virtual TTT? We’re hiring and we’re planning for our next virtual spring TTT. Is another tradition possibly in the making? We’ll see where the next road takes us.

Before you go, here are some practical tips for hosting a magical event:

  1. If you want to level up, get custom. Art Director, Elliott Muñoz created one of a kind illustrations that graced everything from our custom mailer boxes to tags for the enamel pins that we sent our teammates. Everything had a purpose, a direction, and was tied back to the event itself.
  2. Mail your team something cozy and don’t forget the snacks.
  3. Treat Amazon as a last resort. Invest in researching products that make an impact both to your team and to the community.
  4. Create a public event Slack channel for news, alerts, and hype before the event and logistics, questions, and praise during the event.
  5. Create a private Slack channel for speakers and event coordinators to collaborate behind the scenes.
  6. An applause machine is a must have!
  7. Keep time and stay on time. Zoom fatigue is real and so is FOMO. Don’t put your teammates in a tough and possibly exhausting spot.
Aubrey Lear

Aubrey is Viget’s Senior Employee Engagement Manager based in our Falls Church, VA, HQ. She is an organized advocate for color coordinated calendars and closets, but most importantly she is a believer in team spirit and creative thinking.

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