Go-to-market teams are competitive. They want to win. What better way to make your event engaging than creating an entire game around the event? Earlier this year the MURAL go-to-market team (sales, customer success, and marketing) came together for a three-day, virtual off-site — FUEL 2021. The goal? To get us all rallied around our goals for the year while also getting in some good old-fashioned competition. By adding game-like challenges and quizzes throughout the event, we were able to keep our virtual colleagues engaged in the experience and incentivize their participation.
“I have organized and attended many GTM kickoffs over the past decade, but never totally virtually. The team engagement and knowledge sharing exceeded my expectations. People had fun and left excited and energized — which is hard to do.”
💡 Ray Savona, Chief Revenue and Customer Officer | MURAL
Some of the largest pain points of GTM events, including a lack of excitement and genuine understanding of company wide goals are usually even more difficult to solve for when conducting a completely virtual event. This was not the case with FUEL 2021:
“The creativity of the event itself took things to a whole new level. Plus, we were able to space out sessions to give people breaks, which really ‘fueled’ the engagement of everyone. The usual grind of content and information gave way to fun and excitement.”
💡 Peter Herbert, Chief Marketing Officer | MURAL
How to plan and run a virtual kickoff event
Whether you have a one-day kick-off session or a multi-day, virtual extravaganza, here are 5 tips for how to make your next kick-off really sizzle.
1. Lead with visuals
MURAL is growing at a rapid pace, with more new faces and new connections needing to happen in an engaging way in order to effectively go to market together. When planning our three-day, GTM kick-off event for more than 200 attendees, our goal was to create a delightful, visually memorable experience that would get our go-to market team excited about our company vision and 2021 strategy.
“One of our core values is to experiment like an owner. We fully embraced this in our event design as we introduced new technologies and experiences to maximize engagement. This helped shift the focus away from not being able to meet in person and instead lean into an innovative digital-first experience.”
💡 Seema Jain, Head of Sales Effectiveness | MURAL
Leading with visuals effectively requires taking a design thinking approach to event planning. If a picture can tell a thousand words, how might you use awesome graphics and visual mediums to generate excitement into what would otherwise just be a very long Zoom call?
Go all-in on a theme
It’s helpful to make the theme symbolic of either where your company is at, the specific goals you have to reach, or even something intrinsic to your company culture. FUEL 2021 had a road trip theme to signify the journey ahead for the year and how we all needed to work together to reach our ultimate destination. We kept all of our swag on-theme, including keychains, trucker hats, fun stickers, snacks, and an official FUEL 2021 jacket.
We also made sure to mail out the event swag early — things always come up to delay this, especially for a global company like ours. To make it more intimate, we also created a mural for attendees to upload their swag selfies to generate excitement for the event. Participants were encouraged to include family members and pets in the pictures!
We announced our theme weeks ahead of time, and included a list of items for each attendee to do before things kicked off. We started by sending out a pre-event mural checklist with all the event logistics (e.g., any apps that would need to be downloaded, which sessions they needed to register for, etc.).
🚀 PRO TIP: You can use MURAL to your own pre-event checklist. Get started 👉 here.
Make an interactive itinerary
Our amazing design team took our theme and ran with it, making a stunning interactive itinerary in MURAL. We added in “Easter eggs” throughout the mural, and added them continuously throughout the event as well. This was a great way to get people to poke around and learn about what the next few days would entail, even before things started. Once the event began, it was a great foundational visual for our daily emcees to rally the crowd around.
Use Zoom backgrounds to create a cohesive atmosphere
Over the course of the last year, Zoom (and video conferencing in general) has become a central feature of all of our lives — especially at work. To make that a little less noticeable and make it seem like we really were on a road trip together, we had everyone download custom digital backgrounds to put on during the event. This, coupled with our swag, really made the event cohesive and community-like, even though we were technically scattered across the world.
Music is an important part of any event, so we created a FUEL 2021 playlist on Spotify and encouraged our employees to add songs. We used this as the soundtrack throughout the event (it’s helpful if you make at least some of the songs “on theme”). It was so great to see all the discussions on Slack around music choices, newly discovered favorites and the general nostalgia that music can provide.
Finally, we created a hype video to kick off the event. Using pre-recorded elements, some acting finesse from our leadership team, and custom lyrics to the song “Life is a Highway” by the Rascal Flatts. It was magical to watch the eruption of emotion that truly set the tone for the rest of the event. Check a snippit of it out below!
2. Explore and experiment with gamification
It’s well known that attention spans are decreasing rapidly due to constant daily information overload. It’s important to keep this in mind when planning an event and designing content. Adding game design to your event may sound simple, but it requires a deeper level of planning from the beginning. Make sure you have the right team in place to deliver this experience to your audience.
