By Elle Chan, cofounder of Trademark
Don’t Click Away!
Hybrid conferences are here to stay. In the wake of the 2020 – 2021 pandemic, most corporate events are now a mix of both in-person and virtual attendees and sessions. But, even in a virtual setting, it’s important to create an environment where attendees interact, participate in networking opportunities, and make meaningful connections. Engaging events can attract remote attendees through marketing and creative event promotion. But, getting attendees to your virtual production is only half the battle. Attendee engagement remains challenging for even the most experienced event producers. In this article, we are sharing our most successful attendee engagement ideas and strategies.
Remote attendee engagement challenges are real. The vast majority of shows we’re working on this year are hybrid. Not surprisingly, according to a recent survey of business professionals, 40% of the events they plan to attend in 2022 are predicted to be hybrid or virtual events. Another 35% said they’d attend an event virtually if they couldn’t get there in person. What’s more, hybrid events have increased in popularity by 35% from 2020. It’s clear that events online are here to stay.
You have to offer something interesting, compelling, and creative to encourage attendees to stay through your conference, especially if they’re attending virtually. Event organizers know that attendees can leave in a click. Building audience engagement features into every part of your event experience is worth the effort because an event that keeps attendees engaged, whether they’re in-person or attending virtually, can deliver more value than many other marketing strategies. Here’s why:
- Larger audience reach. Tens of thousands of participants can be reached with the same budget rather than hundreds or thousands in a face-to-face setting.
- Better idea-sharing. Ideas and content can be shared digitally with thousands of people via mobile event app or in post-event marketing.
- Enhanced customer loyalty through networking and community-building. This community stays engaged after the event, and can be leveraged in the future.
- Better content relevance. Attendees interact and continue dialogue post-event across popular social communities, extending the reach of your messages and content.
- 10-20x increase in lead generation. Bigger reach, longer tail, and more relevant content all add up to exponential lead gen.
Attract attendees with a headliner who speaks their language. You’ll lose the audience almost immediately if they don’t engage with the speaker. Use a celebrity speaker who is relevant to your audience and who can make virtual content more fun to watch. Almost every event we produced in the past two years drew an audience with a celebrity speaker. And industry surveys back that up – 64% of attendees say that the quality of headline speakers and relevance of content are the reasons that they sign up for (and attended) events. Relevant content draws like-minded people to breakout sessions in a virtual conference. Event content that addresses real-world business issues can give attendees an opportunity to network and create valuable connections with other attendees in virtual chat rooms and interactive activities. In this way, a whole group of customers or attendees can be educated, exchange ideas, and experience your product or service. Many virtual event platforms offer interactive features that are designed to increase audience engagement during sessions, including chat and Q&A.
Events that give early access to a product or service will attract and engage your audience. Deliver something big, for the first time, at your event. The most successful events we’ve seen unveil a new breakthrough product, reveal a coveted award to a winner, showcase an important advancement, or reveal important company news. You can market your big reveal with the event’s hashtag across your audience’s social media feed. You can tease the big reveal with multiple-choice questions that get your audience engaged even before they attend the event. Build your high-quality content, keynote sessions, and audience participation strategies around the “big reveal”. As attendees engage leading up to the event, you can reveal more clues and encourage the audience to tune in to learn more. On the first day of your event, use push notifications to give your attendees an opportunity to experience the news first.
Humor, stories, and creative delivery of quality content will keep attendees tuned in longer. Attendees want to learn something new. See something different. They want to receive the inside story about a topic they care about. Attendees are willing to give you a chance to hook them, but it better be good to keep them. Almost 70% of virtual attendees tune out after 20-minutes. Worse yet, 29% of attendees watch only 20%, and 26% stay for only 10%. The best virtual event keynotes offer broadcast production quality, run 20 minutes or less, are given by passionate speakers that your attendees recognize, and deliver the meat in the first few minutes. Multi-media and video entertain while delivering messages in short amounts of time. Deliver the main idea in compelling, engaging keynote sessions that can drive key concepts home quickly. Offer more detail in breakout sessions where companies can share more ideas and elaborate on key topics.
One of the best virtual conference engagement ideas is personalization. Engage each person in your audience, personally. This sounds complex, but if you carefully select a virtual platform that is built with attendee personalization features, you can begin to understand the needs of attendees. Personalization features help attendees categorize themselves and select event components that are most relevant to them. This information can help you design content that will engage attendees and keep their attention. Offer different profiles or agendas based on user preferences. Use technology to recognize each person, and suggest content and experiences based on their choices. Make sure they offer multiple options or methods for attending your virtual event – desktop, mobile, tablet, on-demand, live-stream. For the most digitally adventurous, consider holding your virtual event in the metaverse, a virtual world where attendees visit a virtual booth, attend a virtual job fair, try virtual products, and learn about your company at their own pace. Meeting the attendee in the dimension that is most appropriate for them will grab their attention and help you build an engaging event.
One of our most successful strategies for event engagement is to create the highest broadcast-quality content. Period. We believe programming for virtual events must be geared toward engaging, entertaining, and influencing audiences. We use event production strategies that simplify the creation of valuable connections through conversation, video, games, audience challenges, and live virtual participation. Use your celebrity partner to host keynotes and roundtable discussions that can be easily shared through social media. Plan to broadcast sessions, hosted by subject matter experts, from a single soundstage or coordinated studios across many locations. Create a social media feed for your event that increases virtual event engagement and shares tidbits from your event across social channels. It may seem like a lot of work, but there is a huge marketing benefit. Virtual events offer a long digital tail that can be leveraged in future marketing campaigns. Many of our events are now reaching tens of thousands of viewers post-event. Many viewers are watching programs on-demand. And, marketers are breaking sessions and event components into smaller pieces that can be consumed on mobile devices, on social channels, or on the website. Many virtual event platforms make it possible for attendees to rewatch or share content with others. Industry experts say that 68% of attendees say that they rewatch content from events they’ve attended.
Nothing creates demand like lack of supply. With the networking aspects of events reduced in virtual scenarios, many attendees long to connect with their peers. Many event platforms offer the ability for small groups to interact with one another. Establish an agenda of general sessions combined with interactive sessions where small groups can see and interact with each other digitally. These sessions offer limited seats, may reveal exclusive “inner circle” information, and work best when they’re moderated by a professional who offers depth on a relevant topic, and who can guide a discussion virtually. Once exclusive sessions conclude, many clients create groups on social media channels that enable attendees to continue to interact post-event. Make sure your virtual event platform offers the ability for attendees to connect with one another for sharing ideas after the conference.
There are many audience engagement ideas out there, and audience engagement will remain a challenge as people attend real-world and hybrid events this year. There is no silver bullet that will solve all audience engagement issues, but in our experience, some of the best virtual engagement ideas include:
- Draw attendees with celebrity presenters
- Create a “Big Reveal”
- Keep sessions fast-paced and short
- Broadcast quality production is a must
- Create exclusivity
Today’s events have to work in real-time, and on-demand and have to engage attendees every minute to keep them tuned in. But, it’s worth it. Great content begs to be shared and ultimately reaches many more people than a single live event can.