Apr 8, 2020Event Management

How to spark audience engagement in virtual events amidst unusual times

Verena Singer
Verena Singer
Marketing and Communications
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Resilience, solution-oriented thinking and creativity.

Competences which are demanded from event professionals on a daily basis are now more than ever before put to the test. Like many other industries, the world of events has been turned upside down by COVID-19. We certainly don’t deny how much of a burden these tremendously tough challenges are on all of us. However, we believe that spreading some positivity, lifting our spirits and encouraging all of you to pull the plug on your pity parties (no shame - we’ve all been there, done that!) is the only way forward

Because amidst the uncertainties of this unprecedented time, we can assure you one thing: we will meet, inspire, connect, engage, and share meaningful time together at face-to-face events again in the future.

So it is crucial to keep things going, to embrace the moment and to find temporary solutions for the time being. 

Of course, postponing or pivoting to virtual may not be one-size-fits-it-all approaches for every kind of event. But if you are considering to level up your technology game in order to take your event into the digital space, there are some key success factors which we want to share with you to help spark audience engagement and create an interactive and valuable experience for your attendees in a virtual environment just like you would do for your physical event. 

In fact, keeping high levels of engagement is even more of a challenge in virtual events because here distraction is just one browser tab away - and the home office only adds more sources of distraction which you are now competing for attention with. Moreover, it is crucial to manage your expectations since attendance and engagement will naturally be lower in your virtual event compared to face-to-face meetings. Being aware of this enables you to better understand the situational circumstances and to set the right focus in your event planning.

Make sure to deliver on the following three aspects to ensure and drive engagement on virtual:

#1 CONTENT IS KING 👑

The first strategic question you should ask yourself when designing a virtual event is: why would people like to join my virtual event? Remember that you want to create an enjoyable experience and with that in mind, start thinking about your content.

It is very likely that you need to adapt and make some changes to the content which you have prepared for your live event when you transform it into the digital world. Your content is what keeps your audience focused in front of their screens and therefore has to be visually appealing and meaningful at all times. Make sure that your attendees will not look at the very same presentation slide for more than five minutes and use bright colors and different formats, like visuals, animations, or virtual whiteboards, to keep their attention and engagement high throughout the sessions. 

The sessions themselves should be kept short (between 15-20 minutes) and just like in a face-to-face event, attendees value having an occasional break in between sessions. Moreover, do not forget that you may be more time-restricted now and to avoid overwhelming your audience with loads of information, remember for your content, context and continuity that less may be more

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#2 PRODUCTION VALUE IS KEY 🔑

This is a prerequisite for a successful virtual event. Making it lively and enjoyable to watch should be your priority. Audio quality is key here because your audience will quickly disengage if they have an interrupted listening experience. Therefore, you need to pay highest attention to the quality of your speakers’ microphone, the selected platform to capture the audio and the network connectivity.

If video is available, you should definitely make use of it since it allows for a more engaging and personalized experience when the speaker is visible during their presentation and attendees see that there’s actually another human directly talking to them from the other side of the screen. To take it even further, you can encourage your speakers to present outside the standard webcam setup, for example having them stand in front of a podium or sit on a couch. Also, good lighting influences the quality of a video. 

By replicating the audio-visual environment of a physical event as best as possible, attendees will be much more engaged during your virtual event. 

Lastly, do comprehensive A/V checks and plan for technical issues. Especially when you’re planning for a live event instead of pre-recording it is vital to keep testing your setup in advance and to be prepared to tackle technical issues during the live event. For example, event hosts should always have access to all content and presentation slides so that the host can step in if speakers happen to lose network connectivity. 

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#3 AUTHENTIC HUMAN CONNECTION IS CORE 👥

Make people feel being heard and part of the event by designing interactive sessions which encourage their active participation. Valuable features to be used here are Q&A’s including upvoting of questions (on the platform or with a designated Twitter hashtag) or quizzes and live polling (including multiple choice or using word cloud creators). 

Moreover, independent from the event content, don’t forget to frequently check in with your attendees. For example, the hand-raise feature of several platforms can be used to agree on a statement or to indicate attendees’ presence. To make the experience more personal and connected, you can also moderate a chat and ask people to type in their location to let others know from where everyone’s attending the event. 

If fostering community and recreating 1:1 networking experiences is key for your event, make sure to use tools which allow for the set up of informative attendee profiles (which replicate the badges in in-person events) and let people submit their topics of interest. Based on that they can then find like-minded people to talk to in separate virtual meeting rooms, for example, during breakout sessions.

Moreover, step up your pre-event communication in the digital world and provide your remote attendees with the most convenient process possible. Send them all necessary information on how to connect and how to set up their accounts and encourage them to get onto the platform early so that they can test their own tech set up. Plus, send regular reminders like ‘live in an hour’ or ‘available now’ so that your attendees definitely won’t miss to tune in - as mentioned before, distraction is your greatest enemy here. 

And ultimately, to enhance the value of the event for your attendees and to make a lasting impression, provide them with some tangible, takeaway material for example a helpful summary of the speaker’s key insights or shared tips for your audience to remember and take action upon. Maybe, if applicable, a coupon for a digital copy of the speaker’s book will also excite your audience and compensate for the weaknesses of a virtual event.

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CONCLUSION

Although virtual events can never fully replicate the magic in-person experience, the real human connection or the unique energy and atmosphere shared at physical event venues, they provide a good temporary solution when meeting physically is not possible. A similarly meaningful, interactive and engaging event experience for your remote attendees can be ensured through the right content, the best possible audio/video quality as well as the authentic and creative integration of tools which foster connection, participation and engagement.

Stay positive and future-focused - and most importantly stay safe and healthy. 

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