Good attendee engagement is a KPI for most events’ success. But let’s be honest. It is a tough job to crack. And keeping attendees engaged at virtual events somehow seems even harder. Screen fatigue is a real problem. There is no room filled with the infectious energy of a few excited attendees that can rub off on others. So, keeping the venue buzzing at virtual events has a completely different meaning.
But we have some good news for you. There are a few open secrets to driving high audience engagement at virtual events. And here are 10 of those that you can try at your next event.
1. Define what audience engagement means for your event
Audience engagement can mean different things for different events. And even for different audience types.
For example, at a tradeshow you want the audiences to interact with exhibitors. But at a startup pitch event, you may want to maximize the number of people asking questions. And for the investor audiences, an increase in the 1-1 meetings can be a good engagement indicator. So can be participation in themed breakout rooms.
Questions asked, demos watched, polls answered, posts on the event feed. These are all different ways in which audiences engage at events. Know what kind of interactions you are aiming for.
So, only after defining your engagement metrics, get cracking at your engagement plan.
2. Make it someone’s job to drive engagement metrics
Assign one person from your team in charge of audience engagement. Their main job will be to look at every event detail from the eyes of an attendee.
This is the person responsible to figure out the best ways to drive your engagement metrics. It is their priority to plan many interactive audience experiences throughout the event. Let them figure out which engagement features you should use in your virtual event platform. And what product integrations you should get in place.
In addition, they are in charge of driving all the engagement initiatives at the event. Monitoring what’s working and making live tweaks to what’s not clicking is a part of their job too.
But why put one person in charge? Won’t it be better if everyone in the organizing team focuses on it? Not really. The socio-psychological phenomenon called ‘diffusion of responsibility’ is to blame for it. In simple terms, when everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible. So get your audience advocate by your side and start seeing the results.
3. Make space for attendees to be ‘actors’ instead of ‘observers’
We all assume different roles in different environments. While watching Netflix, we assume the role of an observer and expect to be entertained. But when we go for a yoga class, we know that we must act to get the benefits of the time spent. ‘Actors’ spring to action and engage. And ‘observers’, well, they passively observe.
It is common for attendees to assume the role of the observer at events. You must break this assumption by explicitly prompting them that you want to take action. And sharing multiple ways in which they can get involved.
You can make this mindset change in two ways.
- Plan enough activities at the event that need active attendee participation.
- Keep sharing updates about all the activities and how you expect people to get involved. Use your pre-event campaigns, social media, email marketing, and the event platform itself to do this.
The earlier you start making this mindset change, the more audience engagement you will set yourself up for.
4. Craft an audience-friendly agenda
An exciting agenda that shows audiences the value of your event is a must. Spend time perfecting the agenda to focus on the needs and interests of the audiences. For starters, think about these three things.
- Attention spans of digital audiences are short. So plan your agenda accordingly. Make room for 5-10 mins breaks throughout the day. This gives people enough time to look away from the screen and grab a coffee. Small breaks help attendees come back with a fresh mind. And this can mean more attentiveness and engagement from them.
- The monotony of the same session formats can get attendees disengaged. Avoid this by planning for different formats in the agenda. Don’t schedule three panel discussions one after the other. Spread them out through the day. Mix it up with talks, fireside chats, live streams, or interactive quizzes, etc.
- Plan sections of your agenda focused on putting the audience in the driving seat. These are the segments built to hit your engagement metrics. Schedule time for audience Q&As, polls, and contests. Get people to collaborate in hands-on workshops. Additionally, have some dedicated networking time. If you can dream it, powerful virtual event platforms can do it for you.
5. Plan relatable, insightful, and intriguing content
Content is the backbone of most events. Attendees come to events to listen to what their favorite speakers have to say. Firstly, work with your speakers to ensure insightful and actionable session content. Talk to them about audience personas so they can tailor their content accordingly.
Secondly, help them present their content in an interesting and vibrant format. Go with more interactive, AV content and less uninspiring presentations. Encourage them to include elements in their content that need audiences to engage. They can ask audiences to guess true or false statements. Also, they can include an audience poll in their content.
Lastly, as an organizer, you should do things to make sessions interactive. Keep the session screen and branding dynamic and lively. Hire live illustration artists to create visual session summaries that attendees can download. Get an experienced, high-energy emcee to help you up your audience engagement game.
