6 Tips on Keeping Your Attendees Engaged in a Virtual Event!
by Gary Lagestee, on May 28, 2020
How Attendee Experience Differs In The Live Event Realm & The Virtual Event Realm
Hi guys! It’s Gary from Clarity Experiences here. If you keep up with Clarity at all you are probably familiar with me from the emails that I’ve sent out and the blogs I’ve written...a lot of which lately have been on virtual events. This probably won’t come as a huge surprise to you...but I’m going to keep that trend going with another blog on virtual events!
This one is geared directly towards attendee experience because without your attendees you’ve got nothing. Today, I’m going to focus on what it looks like to keep an attendee engaged in a live environment and how that differs in a virtual environment since that’s what a lot of us are doing right now. Keep on reading to learn some of my tips and tricks I have learned from being in this industry when it comes to virtual events and virtual environments!
Attendee experience and interaction in a live environment
We are going to start with attendee experience and interaction in a live environment since that’s what people are probably most familiar with. The purpose drives the type of event you will have and the activities within the event, while attendee experience is driven by engaging presenters, relevant content, social opportunities, and a production partner to bring it all to life.
The purpose of the event can be anything from education, sales kickoffs, collaboration, or product launches just to name a few! But, what attracts a lot of people to a live event are other things that come with it like the locations, attractions, parties, being able to do tours, learning about the local culture, exciting nightlife, excursions, team building, ya know...the fun stuff.
So what I’m trying to say is yes, the driver of a live event and virtual event is the same, it starts with the purpose of the event. Not to mention, in a live event you have a captive audience for 2-4 days which is amazing. In a live event, your audience is in a ballroom and there's a lot of emotion, entertainment, and a show all while the message of the event is being relayed.
If you haven’t caught my drift, there's a lot of attraction and draws to a live event environment because there’s the learning part and there’s also the fun part. If we are looking at live events from the meeting planner perspective, you have a captive audience at the location for several days so you can do a lot more.
Attendee experience and interaction in a virtual environment
I know I just made live events sound extremely glamorous and fun...because they are. But don’t get me wrong, you can still do a lot with virtual events, you just have to know what you’re doing. First and foremost, if you don't grab and keep your attendee’s attention, well, what's the point? I’ll answer that for you. There is no point.
The purpose of your event should be the first thing you look at in both the live environment and the virtual environment. Your approach will change but your purpose will remain the same. A tip from me to you is to first focus on purpose, then production value and people. We call it the three P’s to make it easy to remember. If the purpose is to educate, then your virtual event will highlight key topics, smaller workshops or breakouts, and demos that will give your attendees a well-rounded education.
Tip #1: Your content has to be focused
My first tip to you to keep your attendees engaged in a virtual environment is to get rid of all the noise. The content needs to be condensed and has to be valuable. I recommend taking the most important pieces of content you would share in a live environment and focus on that 100% in the virtual environment.
All the other smaller pieces that may not be the most important, get rid of and get right to the point. You have people's attention for only a certain amount of time so it's important to get to the meat of whatever you're trying to communicate so you grab their attention right away.
Tip #2: Be picky with your presenters
When it comes to picking your presenters, being picky is okay. I recommend you talk to your potential presenters and make sure they are comfortable presenting virtually, make sure they've done it before, and see if they can even send you an example of a time they presented. That might seem extra I know, but if you have a boring presenter you're going to lose your people right away and there goes that.
But seriously, you want to really think about who's presenting. You want someone that’s engaging and funny with a sense of humor, but who can also get your message across. We’ve all sat through a presentation where the presenter was so dreadfully boring and it was beyond painful. Don’t do that to your attendees. Bottom line, NO boring presenters, got it?!
Tip #3: Adjust the duration of your event
Earlier I talked about how you can do a lot with a virtual event, you just have to know what you’re doing. Timing is one of those things that can screw up a virtual event. A lot of people think that it’s as simple as taking everything you would in a live event and just doing it virtually, basically keeping a similar agenda. I could see why people might think that, but it’s probably not the right approach. Don't do that. The content you would use in a live event is way too long and you have to condense it.
In a virtual event, you have to lessen the amount of time people are going to be watching because ultimately they are sitting behind a screen and there are distractions. You have to find ways to grab your audience's attention and give them something valuable.
