In the world of virtual events, one of the hottest topics right now is engagement. How do you keep a virtual audience not only focused on your event content but taking part? And why does virtual event engagement matter?
Virtual Engagement Is Important Because Engagement Is Important
Attendee engagement is a vital part of events of all kinds. It’s critical that your event is able to keep people focused and interested because it ensures that satisfaction levels stay high and, as a result of positive word of mouth, attendance numbers grow. This doesn’t change just because people are attending a virtual event. Keeping attendee engagement levels high is just as important at a virtual event as it is a physical one. The more engaged people are, the more they enjoy themselves, the longer they stick around, and the more likely they are to talk up your event to others.
In some ways, virtual event engagement is even more important, as it’s harder to keep people focused when they’re attending an event online. When people attend a live event, they’re typically there for the duration. They’re ready to focus on whatever goals have brought them there. But people attending virtual events may be doing so from their workplace, or from home. And they’re attending online. That means there’s a lot more competing for their attention, whether it’s kids who are home from school or the infinite array of entertainment options that are just a few clicks away. Despite their best efforts to stay focused, they may have a lot of distractions to contend with. That means your online event engagement needs to be top-notch.
It’s also important to note the difference between engagement and attendance, in regard to online audiences. You might have a large number of attendees watching a particular presentation online, but how do you know if they’re actively absorbing its message? Your attendance figures for a given presentation don’t necessarily reflect how successful it is. Engagement is a much better metric for success because an engaged audience is actively listening and participating, which means they’re receptive to your messaging.
6 Ways to Keep Your Audience Engaged
1. Build a Foundation of Great Content
The core of any virtual event should be compelling content that offers value to attendees. Whether you’re converting content from an in-person to an online format or creating content from scratch, think about what your attendees want to see. Who is your audience, and what are they likely to find valuable?
2. Engage Talented Speakers and Presenters
Keeping online event engagement levels high isn’t easy. It’s easy for people to lose focus if they’re watching speakers who aren’t able to connect with them. And make no mistake: Connecting with an online audience isn’t easy. When you’re choosing speakers and presenters, don’t just go for the big industry names, as you might at a physical event. Consider choosing people who have some experience with virtual events and who know how to present to an online audience. This is important because without the right experience, your speakers may not know how best to present themselves to an online audience. For instance, an inexperienced speaker may not know to look at their webcam instead of their computer screen or how to use lighting to enhance the view for their audience. If your speakers know what they’re doing, they’ll be better able to engage attendees at your event.
3. Add Interactive Elements
Ultimately, great content and expert speakers aren’t enough to keep attendees focused for long stretches of time. The most effective online content actively engages viewers by adding interactive elements that invite them to do more than just sit and watch.
Many all-in-one virtual event platforms incorporate features that provide this all-important interactive element. If your event platform doesn’t have the right features, you can use Slack and other apps to create an interactive virtual event. Some interactive options include:
- Live polls – These allow you to get real-time feedback from the audience while helping them stay engaged and focused.
- Live chat – A message center, Slack channel, or other designated chat space provides people with a place to talk about the sessions they’re watching. It also provides an opportunity for your team to get involved, answering questions, helping facilitate conversations, and offering insights.
- Q&A – Ask speakers to allow time for questions, whether it’s throughout their sessions or in a block at the end of their slots.
4. Take Advantage of Gamification
One of the most effective ways to inject an interactive element into your virtual event is via gamification. It can be a great motivator that encourages people to take part in an event more fully than they otherwise might. And the truly great thing about gamification is you can apply the concept to just about any aspect of your online event. You can use it to:
- Encourage people to network
- Visit a sponsorship booth
- Ask questions
- Just generally interact with event content
Gamification is a simple concept: Take elements from games, and apply them to your event. There are a couple common strategies that can work well for any event.
Points: Offer virtual points for taking part in event activities. Create a leaderboard that tallies up attendees’ scores, and offer prizes to the winners.
Badges: Offer virtual badges or stickers for different activities, rather than a points total. People tend to have acquisitive natures, and often, the ability to “collect” something is enough of an incentive, even if no prizes are involved.
With this strategy, you can encourage people to take part in Q&A sessions, attend virtual networking or chats, make or share event-related social media content, and more. Anything goes, here, as long as it’s event-related.
5. Schedule Breaks and Mini Social Events
Few people have the stamina to sit in front of a computer absorbing information for hours on end. Most of your attendees will be glad to have a quick break after each session to grab a drink or just get up and stretch.
When you’re creating your virtual event schedule, make sure to plan for breaks in between sessions. And don’t stop there. Just because your event is online, there’s no reason you can’t provide the social element that many people look forward to at in-person events.
You could take a leaf out of the book of the 2020 Create & Cultivate Money Moves Virtual Summit and hold a virtual happy hour at the end of the day. At this event, five-minute cocktail workshops were offered to round out the day’s virtual sessions. Cocktail recipes were distributed several days prior to the event, so attendees could purchase ingredients. On the day of the online event, experts guided attendees through creating each recipe. Viewers could make the drink, snap a picture, then share it in the event’s Slack channel—adding a social component that many online events lack.
6. Add Networking Opportunities
Most people who attend industry events intend to spend at least some of the time networking. At virtual events, that networking can’t happen as organically as it does at physical ones. It’s important to think of ways to facilitate networking and encourage people to interact with one another. There are many examples of virtual events that have done this thoughtfully and successfully. Some options:
- Create spaces within the event for small group chat. For instance, create breakout “rooms” on your event platform—or in Slack or a similar app—for various niches within your industry. There are many ways you can subdivide an audience, such as industry, job title, or location.
- At the Create & Cultivate virtual summit, a Slack channel was designated as a socializing space, allowing users to chat and share information throughout the event.
- A new Streetwear-themed event dubbed “Creative Quarantine” used the virtual event platform Hopin, which has built-in chat and networking features. At the event, attendees were randomly matched up with one another for rapid-fire video chats, allowing people to meet with peers, mentors, and others in the industry.
High Engagement Takes Your Online Event to Another Level
Hosting a great virtual event requires well-developed, relevant content, and inspiring speakers. But if you don’t also plan to add some interactive content to your event, you risk losing the interest of your attendees. Online event engagement is a crucial part of hosting a successful event. By taking an interactive approach to your virtual event, you can ensure your attendees stay focused and engaged. Looking for more creative ideas for stoking engagement, reach out to the event experts at BeyondLive!