Event engagement is a critical component of a successful event. Keeping attendees participating has always been a challenge, but this gets even more complex in a virtual setting. In this article, we will show you the best ways to maximize event engagement at your next event. Let's dive in!
More than half (67.7%) of event marketers find it more difficult to keep attendees engaged during sessions at virtual events. It’s time we fix this issue. Virtual experiences are now the norm in the event space, and investing in the hybrid era will become the next significant shift in events. With the industry rapidly evolving, how can planners drive and improve audience engagement within this new paradigm?
Keep reading to find out the best practices, tips, examples, and strategies to maximize event engagement!
20 Powerful Ways To Maximize Event Engagement
1. Define Your Metrics
A staggering 80% of planners report that event engagement and satisfaction are KPIs used for measuring virtual event success. Before even deciding on what engagement opportunities to provide, make sure to define what exactly you want to be measuring. These engagement metrics must be agreed upon and communicated with the rest of your event team to ensure that everyone will work towards these KPIs. Once these event metrics are agreed upon, discuss ways to reach the target goals.
Some essential engagement metrics to consider for virtual, in-person, and hybrid events include:
- Audience retention (how many people did you start with versus the number you ended up with?);
- Chat & poll participation (were attendees actively asking questions during and/or after the sessions? Were they using the polls?);
- The number of downloads (if your sessions include the possibility to download assets, how many attendees did it?)
- Social media mentions
2. Maximize Event App Adoption
The majority (62%) of marketers believe a mobile app for an event can help drive event engagement. And in a hybrid future, event apps will be a valuable engagement tool helping to bridge the gap between audiences.
Bizzabo’s event app, for example, allows you to send push notifications to let attendees know when sessions are live. It also features live polling, an interactive agenda, an event community, and more - all features that help foster and optimize attendee participation! Additionally, edits can be applied to both the app and event platform simplifying the planning process.
To increase event app adoption:
- Make sure attendees are well aware of your event app as soon as they register for the event.
- Send a dedicated email explaining the different features and tips on how to get the most out of their experience.
3. Create Designated Networking Spaces for Attendees
You’ll want to provide spaces for serendipitous connections and in-depth topic-specific conversations. Be sure to offer networking communities for your attendees. Hybrid events should allow for the best of both worlds’ meaning attends from both the in-person experience and the virtual component can network.
Bizzabo offers a Community feature that allows you to create an environment for your event registrants to mingle and network with others in the industry. Attendees network and exchange information with like-minded individuals throughout the community.
Another great way to allow attendees to network is Braindate. When an attendee signs up to take part in Braindate, they can create or select topics they are interested in exploring. This interaction can be 1:1 or a larger group format. Learning concierges take part to help participants navigate the conversation. At the end of the Braindate, participants have the opportunity to connect with others in session on LinkedIn and other platforms. Source: e180
4. Set Expectations With Attendees
You shouldn’t expect high event engagement rates if attendees don’t know about the ways they’re able to engage. It’s essential to communicate to your attendees the different ways they can participate in the event.
Organizers can achieve this by launching a series of emails that inform attendees of the different engagement opportunities. For example, if you want attendees to participate in the chat, have your emcee or speakers ask them questions and tell them to post their answer in the discussion! A great way to break the ice and have attendees participate is to ask everyone to comment in the chat where they are tuning in from.
5. Brainstorm Joint Initiatives With Sponsors
Remember that your event sponsors can provide additional opportunities for event engagement before, during, and after the event. Brainstorm with sponsors early on about different ways attendees can engage. Sponsors will be very interested in brand activation ideas that exposed their brand to attendees well before the event start date. Perhaps a social media competition or sponsored content can help attendees heighten their engagement levels with both the event and sponsors.
Below is an excellent example of virtual event sponsorship. Social Media Week, #SMWONE, offered the sponsor, Talkwalker, a speaking opportunity at their event. Speaking at the event allowed the sponsor to talk directly to attendees and showcase their thought leadership.
Source: Social Media Week
6. Virtual Suggestion Box
If attendees have gone to your event in previous years, let the time leading up to your event be an opportunity for them to offer suggestions. Ask their thoughts on the event content, speaker lineup, and even food menu (for hybrid and live experiences). By providing a virtual suggestion box attendees can more easily offer their thoughts. The more input that is welcomed during the pre-event phase, the more likely it will be for attendees to continue high engagement levels throughout the event.
Looking outside our industry, Starbucks has been asking customers to share their ideas for stores. They wanted to put themselves in customers’ shoes and hear what they wanted. Suggestion boxes have brought many ideas to life, most notably cake pops and Pumpkin Spice Latte Via. What great ideas will your audience suggest?
