It’s high time we talk about virtual audience engagement. Because yes, there is a lot of unknown ground surrounding virtual events. From the choice of platform to the intricacies of re-enacting the in-person experience, planners have their plates full. And perhaps the biggest concern of all lies in the fact that engaging virtual audiences is hard. It’s one thing to have someone physically present in a space and tuning out. But it’s a completely different story when they don’t even bother to tune in or give up on the event ten minutes in.
The latter is a common concern for planners trying to convert their events into virtual experiences. Because this time around, you’re not just competing with attendees’ phones. You’re competing with the whole Internet, their dog that wants to be walked, and the three-year-old kid crying in the corner. So how do you go about putting together a fool-proof virtual audience engagement strategy? Well, that’s exactly what we’re about to tell you! Sure, engaging remote attendees is harder than engaging those who are physically present. But it’s far from impossible and, as you’re about to see, quite doable. So let’s get learning!
Before The Event
You have to remember to plan a virtual audience engagement strategy that includes steps to take before the event. Think about it the same way you’d do with an in-person event. You want your attendees to be hyped! And especially now that you’re competing for their attention, it’s important to focus efforts on promoting your virtual experience.
Nurture Your Audience
We’re all well aware that bombarding people with dozens of emails isn’t a good idea. But staying completely quiet up until the day of your event won’t do much for virtual audience engagement either. The best thing to do here is to find the sweet spot to nurture your audience.
Keep the hype alive by sending out relevant information about the event – who are the speakers? What cool features will you offer that make your event stand-out? Are there any changes the attendee should be aware of? Craft an email and social media strategy that focuses on answering all of these questions.
Also, consider sending out physical badges, swag bags, and invites in the mail. Just because your event is going to be remote, it doesn’t mean you have to completely give up the human touch!
Let There Be #Hype!
It’s definitely a plus to get your attendees to engage with each other before the event takes place. And in the age of social media, promoting this kind of connection will be one of your biggest strengths. Why not create a hashtag relevant to your virtual event that the audience can follow on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and so on? Get creative with it!
Hire The Right Speakers – And Coach Them!
Speakers are always the shining star of any event. But with virtual events, in particular, you’ll have to be pickier than ever when the time comes to choose them. It doesn’t matter how much of an expert someone is on a given topic – if they need a physical audience to thrive, then chances are, they won’t do great at speaking in a remote situation.
The ability to engage and command undivided attention are two non-negotiable qualities here. And if you have any doubts about whether or not the person you chose can pull this off, ask them for previous examples of when they spoke at a virtual event. The moment your speaker takes the virtual stage needs to exude human connection and charisma, so take all the time you need to make this decision.
Additionally, make sure you connect your speakers to the production company you’re working with. Whether or not this is their first time being part of a remote event, the technical producers will provide invaluable tips on things like sound, lighting, and the intricacies of the platform you’re using.
Content Design Matters More Than Ever
When it comes to virtual audience engagement, the keyword is compelling. Because every step of the way during the event, there’s a chance people will walk out. So crafting compelling strategies that consistently locks the attention of the attendees is a must!
This is why you need to be proactive with the content that will be presented. Remember that you are no longer catering to an in-person audience that will be present at the event for hours on end. So you’ll want to come up with interesting and fast-paced content given by a charismatic speaker. This ensures that people are fed bite-sized pieces of content that allow them to take a breather and walk out for a bit while giving them enough incentive to come back later.
Prepare For Everything
Rehearsals are not reserved for in-person events only! And the best way to get virtual attendees to leave the event minutes after joining is having an unkempt house. What we mean by this is that you want the quality of the audio and video to be perfect. You want your attendees to have all the relevant logistical information they need before the event. And of course, you want to have someone who is at their beck and call, ready to answer any questions they might have that involve technical support.
So don’t wait for the day of your event to ensure all of this is taken care of. Work with the best production team and your platform of choice to get everything perfect by the big day!
During The Event
It’s finally time to get rocking and rolling! So, you’ve taken the time to follow all of the steps above. And you’re pretty confident that you did a great job hyping up your attendees. The technical aspects are all taken care of, your speakers are the best at what they do, and the content you’re about to offer is one of a kind. Now it’s time to dive into virtual audience engagement during the event!
Get Everyone To Check In
One of the best things about virtual events is that they open up a new realm of opportunities. For instance, now you can actually have people from all over the world tuning in! The best way to start the conversation and make your remote audience feel seen is to ask everyone to check-in virtually. Ask them their names, where they are joining you from, or to give you a Facebook-style status update. You want to warm up that chat room!
