The onset of the pandemic has made virtual events, the talk of the town. By now you know that they are a different ball-game altogether. The way a virtual audience thinks and behaves is very different from an audience present at in-person events.
And a lengthy, boring series of webinars is the last thing that will keep them glued to the screens, especially if they have kids howling in the background or a new Netflix series to catch up on.
No wonder it has become more important than ever to address the issue of attendee engagement. But acknowledging the issue is the first step.
Next comes finding solutions to the question: How do we come up with innovative ways to deal with this challenge?
Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.Steve Jobs
After having done 5000+ Virtual Event Hours (and counting!), trust us to know a thing or two on this topic.
But before we begin, let’s put it out plain and simple – locking down your virtual event platform is not enough! You need to structure the event in such a way that you make optimum use of all its features to provide the desired value to your attendees.
Depending on your event type, audience type and budget, here are some ideas that you can consider and apply at different stages of the attendee’s journey:
Before the Event
Generate a Buzz
- Event #Hashtag
Set up an event hashtag, to get the event trending on different social media platforms. Use it to share bits and pieces of the latest happenings, in the form of screenshots, discussion snippets, images of featured speakers and guests, contests updates, winner announcements and the like.
Make sure to communicate this hashtag to your attendees through your virtual event platform, so that they can use it in their social media posts and feel like they belong to a community.
Also, by following the hashtag, they can keep themselves updated about everything related to the event.
Send a link to a downloadable toolkit to registered attendees. Through this, offer them branded banners, social media graphics and email signature templates, so they can spread the news about their attendance.
Go that extra mile! Send out event badges, t-shirts and other merchandise to attendees that register early, so that they can showcase them at the event and even post selfies wearing them, on social media.
Ramp-up the Event Agenda
- Event Schedule
Rather than having a virtual event that stuffs up all the sessions in 2 days, spread it out over a few more. Give your attendees some breather by adding sessions that are bite-sized and easily consumable: 60 minutes, tops!
Also, make sure to add sufficient breaks between EACH session. Why is this needed you may ask? Well, just like any other event, you need:
- To make room for session spillovers. Often when a discussion becomes engaging it may stretch on for a few minutes. If your schedule is jam-packed, a delay in a single session can disrupt the entire schedule.
- To give buffer time to speakers of the subsequent sessions, to set up their audio and video.
- To allow the audience to freshen up and get some coffee. (It’s going to be a long day and caffeine is much-needed, especially since for most attendee’s the event auditorium is now a living room or a bedroom!)
During these breaks, give attendees the freedom to decide whether they would like to relax, network with peers, watch a pre-recorded 10-minute session of an industry expert or participate in a short quiz, hosted by the emcee.
- Networking Breaks
When creating the agenda, make sure you add short (say 20 minutes) networking breaks in-between sessions. During these slots, attendees can visit professional profiles and send chat and meeting requests to their peers/speakers/exhibitors/sponsors or head over to the networking lounge to interact with like-minded people.
Consider assigning different discussion topics to each lounge table, so that attendees can join in as per their interest. This will act as an ice-breaker between attendees and also give them dedicated time to network, without diverting their attention from the sessions at hand.
Get Some Experts
- Hire A Virtual Emcee
Virtual events need emcees to keep the engagement levels high! Make sure to hire someone who has experience emceeing in front of a virtual audience. The emcee can make use of the different features of the virtual event platform to get the audience engaged.
He can use the event feed to post an easy question that people can respond to via comments. For e.g. questions like “Where are you tuning in from?”, “Are you dressed or still in your jammies?”, “Who has a pet and what’s their name?”, “Did you attend this event last year?”, are good ice-breakers.
Another way of doing this is to add a 10-15 minute session just before the event begins, where the emcee can elicit similar responses through the chat or polling feature.
While this is going on, he can also call out the names of people who have joined, to acknowledge their presence. Similarly, during session breaks, he can engage attendees through polls and Q&A, on different topics.
- Session Moderators
Moderators are needed to create a link between the speakers and the audience. They can support speakers by selecting relevant questions and also removing attendees who spam the chat.
Similarly, they can ensure that the sessions remain informative, by managing the discussion flow and preventing it from getting boring or diverting off the topic at hand.
Hence, it essential that you select moderators who have had a decent experience of handling virtual speakers and attendees. To make sure they are familiar with the virtual event platform, provide proper customer support and training in advance.
During the Event
- Don’t Miss Out On Introductions
Add a quick welcome session at the beginning of the event, to give attendees an overview of the platform, what to expect from the event and introduction to the main moderators.
To facilitate this, you can also share with them some technical documents on how to find their way around the virtual event platform (just like a floor plan for an in-person event).
Simultaneously, the emcee can also encourage the audience to use the event wall, to introduce themselves and post queries, if any.