7. Choose Shorter Sessions
Whether you’re planning a fully digital experience or a hybrid event, consider shortening your sessions. A remote audience’s attention span is shorter than what you’re used to, and webinar fatigue is steadily increasing amongst virtual attendees. Keeping it short and actionable will go a long way in keeping your audience happy and engaged.
At our virtual summit (Almost) HYBRID, we kept all sessions to under 30 minutes, including Q&A, to maximize event engagement and avoid session fatigue.
Source: (Almost) HYBRID
8. Remember The Virtual Audience Isn’t An Afterthought
When we move back to hybrid, it’s important to remember your virtual audience. Hybrid events imply the engagement of two distinct audiences. A common pitfall is to make virtual attendees an afterthought by focusing attention on people physically attending the event. Forgetting about those who are tuning in remotely isn’t going to work in a post-COVID world, where virtual audiences will probably exceed in-person attendees in numbers. Neglecting any part of your audience will inevitably lead to an overall unsuccessful event experience.
Set up multiple cameras and many angles for a high-quality experience. Don’t forget to incorporate the chat and Q&A from the virtual audience! Leverage event technology and find a hybrid solution that will help you merge the two worlds.
“This past year demonstrated the responsibility of technology to drive the evolution of virtual events. The hybrid technology of tomorrow will need to be built from the ground up with the virtual and in-person holistically in mind.”
- Eran Ben-Shushan, CEO and Co-Founder at Bizzabo
9. Event Engagement Starts By Focusing On User Experience
It can’t be expected from attendees to know how to navigate a virtual event platform from the get-go. As new and complex as virtual events are to planners, it’s just as tricky for audiences to learn the ropes of a digital event. Pay extra attention to the user experience and choose a UX-friendly virtual event platform that’s easy to navigate. You can also take it one step forward by providing attendees with an FAQ section and small video tutorials on navigating the platform and its features.
Frustrated attendees will likely give up on the event altogether! Make sure you book demos with several different platforms to test out how easy and user-friendly they are. Vendors should offer live demos so you can judge how good the interface is.
10. Content Is King
Content will always remain one of the most important tools to secure event engagement. The way it’s crafted and delivered virtually differs from what you’d see with in-person experiences. The average virtual attendee only watches 68% of a virtual session that is 20 minutes or longer, which indicates that the digital and hybrid future is one where sessions are shorter and delivered with more empathy.
Truly understanding attendees’ personas and giving them what they want to hear is the best way to engage them. Ask yourself questions to determine what your audience needs. What are your attendees’ pain points, and how do your content and its delivery answer their needs? How can you successfully craft content that resonates with both the live and virtual audience?
“Content is king…focus on content that is relevant to your audience…You need to have content that captivates the attention of whoever is watching. Then on top of that, you need to create something that is engaging and creates dialogue. It has to be more than passive watching.”
- Leon Winkler, Director of International Events at Ubisoft
11. The Power of Story
Storytelling remains one of the most powerful tools to foster engagement. We are wired to react to stories. Stories are part of the human experience. They take us on a journey and will allow attendees to absorb messages, data, and help retain knowledge easier. Storytelling is up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone. Use this power to make your ideas and content stick. Instead of reporting facts or data independently, wrap your message in a story to truly impact behavior and increase event engagement.
12. Personalize It
As technology evolves, the way we design events will too. Personalization has been a buzzword in marketing for a while now. Take that same idea and apply it to your event. Tailoring the event to each person further ensures they stay engaged in a virtual setting. There are several ways you can harness the power of personalization.
- Sessions tracks. Offer attendees the opportunity to create their schedules during the digital experience, allow attendees to choose their adventure while suggesting specific sessions to attend based on their interests.
For a great example of this, check out Forbes UNDER 30. Below you will see the event offered different tracks on several topics. Attendees had the opportunity to select a specific track or jump between them to design their own experience.
- Segmented email campaigns. Craft specific messages targeted to your audience. You can inform your audience about specific news, features, or sessions they’ll be interested in through the power of data. You can base campaigns on attendees’ personas, job titles, interests, demographics, organizations, and more.
13. Get Creative With Interaction Possibilities
Chat rooms, polls, and breakout rooms are all excellent ways to promote event engagement with virtual audiences. But they’re not the only possibilities you can offer to keep people interested. Think outside the box and introduce things like ice-breakers, virtual escape rooms, or team-building exercises that boost participation and foster networking among attendees.
A virtual escape room is a great way to break up the monotony of virtual events. This team-building opportunity will allow participants to interact and immerse themselves. The Escape Game offers team-building opportunities that transform participants into secret agents working together to solve a mystery. This interactive experience starts at $28/ person.
