Creating events that engage with attendees has always been a vital part of event success. But in 2020, event planners, like so many other professionals, were forced to rethink their tried and true methods.
To say the coronavirus pandemic has complicated physical events is an understatement. Social distancing, gathering restrictions, and even lockdown orders have put an end to in-person events for the foreseeable future. With the focus now on virtual and hybrid events, how do event planners and brands create and deliver content that will foster attendee engagement and keep them coming back for more?
To help you put on the best event possible, and with an engaged and satisfied audience, we’re here to offer you some useful tips, tricks, and advice for both virtual and hybrid events.
Attendee Engagement For Virtual Events
With a strictly virtual event, you will need to work harder than usual to engage attendees. When tuning in from a remote location, your audience will be experiencing competing demands on their attention. Family, pets, television, you name it, they’ll be experiencing it.
To combat this, you will need to focus on producing quality content and include event features that encourage participation. Some of these features include:
Live video streaming allows your virtual audience to experience and interact with the event more immediately and naturally. Providing live video content will help your audience remain focused and encourage participation through live Q&As and interaction between the presenter or keynote speaker and the audience.
For best results, look for a virtual events platform that includes live streaming options and production tools. Your audience will expect a high-quality stream, and failure to meet that expectation can decrease engagement and reduce attendee satisfaction overall.
One of the primary benefits of a live event is the ability to chat with other event attendees. With a virtual event, this simple social interaction becomes more complicated.
But, just because your attendees aren’t in the same room, it doesn’t mean that you can’t bring them together for a conversation.
With live chat features, remote attendees have the opportunity to engage with the content and with one another.
This real-time function creates a sense of urgency and intimacy to keep attendees glued to their screens, looking and waiting for responses.
Not only can live chat be used to boost networking opportunities between attendees, but it can be a way for attendees to interact with presenters and speakers.
Live fireside chats, product demos, workshops, and Q&A sessions can use live video and live chat to create an interactive environment that encourages attendee engagement.
If you are using live video, and you should be, assign a moderator to watch the chat. This will ensure that all interactions are appropriate and that any direct questions for a presenter or speaker are passed along for a response.
Event gamification uses the traditional elements of games and competition and applies them to non-gaming, non-competitive applications. By injecting fun and a little competitiveness into the mix, you can be sure that event attendees will remain engaged with your content.
In many ways, gamification is a classic use of proven neuroscience principles to maintain engagement.
Gamification will encourage social interaction, stimulate the reward centers in our brain, and keep things interested. Competing requires investment, and investment requires engagement.
Some gamification options to consider include:
- Virtual scavenger hunts
- Virtual escape rooms
Determine a prize that is worth the effort, and you’ll see your audience participating.
One of the greatest benefits of attending an event is the opportunity to network, brainstorm, and talk to other attendees. The good news is that you can bring that same experience to a virtual meeting or online event.
If the event content is thought-provoking and exciting enough to the audience, they will want to continue the conversation when the session is over. Use a virtual event platform that enables virtual breakout sessions.
When event attendees want to talk and brainstorm on a particular subject, it means they are engaged. Allowing them to keep the conversation going will enable them to remain engaged and boost the overall attendee experience.
Leverage Social Media
Do not wait for day one of your event to start engaging attendees. Using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, you can prime the audience and get them excited about what they are about to experience. The more excited they are to attend, the more engaged they are likely to be.
Create an event hashtag, run live polling, share videos from past events and blog posts from your branded event website. Ask your followers leading questions, so they are thinking about the content presented at your event well in advance.
These efforts will not only work to help engage your audience early, but they can also help draw potential attendees. With the right event marketing tactics, you can stimulate interest and expand your reach.
Attendee Engagement For Hybrid Events
When hosting a hybrid event, you will have to manage both an in-person and online audience. To maximize engagement, you will want to curate your event to appeal to both audience segments on their own and together.
No audience segment should feel like they are more important than the other. As soon as a segment feels like they are an afterthought, you will lose their engagement.
Many of the principles listed above still apply. You will want to use them to keep the virtual audience engaged, but what about the hybrid audience?
Attending keynote speeches, presentations, and even trade shows in person are automatically more engaging than attending online. You can make it even more so by applying some of the same engagement activities you are using for the virtual audience.
Use social media to encourage people to share thoughts, ask questions, and post photos from the event using the event hashtag. Gamification works in person every bit as well as it does virtually. If you can create competition between both audience segments, it will feel like a singular event. Provide breakout spaces, use streaming video, and encourage the use of live chat.
Here are some things to consider when planning an engaging and successful hybrid event:
Find the Right Event Platform
When it comes to keeping both audiences engaged, you will need the right event technology platform.
This platform will enable live chat, which allows both audiences to participate and interact with the content and with each other.
The online chat can be integrated into event sessions through a moderator. By taking questions and comments from the online audience, you make them a part of the conversation.
Your platform will also allow you to share live streaming video or even simulated live video so that all attendees can engage. You may find that in-person attendees who could not attend a particular session may relish the opportunity to log on to the platform and watch later.
Encourage Speakers to Explore the Chat
Enabling live chat will not be enough. You will need to encourage event participants to engage with that chat. If you do not have a moderator at your event, remind your speakers and presenters to engage with the online audience.
For large, well-attended sessions, encourage them to check in with the chat and read out some audience questions. For smaller sessions like workshops, consider enabling a video chat so the audience segments can see and interact with one another.
Create Networking Opportunities
The ability to network provides great value to your hybrid event. Set aside dedicated time for roundtable discussions or networking and breakout sessions.
Create a physical space where in-person attendees can go to engage with the online attendees. Make use of video and text chat functions to keep the conversation alive.
Any use of gamification should be centralized in your platform so that all attendees, in-person, and virtual, can participate and compete with one another.
Consider creating a social media wall where you display the conversations taking place on your event Twitter feed. Encourage all attendees to use the event hashtag. By adding this element to your event decor, you encourage your live audience to get involved, which will lead to greater interaction and engagement between audience segments and the content overall.
Using social media, or a centralized event app, you can run live polls and quizzes that can be accessed by both audience segments.
Pay Attention to Production Value
Event production values are essential for hybrid events. Low video quality will be the death knell for online engagement.
Using an event videographer and a platform, like Accelevents, that has built-in video production tools, you will create an immersive and engaging experience for those attending online. This experience can turn into a shared one by streaming the video in your venue. COVID-19 restrictions mean that you may have to cap attendance numbers for individual sessions. If you have a lot of interest in a particular session, you can set up an overflow room (also limited!) where in-person attendees can view the feed and interact through a live chat like the virtual audience.
Prepare Attendees for Event Engagement
Whether you are hosting a virtual event or a hybrid event, you should prepare your attendees for what they can expect.
In your event marketing materials, layout the chat options, networking capabilities, and your superior video production. Advertise event gamification and, if already determined, the prizes that are available so potential attendees can see a clear benefit to their participation.
If you make it clear that participation is a fundamental part of your event and that you have made it as accessible as possible, you increase the odds that those who attend will be willing to engage with these elements.
Once attendees have registered, send them a guide to help them get the most out of your event. Walk them through how to use your platform, provide details about each session or exhibitor, and lay out how they can interact with the content and with each other.
Attendee engagement is an important thing to get right for every event organizer. And trying to master it in a virtual or hybrid format can feel incredibly challenging. But with some careful consideration, and following the advice laid out above, audience engagement will be high and the event will be a resounding success.