Attendee engagement has long been a critical element to any event – live or virtual. And in a virtual environment, the stakes are higher. There are more opportunities for attendees to “zone out,” and distraction is only a click away unless there are strategies to keep them engaged.
With attention at a premium, how do you keep attendees engaged during virtual events and webinars? Evenium caught up with eleven leading #eventpros to hear their tips and strategies for virtual engagement.
Design for Shorter Attention Spans
Remember, online attention spans are shorter. Corbin Ball reiterates the importance of limiting session times. “When there are multiple presentations, keep them short and targeted. Mix things up with a combination of polls, social Q&A, fun breaks, a professional emcee, and high production values.”
Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, DES, Principal, Cobin Ball & Co.
Give Attendees New Ways to Connect
Networking remains a big draw for attendees when attending any event. Make it easy for them to connect and stay engaged with each other, says Dahlia El Gazzar. “Place a QR code – either from LinkedIn or any preferred social media program — on your virtual background so anyone can scan via their smartphones and get automagically connected. This simple strategy greatly extends your tribe and the event conversation.”
Dahlia El Gazzar, Tech Evangelist + Idea Igniteur, DAHLIA+Agency
Polls, Polls, and Polls
Go beyond inviting attendees to submit questions and open up polls for everyone, says Abi Cannons. “A poll allows everyone to share their own experience and opinion, and benchmark their thoughts with those of their peers, which can lead to real insights from the crowd.” She adds, “Polls encourage participants to engage fully with the content, and draws them back from their inevitable multitasking to be an active part of the conversation.”
Abi Cannons, Global Innovation Success Manager, Reed Exhibitions Ltd
Shift the Focus from Attendees to Participants
Conversational sessions are conducive to spark audience engagement, says Rachel Stephan. “Focusing on delivering content with two to three speakers engaging in a conversation is far more captivating than one speaker and a slide deck.”
Rachel suggests a three-dimensional approach to designing conversations, which moves the audience to participants (active) versus attendees (passive):
- Between speakers
- Between speakers and participants
- Among participants themselves (and it’s highly recommended to have a conversation moderator to facilitate this)
Rachel Stephan, DES, snöballer-in-chief, snöball event influencer marketing
Become BFFs with Your Audience
OK, maybe not literal best friends, but there is something to be said about knowing what motivates participants. “You can only engage the audience if you know how they ‘tick’ – do your research in terms of who is your audience, how do they usually engage at events, and what’s the closest you can come to facilitate that in a virtual environment.”
Sabrina Meyers, Online Event Moderator & Global Event Planner, Orchid Lily Events
Call Them Out
A strategy that works well during in-person formats that is simple to replicate in virtual events and webinars is to call attendees out. “If it’s a live session, engage with the audience right away by asking them a question to answer, like where are you watching from? Respond to what attendees share, so people know you are watching too, and continue that tactic throughout the session to keep rapport and engagement.”
Shawn Chang, Project Manager, MCI Group
Offer Incentives and Rewards
Beyond calling out audience members by name and asking them a question or giving their opinion (and subsequently reading that aloud as well), Michelle Bruno says audiences react well to rewards. “If you ask members to engage and stay for the entire length of the session in exchange for a reward (something relevant to the session topic, like an ebook or list of resources, for example), many will do so.”
Michelle also reminds us of the importance of engaging presenters too and open dialogue. “Audiences will engage if the presenter is engaging, so get engaging speakers (or coach them) and encourage conversation between speakers and audience members.”
Michelle Bruno, Publisher, Event Tech Brief
Take Inspiration from Tried and True Media
Borrow the best, not the worst, from other media, says Peggy Lamberton.
“Our business is part entertainment. The surprise guest talking about a new book, study, concert, etc., opens our eyes. That’s what we can throw into the virtual program pot.” Take a page (or listen!) from successful media outlets like NPR that have found success at getting immediate attention, keeping listeners engaged, and delivering memorable information that turns them into long-time fans.
“Get a great interviewer and not someone who ‘wings it.’ Let them discuss a new topic, new book, new movie, or whatever else will resonate with attendees with someone expert in their field, and then tie it to your company’s meat of the virtual program.”
Peggy Lamberton, CMP, Meetings, Conferences & Incentives Manager, InterAct.Events / A Division of Windhausen Marketing
Get Them Moving!
With many still WFH, attendees just aren’t moving like they used to. For Kerri Kelly, music and dancing provides a welcome break for virtual event attendees. “I produced a wellness break for a 300 person meeting and taught everyone how to do The Hustle. I framed it in the context of this line dance being popular at social events like weddings and receptions. Once everyone had the steps down, we all ‘danced’ together, which was a way for us to reach beyond our video tiles and come together as a group.”
Kerri Kelly, Experience Innovator + Coach
Keep the Engagement Going Post-Event
Keeping attendees engaged isn’t limited to the confines of the event. “Extend the audience’s engagement beyond the event itself – tease content and facilitate a connection in advance, and follow up with continued ‘exclusive access’ content to provide real value for their time and attention,” says Stacey Thorp.
Stacey Thorp, Event Alchemist and Virtual Event Producer
Strategic Agenda and Content Design
Attendees will struggle to stay engaged if the typical in-person agenda is replicated for virtual. Carolyn Clark offers four ideas to update the event schedule and content:
- Schedule your MUST SEE/HEAR speakers and topics towards the end of the event to keep the audience engaged to the end.
- Keep sessions to 25 minutes max as online attention spans are shorter.
- Be sure to include breaks vs. constant content, so attendees don’t drift off to care for personal tasks.
- Add music to walk-in and transitions.
Carolyn Clark, DES, Strategic Marketer + Virtual Events Producer, DAHLIA+ Agency
Looking for other ways – like live document collaboration and brainstorming – to keep your virtual event attendees engaged? Contact Evenium to learn more about ConnexMe, a next-generation virtual and hybrid events platform that facilitates interactive and collaborative experiences.