I suggest you do this by creating a virtual agenda with input from other people. Talk to some of the attendees, people at your company, or customers and ask them how long they feel a presentation should be on a familiar topic. We understand it varies based on the company and topic, but you may be surprised by the input you get from your colleagues!
Moral of the story: figure out what’s going to grab your audience’s attention, give them something valuable, and then change it up. Move to a breakout, small group, or video, and then come back to larger discussion to keep attendees engaged and not staring at one screen for hours. Trust me, they will thank you.
Tip #4: Keep your virtual event as fun as possible
A huge part of a live environment is the experience you’re going to have. There is entertainment, human interaction, you're out at a hotel, you’re going to dinners and clubs and it’s fun and exciting. The honest reality is that it is hard to duplicate this same experience in a virtual environment because you’re doing everything from behind a screen. While it is hard to duplicate, you want to do your best to still try and keep it as fun as possible because as people that’s what we are drawn to.
How do you keep people entertained through a screen you ask? Great question. You might think this is out of left-field, but my advice here is to hire a comedian to make your attendees laugh. Have them do a fun 30-45 minute session to keep things light and entertaining. You can also roll in gamification to have people play games together and connect through an application.
Having a theme or having people dress up in costumes for your virtual event is always a winner in my book. It’s hard to take things too seriously when people are in costumes. We are on a screen so you only have to dress up the top half which isn’t very difficult. I mean I'm in boardshorts right now and I have a Zoom meeting later today. Anything goes at this point. You could even take it a step further and as the host of the event you could send out swag for your attendees to wear during the virtual event like shirts or hats that drive a fun message. The bottom line is you have to get creative and you have to think about what your attendees are going to see on the screen and do whatever you can to make it engaging and fun to watch.
Tip #5: Add production value
If there is anything that I’ve learned in this industry it’s the importance of production value, which is the second P of the three P’s I mentioned above! I’m talking about aligning your virtual event with your brand and culture and making it easy for your attendees to enjoy the experience. You gotta make it more than a Zoom meeting. Take the time and effort to make sure there are landing pages, branding, Q&A, and allow for some pre-recorded produced material.
For example, if Clarity were to host a meeting, we would have some important topics, some serious topics, but on the breaks, we would put on culture videos of all the active sports that team members do in their free time like surfing, biking, skating, and motocross. Culture is very important, so whatever the culture is of your event, in between the sessions I would drive that all the way home. The way to drive this home happens through production value and creating pre-produced content. Taking the time to make sure your virtual event has that production value is what’s going to make your virtual event feel like an event and not another Zoom meeting that they’ve already sat through 1,000,000 of.
Tip #6: Collaborate with attendees
Collaborating with attendees keeps them engaged and makes it easier to pay attention behind a computer screen. There are ways you can vote on topics that are being talked about and even like or dislike them and add an emoji to trend the topic. This is a super easyway to not only visually engage people but also get their feedback. Trend topics allow attendees to give input on topics to trend them up or down allowing the host to gage interest on that topic to know whether to stay there or move on. This usually works well in smaller discussion settings.
You can have a simple Q&A feature embedded into your attendee interphase along with a moderator and support team to field the right questions to make for an engaging experience for large and small groups.
Community interaction allows attendees to connect to one another to network, share information, and form small groups amongst each other on the fly as you would in the hallways at a live event. These are just a few of the many ways to encourage collaboration with attendees.
That’s How To Keep Your Audience Engaged!
There you go! Live events and virtual events are both great in different ways, but how to keep your attendees engaged is very different in both environments. In a virtual event, the planner has to be the one to drive it for it to work. They are the ones who need to hire the comedian, to send out the shirts, to execute on a themed meeting, and all those other things we talked about. My last piece of advice to you is that if your virtual event isn’t planned out and executed on by your entire group or company, it’s going to be tough to get your message across like you would in a live event.
The reality is, you're not going to replace a live environment where there is a party or reception or band playing, but if you incorporate the tips I talked about in this blog, I think you will kill your next virtual event and your virtual interaction and attendee engagement will be on point. If you have any questions about attendee engagement or think Clarity can help you with your next virtual meeting or virtual event, give us a call today! We would love to help you make your event remarkable, no matter how big or how small it may be!