COVID-19 has forced the events industry to move online and create a virtual experience instead of hosting traditional, live events.
Virtual events are beneficial to event planners in many ways but they also present a unique set of challenges. With virtual attendees tuning in from the comfort of their own homes, they will have a lot of competing distractions making engagement a real challenge to maintain.
Fortunately, the very makeup of the human brain offers some potential avenues for increasing engagement in a digital environment and producing a far more satisfying experience overall.
Why fight against the science of instinct, thought, and cognition when you can actually use it to your advantage?
Here are just a few ways that you can use neuroscience to increase virtual event engagement:
Stimulate Using the Rewards System
When we are engaged in stimulating activities, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that leaves us feeling positive and happy.
It creates the kinds of feelings that we hope to have over and over again. Performing an activity that leads to a dopamine release becomes a system of behavior and reward.
This sense of wellbeing often produces creativity, better learning outcomes, and more effective networking sessions—all things an event organizer wants in an event.
One of the things that can stimulate the rewards system is the concept of winning.
Adding event gamification or a competitive element to your event will appeal to a few different elements. First, it will activate the reward system while also speaking to our neurological drive towards belonging and being a part of a social group (more on socialization later!).
Establishing gamification, whether it be a virtual scavenger hunt, trivia session, virtual escape room, or some other type of competition, can elicit buy-in from event attendees and ensure that they remain engaged with the event.
Appeal to Emotion
If you can make an attendee care about your event and the information they are learning, they will be more willing to actively participate and engage with it. And furthermore, emotions are contagious.
To that end, you must set the tone from the very beginning. Make sure each session is welcoming and inclusive. You do not want to alienate any member of your audience. One disgruntled or disengaged attendee can really put a damper on things for everyone else.
Whether you are hosting a small virtual meeting or a massive online corporate event, you will want to actively encourage participation and collaboration. In-person, this can be easier as you can sense a change of energy in the room and read body language. But, in an online event, you will have to work harder to ensure emotional engagement.
One way to do this is by having an impartial moderator or facilitator. This person can encourage audience members by asking for their comments and questions that can be put in a live text chat and then relayed to the keynote speaker or presenter.
When people know that their input matters and will be heard, they are far more likely to feel emotionally invested in the outcome and a part of what is happening on screen. This can go a long way to creating a positive event experience.
Prime Your Audience
By priming your audience, you can prepare them to learn better and absorb more information.
In your event marketing, prepare attendees by asking them questions they are unlikely to know the answer to BEFORE attending your event. This will get them thinking in the right direction and make them more receptive to the answer when they hear it.
Suggest to presenters and speakers that they start their sessions with open-ended questions to produce a similar effect.
Quizzes and polls can also have a similar effect by helping steer thoughts towards particular topics.
Another way to prime the audience is to ask them before you begin the planning process to describe what it is they most hope to learn or gain from an event focused on a particular topic or industry. Again, this gets them thinking about their expectations (while letting you in on them) and creates an emotional connection to your event and its content before you even get started.
Storytelling enables a phenomenon known as mirroring. It allows connection to happen between the audience and the storyteller on a deeper level. Storytelling creates neural coupling which allows the listener to relate the story to an experience from their past and connect new, incoming information with lived experience and prior knowledge.
When virtual attendees are able to connect themselves with the content in this way, they will draw a deeper understanding and feel more engaged with the content.
Create a Multisensory Experience
Online events leave the audience staring at screens for extended periods of time. This can lead to boredom and mentally disengagement.
People learn best when more than one of their senses are engaged so try to create an experience that requires more than just sitting in a chair for hours on end.
Obviously, at a live event, it is far easier to create a multisensory experience but know that there are still some things that you can do to help a virtual audience have a broader and more fulfilled experience.
For example, you can use event technology to employ a virtual reality-esque experience that requires the audience to use their imagination to create specific environments or scenarios.
Storytelling is another great way to invoke the senses. For sessions with a small number of participants, consider having them present or share something with the group. Maybe it is a group discussion about smells that trigger positive memories, anything that shifts the focus away from watching and listening, and more towards scent, taste, and touch.
Keep it Simple and Interesting
This seems like an obvious suggestion but there is an actual brain function and prescribed human behavior that can back this up.
Humans cannot process large amounts of data at one time without missing something. No matter how much people think they can retain in a short period, it’s simply not the case. They might be able to have short term recall but when it comes to long term memory, the information will be lost, rendering the learning useless.
Encourage presenters, speakers, and exhibitors to break information into small chunks that can be easily digested. This will give the audience time to process the details and commit it to memory.
Similarly, encourage these same individuals to use visual aids, humor, or interactive features, to break up the pattern of their presentation. In digital environments, attention span is short, typically less than 5 minutes, so breaking things up by introducing something new can re-engage their attention span and re-engage the audience.
Make it Social
The human brain is a social brain. After all, the survival of ancient humans depended on working together to find solutions. These instincts are still in us and they can be used to create greater engagement with your virtual events.
In your agenda, leave room for networking sessions, meet and greets, and social events like virtual cocktail hours. Depending on the event and its size, ice breaker games can also be useful. Make sure that there is a live chat option with your virtual event platform so attendees can communicate and interact with one another and with the presenters.
Consider live-tweeting your event or streaming video to social media platforms so that you can get greater social engagement and provide other opportunities for attendees to socialize over the given topic and subject matter.
The more you can do to encourage social interactions between participants, the greater sense of belonging they will feel, and the more motivation they will have to engage with what is in front of them.
Virtual events can present a challenge when it comes to event engagement. But, now that you are aware of some of the neuroscience principles that dictate our behaviors, you can design an event experience that will be positive for everyone and ensure a successful event.
When you are ready to start planning your virtual event, reach out to us at Accelevents to learn more about how we can support you in creating an engaging event experience.