The dramatic events of 2020 saw businesses of every variety across the globe turn to virtual events as a way to stay relevant and connect with their audiences. Not only have online events provided an excellent solution in drastic circumstances, many marketing managers have also found them hugely valuable in generating brand awareness, leads, and ROI.
As the world cautiously begins to emerge from lockdowns and quarantines, many predict a rise in hybrid events (an event that seamlessly blends virtual and in-person components). In other words, the virtual aspect of events will still be important for some time, and it’s crucial to learn how to use the online space for maximum reward. A huge part of that, naturally, is engaging with your audience to ensure you meet your KPIs. This is especially important and challenging as ‘virtual event fatigue’ creeps in.
In-person Engagement vs. Virtual Engagement
As the world went into lockdown, virtual events quickly filled the gap and were seen as a blessing for many. While it was a stellar alternative in an emergency situation, they don’t quite compare to the experience of a physical event and the ample opportunities they provide for networking and interaction with your audience. Encouraging engagement in a virtual or hybrid event is somewhat more challenging.
Another factor to consider with virtual and hybrid events is that with the sudden switch to online, many people are sitting in back-to-back video calls. A good few months in, people are now tired of sitting in front of their screens all day (along with their families and ample discretions)—briefly mentioned above as ‘virtual event fatigue’.
So how can you keep your online audience engaged in the face of these challenges? The answer: with some careful consideration and planning. It takes some effort, but it’s certainly not impossible.
Encouraging Audience Engagement in Virtual Events
There’s no doubt about it: attendee concentration span is harder to maintain during an online event, and it’s easier to interact and engage with a physical audience. But with some smart planning, you can still ensure your next virtual or hybrid event is a stellar success. Here’s how:
Time your event strategically
If you are planning an online or hybrid event that is aimed at a global audience, you need to carefully consider what time might be best for everyone involved. Alternatively, you could focus on different events for different regions or simply allow for on-demand access.
In general, however, you might want to think about hosting the event mid-morning to combat online fatigue. This gives your attendees a chance to reply to a few emails or check-in with their teams before the event but also ensures they haven’t been sitting in calls all day. Additionally, people tend to have longer attention spans in the morning.
Small things, like choosing the right time for your event, can play a huge role in the overall event experience and how people engage with both the content and your brand as a whole.
Utilize the best tools for your event
Online events these days can and should be so much more than a stock standard Zoom call and a PowerPoint slide. There are various virtual event platforms and software to choose from to not only ensure you have a seamless event, but that it is interactive, engaging, and exciting.
Some of the most popular virtual event software and program options include vFairs, ON24, and Big Marker. Another fantastic advantage is that many of these platforms allow you to capture valuable data that can help you enhance future events and calculate your ROI.
Communicate the “rules of engagement” to your audience
One of the most important things you can do to increase audience engagement in your virtual event is to make sure that attendees know what to expect and how they can get involved. In the pre-event buzz, communicate what your audience needs to know, explain the value of engaging with the presenters and even other attendees, how it might be different to other events, and any logistics they need to understand.
You can also send out a Google Form where attendees can ask questions before the event if they are unsure about anything. If your audience understands what to expect and how they can get involved, they will probably be more confident in getting involved during panel discussions or networking.
Send out a post-event survey to see what your audience thought about how your virtual or hybrid event ran and ask for suggestions on how you can improve. This kind of audience feedback is invaluable.
Implement interactive engagement tools
For virtual or hybrid events, one of the biggest goals should be to make your audience feel as if they are a part of the event itself, not some passive observers. One of the best ways to do that is to use interactive features that are easy to use. You could utilize anything from event-specific chat groups and Q&A sessions to polls and surveys.
In fact, you could even make use of a pre-event questionnaire, where attendees are able to send their questions through to the speakers before the event time (via the registration page, for example). Many of them might be more inspired to stay for the Q&A sessions if they think their question will be answered. Either way, ensure that you have hired an experienced virtual event moderator to oversee any interactive sections to ensure they run smoothly and to encourage engagement.
Make your content valuable and exciting
Remember that with virtual and hybrid events, you’re dealing with short attention spans. This means that it’s vital to include content that is exciting and offers real value to attendees. Use exciting visuals, audio and video were appropriate and ensure that your speakers are vivacious and translate to video well (some people simply hate being on camera). Their energy and passion are hugely important in engaging with the audience, so be sure to find someone that can carry this role well.
It might be worth considering breaking up the virtual content with fun breaks. For a hybrid event, this might take the form of special online networking sessions to make the most of the time during physical breaks, but you can do the same for virtual events. You can even use polls or question sessions to re-engage with your audience. What’s more, you can make use of breakaway rooms for smaller group discussions, networking sessions, or to make use of icebreakers (there’s even a fabulous tool to help you with the latter).
Include in-event gamification
Looking to do something a little different? Then add some gamification elements to your virtual event. The concept centers on including certain elements, usually found in games, in an online event in strategic ways to encourage engagement. This can be anything from quizzes and puzzles to trivia, and you can add a competition element (such as offering a coveted prize) to inspire participation. Part of the competition angle could mean encouraging attendees to post something event-related to social media with special hashtags to enter the competition, which could help with increased brand awareness and event promotion.
These are just a few of the ideas on how to increase engagement during virtual events but the options are almost endless. Get creative about how you can better involve your audience, keep up the mood and excitement, and provide them with a virtual event that is valuable and memorable for them, and in turn, successful for you.
Post-event, you can keep the buzz alive by sharing special sessions or giving people access to the replay. As mentioned earlier, it’s also a great idea to send them a post-event survey so you can better understand what worked and what didn’t, which will inform your future event decisions.
Audience engagement in virtual events is vital for you to connect with your audience and increase your ROI. If you would like more information on how to do that then check out our latest ebook.
Need help planning a virtual or hybrid event? Then get in touch with The Event Production Company. With almost 30 years of event planning experience behind us, you can trust that together, we will create a stunning and successful event (with measurable results to prove it).