6. Prep your speakers to deliver captivating sessions
Even the most insightful content falls flat if not delivered in an engaging way. Many of the speakers might be new to virtual events. Prep them in advance. Let them know what exactly to expect on the event day. And share with them different ways of delivering a killer session. Delivering content to a digital audience needs unique soft skills. Talk to your speakers about these tactics well in advance. A few quick tips that go a long way in delivering an engaging session:
- Facing a light source and sitting up straight.
- Looking into the device camera to mimic eye contact with audiences.
- Using hand gestures to emphasize key points.
- Taking pauses, asking audiences to answer quick questions.
Do a few test runs with speakers to make them comfortable with your event platform. Tell them about some handy features built for delivering an interactive session. Maintaining energy & enthusiasm becomes tough without being able to gauge audience reactions. So, show them how to alternate between looking at the camera and looking at the screen to see audience interaction.
7. Use gamification to deliver engaging virtual experiences
Gamification is one of the most powerful tools to increase audience engagement. And don’t equate it with just having a leaderboard. Because a leaderboard is a good starting point but it is not enough. When people don’t think they can win, many don’t compete as well. Give a chance to as many audience members to win at something as you can. Small rewards encourage more attendees to take action.
Assign points to different actions audiences take at the event. For instance, attending a complete session and asking a question gets attendees A points. Participating in a breakout session or in a group video call gets them B points. C points are up for grabs if someone shares about the event on social media. D points for answering 5 polls and engaging with 3 virtual booths.
And then create a tiered rewards structure corresponding to these points. Think of it as unlocking different rewards by crossing different levels in a mobile game. Let’s say you have 3 incentive tiers corresponding to collecting 100, 200, and 500 points. All attendees who engage and collect 100 points get reward X. Crossing 200 engagement points unlock reward Y as well. And collecting 500 points get reward Z.
By doing this right, you can give an exceptional virtual experience to audiences.
8. Master the art of personalized notifications
Notifications are a nifty tool that can get audiences to take action. If you use them well, they can deliver exceptional results. But if you abuse them then you risk annoying your audiences.
Virtual event platforms can supercharge your notifications because they can give you powerful audience insights. You know what interests them and which sessions they have bookmarked. You can see if they are spending most of their time networking or in the virtual booths area. And you can use these insights to send intelligent, personalized notifications. Here are a few ways to do it:
- Let attendees know the session they wanted to attend is about to start.
- Tell them about a lounge area table sponsored by the exhibitor they just visited.
- Notify them when a speaker answers their question.
- Keep them updated when they get new comments on their post in the event feed.
9. Facilitate conversations and connections through networking
Events are a wonderful place for connections and conversations. Many attendees find events attractive because of the opportunity to network with like-minded people and industry professionals.
Tap into this existing motivation. With an audience-friendly agenda, you would have already scheduled dedicated networking time. Plan for multiple one-on-one and one-to-many interaction options. Virtual event platforms enable you to set up plenty of networking options – text chats, group video calls, scheduled meetings, theme-based breakout rooms, lounge areas to start impromptu conversations, etc.
Make use of smart matchmaking to connect attendees with similar interests. Or host a speed dating session for those who want to maximize meeting the most number of people.
10. Host a little fun party at your event
It is unreasonable to expect attendees to be focused for hours at a stretch. As they say, all work and no play don’t do good to anyone. So go ahead and plan for some fun breaks to energize audiences.
Such fun segments not only enhance the audience experience but also make events memorable. People like the opportunity to try their hand at something new or just relax a little. So get your creative juices flowing and plan something memorable for your audiences. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about this:
- Setup interview booths where you ask only funny, not-work-related questions to your speakers. And source all these questions from the audience.
- Plan a virtual concert with a musical performance. And top it up with a ‘best dancer’ contest. Encourage attendees to take the floor.
- Get people to collaborate in solving multiplayer jigsaw puzzles, murder mysteries, or a virtual scavenger hunt.
- Host guided meditation, schedule yoga breaks or do a quick Zumba session.
If you optimize your event in these 10 ways, you will set yourself up for success in most matters of high-quality audience engagement. With a powerful virtual event platform by your side, that’s built to deliver exceptional audience experiences, you can easily hit it out of the park.