- Enliven Your Sessions
If the content of your sessions is too informational, attendees will easily lose their attention. To shake things up, consider the following:
- Use the breakout rooms feature of your virtual event platform to hold product demos, workshops, and training on industry-specific themes. Rooms can also be used for holding non-technical workshops on topics like communication and stress management.
Pro Tip: Keep these rooms open or restricted, if you want to make it open for everyone or exclusive for specific types of attendees.
- Another way of using these rooms is for conducting community-driven activities. These activities can be business-oriented or just for pure fun! For this, divide the attendees into teams and allot them private rooms to plan and strategize on how to win. For e.g. for an employee engagement event, teams can be tasked with the challenge of coming up with the KRAs (i.e. Key Responsibility Areas) for next year or designing a logo for a new collection or developing prototype solutions for a particular problem, through the hackathon.
- Take your event to another level by adding a DJ session with electro music, that can be streamed in high quality using video mixing software like OBS and vMix.
- An alternative is hosting a mini jukebox party in the middle of the day and asking the audience to post YouTube links to their favorite tracks in the chat, to hear them get played. This is a sure-shot way to boost the excitement levels amongst the audience.
- Lighten up the atmosphere by inviting an expert to do standup comedy or a motivational gig.
- You can also help your attendees wind down after a hectic day of attending webinars and networking online, by inviting qualified trainers to lead yoga and meditation sessions.
- Add Gamification to Spice Things Up
Make sure you run contests parallel to your event, to keep attendees hooked using virtual event gamification. Here are different types of contests and activities that you can conduct.
- Entry-based Contests:
Ask attendees to submit an entry in the form of a selfie, image, video, or written content. The winners can be decided on the basis of the most creative entries or through metrics like the number of likes received on their entry.
For e.g. you can ask attendees to share an image of their co-worker or their event setup or a quarantine challenge they triumphed or failed miserably at. Similarly, you may ask them to upload their research abstract or an article depicting their views on a certain topic.
- Best Responses Contests:
Post an image and ask attendees to give it an interesting caption. Again, the winners can be decided by you or by the number of likes received. This can be smoothly implemented through the event feed feature of the virtual event platform.
- Multiple-Choice Quizzes:
Populate multiple-choice questions that can be time-restricted. Attendees that give maximum correct responses and at the fastest speed, will win the contest.
One way to organize this is by asking attendees to visit different exhibitor booths and interact with exhibitors, to get answers to the questions. This will make the task more fun for attendees and also satisfy exhibitors’ branding needs.
Assign points for each action attendees to do on the virtual event platform, such as when they view a profile or their profile gets viewed, when they send or accept a meeting request, when they take notes, when they create a post on the event feed, when they create a poll or ask a question, when their post gets likes and comments, when they participate in a poll, when they chat, etc.
This is a great way to encourage them to participate more in the event. It’s surprising to see that people really go to lengths to achieve that top position, especially if there’s an enticing reward waiting in store for them.
Regardless of the contests you host, make sure to incentivize it. For e.g. you can deliver a gift hamper to the attendees that bag the top 3 positions on the leaderboard. You can also give Amazon gift cards, passes to a music event, or a free annual subscription to a service that your partner or sponsor offers, to attendees that win the contests.
After the Event
Keep in mind that the virtual event experience is new for everyone, even the attendees. While absorbing the new format of the event, attendees were constantly juggling between concurrent sessions, meetings, networking and consuming content.
They may have easily missed certain presentations and webinars or didn’t get enough time to network. Even if this is not the case, they might simply want to replay all the interesting content that you offered!
Here’s what you can do:
- Extend the accessibility of the virtual event platform post the event, perhaps from a week up to a month. But make sure to clearly communicate until when the platform will be available. This will give attendees ample time to make valuable connections (via chat, networking lounge, and meetings), view on-demand videos, and download the session handouts and other useful content.
- Inform attendees about any contests that may still be running and encourage them to participate.
- Ask attendees to fill a feedback survey and offer them e-certificates of attendance in return.
- Send them a thank you mail and give them a link to download a digital swag bag. Just because the event is virtual, doesn’t mean there is no way to give attendees, some freebies. Perhaps you can offer them some exclusive offers from your partners, as a token of appreciation.
- Encourage attendees to share screenshots of key moments from the event on their social media accounts (while using the event hashtag, of course!).
- Simultaneously, ask them to send you a testimonial in the form of a selfie-video. Combine all these entries and feature them on your website and social media.
- For attendees that missed the event, set up a live webinar on key takeaways and share the link on the event feed and through email and social media.
Wrapping it up!
The most important thing to remember is, don’t just craft an event, but an experience! Attendees will remember if they had a great time at your event and decide to re-attend your future events accordingly. Even more importantly, if you manage to meet their expectations, they will eventually turn into your brand evangelists!