As every good event planner and marketer knows, events are all about people. And while there’s a ton of serendipity and spontaneous human connections to be found at in-person experiences, virtual events still lag behind when it comes to audience engagement. In fact, virtual audience engagement is one of the single biggest challenges that planners face. It’s one thing to have someone at an in-person event tuning out. But once an attendee loses their interest at a virtual event, there’s little we can do to bring them back once they log off.
The key to virtual audience engagement is, therefore, to keep your virtual audience happy from the moment they join the platform until the event wraps up. Putting together a fool-proof virtual audience engagement strategy sounds hard, but it’s not impossible. We explore what steps you can take pre-event, during, and post-event to wow your attendees and reach your event goals.
Before The Event
Virtual audience engagement is not a lucky by-product of your event, but something that needs to be considered when designing a virtual event. Think about the definition of engagement for your particular virtual experience. Will you measure engagement as a number of sessions watched? Participation in polling and Q&As? The usage of your event hashtag? Set KPIs that you can analyze after the event. Most event platforms offer amazing data insights that will help you understand to what extent you met your virtual event goals. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves!
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.
Use the registration and ticketing process as an opportunity to get to know your attendees better. For example, you can ask them which sessions are they most looking forward to and where they heard about your event. Then, keep the hype alive by sending out relevant information about the event. Who are the speakers? Which virtual event platform features will 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 and swag bags. 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 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!
Additionally, you can encourage your virtual attendees to download your chosen event platform in advance and spark up interesting conversations there. That way, attendees can get to know one another before the virtual event even starts, which makes interactions feel almost as natural as they would be in an in-person setting.
Hire The Right Speakers – And Coach Them!
Speakers are often the shining star of events. But with virtual events, in particular, you’ll have to be pickier than ever when choosing 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 for virtual emcees. 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 event management or 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. Make sure they’re familiar with the audience response systems that the attendees will be using during the event.
Content Design Matters More Than Ever
A great speaker can do wonders for virtual audience engagement, but if they’re using boring PowerPoint presentations, chances are that the audience will start yawning. As human attention span shrunk down to eight seconds, we need to help our attendees stay focused.
Instead of having sessions that last over an hour, consider feeding your audience bite-sized pieces of content that allow lots of interaction between the speaker and the audience.
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 by 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 about technical support.
Don’t wait for the day of your event to ensure all of this is taken care of. Work with the best event management team and your platform of choice to get everything perfect by the big day.
During The Event
After weeks or months of hyping up your attendees, it’s finally showtime. 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.
There are many steps you can take to secure high virtual audience engagement during the event. Understand that your attendees are not passive recipients of virtual content, but rather active participants who co-create the virtual experience!
Get Everyone To Check In
Give your attendees enough time to check in and join the virtual event platform which serves as your event’s venue. Your technical support should always be on standby in case some of the attendees struggle to join the platform or don’t understand how to work around its features. Don’t wait for your attendees to get the chat going – it’s the moderator‘s job to warm up the chat room. They are the ones who have to stir up the pot every so often with questions that will create discussions.
During sessions, have your speakers and emcees acknowledge your attendees’ 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.
Virtual Audience Engagement Tools
While Zoom in its most basic form only offers chat, event platforms come with a wide range of extra benefits. During sessions, attendees can participate in discussions by polling and Q&As. Speakers can showcase polling results, audience questions, and attendees themselves on the big screen. That way, the attendees will feel truly like an integral part of the event.
Push notifications are a great way to prevent low virtual audience engagement levels. You can keep your attendees informed about any potential changes to the schedule. Create custom push notifications so each attendee is only reminded of the sessions they signed up for. It’s the little things that count!
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 take a breather. You can also take active steps to keep your attendees energized. For example, you can encourage movement during your event and have somebody lead a quick stretching routine.
Also consider that your attendees might just want a break from the sessions, but not from the event as a whole. In this case, it’s a good idea to have a virtual lobby where attendees can interact with each other freely.
A great step to add to your virtual audience engagement strategy is event gamification. Games and contests will make your virtual attendees competitive and more likely to participate in pro-social activities. You can gamify nearly any aspect of the event. Have your guests collect points for each person they meet or each session they watch or rate. The leaderboard will show which attendees have won the challenge – make sure to give them a special shoutout!
But gamification is more than just an amazing virtual audience engagement tool. It’s also a great way to encourage desired behavior in attendees. If your event goal is to give more value to exhibitors at virtual events, reward attendees for going to as many exhibitor booths as possible.
Don’t Forget To Monitor Social Media
If you crafted a complex social media strategy, keep your channels alive throughout the event. 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 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 & Analyze Data
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 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. Because not everyone is super keen on answering post-event surveys, consider offering some sort of reward for doing so. It will be worth it.
Remember that your virtual platform, too, offers many insights into engagement levels at your event. You can see which were the most attended sessions, how your attendees engaged with your content, and all the polling results. Use those insights to tweak your virtual event strategy if necessary.
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 virtual event platforms. And more often than not, this evergreen content ends up drawing more viewers than the actual live experience.
Speaking of offering on-demand content on your chosen platform, an exciting event trend in 2022 is the community model. Your virtual event might be behind you, but the fun doesn’t have to end! An event platform is a great place for your community to network, learn more about what you do, and watch on-demand content throughout the entire year. This is the best virtual audience engagement strategy under the sun as engagement almost takes care of itself.
Hopefully, now you have a more holistic sense of how to put together an incredible virtual audience engagement strategy. There are steps you can take at each step of the virtual event planning process: before the event, during, and after. Be willing to keep on learning about this hot topic as digital events are not going anywhere. On the contrary; as event platforms start offering annual subscriptions, most planners will start planning several virtual experiences every year.
Keeping your remote attendees happy can seem hard, but it’s doable – especially if you know how to fully harness the power of exciting event technology solutions. Lean on your event management partners to help make sense of designing engaging virtual experiences – don’t just hope it will happen on its own. If you have any questions about event technology and event strategy in general, reach out to us. The Endless Events team is here to help.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2020 by Mariana Fernandes and completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.