Source: The Escape Game
14. Add Entertainment
Entertainment is often the first thing to get sliced from a virtual event budget. While there’s no need to advocate for it with in-person experiences, planners seem to dismiss entertainment’s importance in a virtual setting. After hours of sitting down in front of a screen, attendees will crave something more light-hearted to break up the sessions. Whether it’s in the form of a musician, a comedian, or a happy hour, entertainment will go a long way in keeping people tuned in and eager to engage.
For our (Almost) Hybrid summit, we partnered with DJ Neekola. She took requests in the chat and got the crowd excited for the summit ahead, establishing an incredible basis for an engaged audience.
Source: DJ Neekola
15. Experiment With Innovative Tech
Event organizers must keep up with the evolution of technology. And as digital and hybrid events become the norm, attendees will increasingly look for experiences that go beyond the typical Zoom webinar or virtual conference. We must push the boundaries of what is possible at events.
Finding technology providers committed to innovation will set your event apart. Please get to know the company and the people behind it. Read their blog, browse the website, and check out the events they host. Read recent product and official company announcements. Ask the company how they are planning to evolve as hybrid events start to happen. Consider past performance and current affairs to predict whether this company is positioned to innovate.
16. Polling & Live Q&A
Whether it’s through your event app or virtual platform, using polling and live Q&As should be part of your engagement strategy. Keeping attendees participating helps ensure attendees are staying tuned. Through these features, the audience can continuously share their opinions or ask the speakers and entertainers questions. Additionally, participation in both chats and polls can serve as a great metric to measure attendee engagement!
17. Include Chat Moderators
It doesn’t hurt to give your attendees a push to participate in the chat! Encouragement is where a moderator can take your virtual event to the next level. A dedicated chat moderator can pump up the audience and get interesting questions going. Moderation can go a long way in fostering an environment where people feel compelled to join in and actively engage with the sessions, the moderator, and each other. If any attendee is having issues, a chat moderator can also direct attendees to support or answer questions on the fly.
18. Send Virtual Swag Bags
Digital experiences don’t signify the end of swag. On the contrary, sending something tangible to your virtual attendees to use during the event ensures they will participate in whatever activities you have planned for them.
For instance, for Bizzabo’s year-end celebration, we sent out cocktail kits attendees could virtually make their cocktail with coworkers.
19. Invest In Quality Production
Audiences were a lot more willing to accept shaky video and poor audio at the beginning of the pandemic. Now that planners have had the time to learn the ropes of virtual events, attendees will increasingly expect more from the experiences they give their time and money to.
Investing in excellent event production will be a must moving forward. It’s hard to keep the audience engaged as it is, and if your event doesn’t meet the basic standards of video, audio, and lighting quality, the task becomes nearly impossible.
Recently at Convening Leaders 2021, PCMA partnered with the Singapore Tourism Board and Marina Sands Bay to create a dynamic broadcasting experience. Using LED walls and floors, the studio could quickly transform backgrounds and bring in panelists from remote locations, allowing attendees across the globe to engage in a high-quality broadcast experience.
Source: Convening Leaders 2021
20. Add A Pre-Event Survey
Every planner knows the importance of collecting feedback post-event. But have you considered gathering insights from your attendees before the event? Pre-event surveys can give you a look into what attendees want to get out of attending your event and help you craft an experience they’ll be more likely to engage with.
If you share a pre-event survey with your audience, you give them the chance to share what they hope to get out of it, what they’d like to see, what parts they’re looking forward to the most, and so on.
Key Takeaways to Maximize Event Engagement
Keeping your audience engaged at virtual events and virtual conferences can be challenging, but it’s certainly not an impossible feat. Now that the industry is venturing into new territory and bleeding-edge technology becomes more widespread, planners have plenty of strategies at their disposal to drive and maximize engagement in digital experiences.
As a recap, here are some of the high-level points that we’ve discussed:
- Use your goals and desired event outcome to determent the best strategies to maximize event engagement.
- Personalization is key. Use segmented campaigns and provide curated tracks in your agenda to tailor the event experience.
- As we move towards the hybrid future, it is critical to design your event with the virtual audience in mind.
- Listen to attendee feedback! Whether you use event surveys or have a virtual suggestion box, give your audience a way to let you know what they want at your event.
2021 is the perfect time to think outside the box and test out different ideas. While virtual might be limiting in some ways, it simultaneously opens many doors to creativity and experimentation. It’s time to try new things and find new ways to foster event engagement. If you follow these tips you will be well on your way to maximizing audience engagement and leaving attendees satisfied.