By embedding gamification into your event design, your attendees will:
Have more fun! Who doesn’t love winning prizes and getting points?
Retain more information and be more engaged during the virtual sessions.
Cheer each other on and promote a sense of camaraderie around shared yearly goals.
People love collecting points, even when they don’t know what the end prize is going to be. Public leaderboards are great ways to promote healthy competition. There are a number of apps you can have participants download (we used Socio) to help you create challenges to complete before and during the event. Share the results on your internal communication channels during the week leading up to the event.
Keep the games simple
Challenges should be easy enough for everyone to complete quickly. For example, we had people take a picture of the event swag or add a song to our company Spotify playlist. Once you completed your pre-event checklist, for example, you got points. For harder challenges, make points go up. For example, we also had quizzes around the speakers during the event. So people really had to pay attention to get those points! Also, participation goes up if people know they are competing for something noteworthy. Points are good, but free stuff is even better.
Everyone loves a good prize
Think about what your attendees will actually enjoy, and then deliver! We used Loop & Tie gift cards so our winners had more flexibility in deciding what prize suited them. Remember that prizes don’t have to be physical items, they can also be experiences. At other events we’ve given winners a mentorship meeting with a member of the executive team, or just some money to go out to dinner with a friend or partner.
Whatever you decide, make sure you make the presentation of awards a celebration in and of itself. In keeping with our gamification mindset, we used the virtual platform Virbela so we could have an actual awards ceremony at the end of the event. Attendees had to create their own avatars and could spend some time during the event playing around in our virtual campus or seeing what cool things they could get their avatars to do. (Hint: your avatar will do a backflip with the right keyboard shortcut!)
3. Leadership participation and access matters
Part of a successful kick-off includes quality time with the people responsible for your company roadmap. We included both intimate breakout sessions with our C-suite as well as informational videos before the event started where people could get to know them better and learn more about the history (and future!) of the company. “FUEL allowed us to align on our goals and processes,” said Savona. “That will enable us to get to the next level as a company.”
We made sure that there was adequate time each day for question and answer sessions with the executive team. This level of communication and transparency goes far in terms of creating trust between employees and the leadership team that the path they’ve outlined for us is one that everyone can commit to working toward.
Our leadership team took this responsibility seriously and spent a lot of time putting together pre-event videos. They also went “all in” on the theme along with us. When you see your bosses go all in (even if that means being willing to look a little silly), it makes you much more willing to ask questions, get involved, and get excited about working hard as a team.
In the last hour of our event we met up in Virbela for a “virtual toast.” Having our executive team alongside us (their avatars doing backflips and breakdancing of course) generated the closest thing to an in-person party you could attain in a virtual event. All the feels!
4. Start each day with a bang!
If you are running a single day or multi-day event, make sure you put plenty of thought into who will be your event emcees. We had different duos each of the three days. This gave the larger company a chance to meet and hear from other members of the go-to market team they might not otherwise have, plus we were able to highlight many of our more outgoing employees to generate some real excitement. There are a number of important roles an emcee needs to play in a virtual event beyond just running the itinerary. From rallying the crowd (see below) to keeping Q&A’s on schedule and the playlist bumping — with great power comes great responsibility.
Rally your team with ice breakers
Part of successful remote collaboration involves starting meetings with warm-ups, energizers, and ice breakers. We practice what we preach here at MURAL, and our “ice breakers” are an integral part of all of our meetings. That said, our event ice breakers are off the hook! When choosing a quick but interactive icebreaker, our emcees were careful to pick ice breakers that would work for a large group of people. For example, we had a simple but funny quiz about our Day 1 emcees, utilizing our voting feature to tally the results. This helped people feel comfortable with the facilitators for the day, and also taught us a little bit of slightly embarrassing trivia about our coworkers!
🚀 PRO TIP: Check out our extensive list of ice breaker templates to discover the best way to kick things off in your next meeting or virtual event.
5. Gather feedback during the event — and iterate on the fly if needed.
If you are putting this amount of work into your kickoff event, you don’t want to walk away without the most important gift of all: feedback! We had a quick survey at the end of each day (completed for points on the leaderboard of course!) so the feedback would be fresh in their minds. It also helped us adapt from one day to the next if something very urgent was brought to our attention. We got some great feedback that we’ll be using to plan our next go-to market event, and it felt good to hear individual feedback about what people were most excited to work on in 2021.
The bottom line
Virtual kick-off events can be difficult to plan, but there's plenty that you can do to set yourself up for success. Don't forget the following tips:
Lead with visuals
Turn activities into a game
Involve leadership teams
Start each day with plenty of energy
Gather feedback during the event and stay agile Good luck planning your next go-to-market event!