Once you have these “virtual badges”, make sure your speakers or your virtual emcee acknowledge their presence with special shout-outs and a warm thank you. Remember that you’re looking to re-create that in-person, human connection every step of the way.
Keep The Conversation Going
Chances are, you’ll need a moderator for the chat room. This is the person that’s entirely responsible for keeping a back-and-forth with the audience, answers their questions, and is essentially the link between what’s happening on your side and on the side of the attendees.
The job of the moderator will be absolutely key in a successful virtual audience engagement strategy. They are the ones who have to stir up the pot every so often with questions that will create discussions, hence keeping the chat room alive and the audience happy and seen.
On the side of the speaker, you’ll also want him to make the sessions as interactive as possible. Like we discussed above, make it short, compelling, and keep the audience interested. Ask questions, come up with polls and quizzes – anything that can win attention points!
Give Them Time To Breathe
Accept that your virtual audience won’t behave the same way as your in-person audience and plan for this. You can’t expect remote attendees to take part in a three-day-long conference with six-hour sessions each day, due to the many factors we’ve already discussed.
So make sure the schedule you prepared is followed as thoroughly as possible. Keep sessions to a maximum of 60 minutes, and give everyone time to get up, stretch, get a cup of coffee, and then come back (and remember to give them a reason to do so!).
Also consider that your attendees might just want a break from the sessions, but not from the event as a whole. Think about the possibility of creating private chat-rooms or virtual spaces where attendees can interact only with each other!
Who doesn’t love a good game? A great step to add to your virtual audience engagement strategy is gamification. And if there’s some sort of prize or validation waiting for them at the finish line, your attendees are probably going to love it. There are hundreds of tools available online to help you craft engaging and interactive games that will keep your audience from tuning out of the event. Bonus points if you only announce the winner by the end of the event, so that everyone who participated wants to return! Friendly competition never ceases to compel people to join something. And it’s also a great opportunity for the attendees to get to know each other and work together if they are put into teams!
Don’t Forget To Monitor Social Media
Especially if you crafted a complex social media strategy, keeping your channels alive throughout the event is a great idea. Plus, it’s a whole new way to engage with the audience during breaks and announce to everyone what’s been going on so far – maybe they’ll be curious enough to want to join mid-way through.
Keep using the hashtag and encourage your virtual attendees to share their favorite part of the event so far. Chances are, some of your audience will want to engage through Facebook and Instagram too, so keep checking for updates and validate the actions you see. Screenshots, highlights, the most interesting discussions taking place in the chat-rooms…all of these represent an amazing source of content to keep your social media channels alive and your audience engaged, hyped, and wanting for more!
After The Event
You did it! You actually put together a successful virtual event that your audience loved. People participated, the chat-rooms were on fire, and the attendance rate was great. But does this mean that your journey to seek virtual audience engagement is over? No! There are a couple of other things you’ll want to do that will increase your brand loyalty and credibility, and keep the hype for your virtual events alive!
Ask For Feedback
Whether this is your first or hundredth virtual event, collecting feedback from the attendees is always a must. You’ll want to know what went right and wrong from their perspective. Did they find the content engaging? How did they like the speaker? Is there anything else you could’ve done to make the overall experience better? Everything and anything they have to say is valuable information that you can use to consistently improve the quality of your virtual events – and, of course, the attendance. So make sure you ask your audience for feedback once the event is done and over with. And because not everyone is super keen on answering these types of surveys, consider offering some sort of reward for doing so. It will be worth it!
This is where you can kill two birds with one stone by keeping the spirit of your event alive and enticing more people to enjoy the experience – even if it’s not live. It’s not uncommon for many virtual conferences and webinars to be recorded and then made available on other platforms. And more often than not, this evergreen content ends up drawing more viewers than the actual live experience! Record all the best bits and pieces of your remote event and upload them to your website and your social media channels. This way, if someone missed the event or wants to go back to check out the highlights, they have it at their disposal whenever they want.
And so we reach the end. Hopefully, now you have a more holistic sense of how to put together an incredible virtual audience engagement strategy. The world of remote events will keep on growing as time goes by, and your knowledge will grow with it. For now, keep all of these details in mind when planning your virtual event, and don’t get discouraged if things go wrong. Because if you put time and effort into connecting with your audience in an interactive way, it’s only going to be up from there!