Today, it’s not hard to see why many event organizers and attendees have come to prefer virtual events to in-person ones.
Not only are virtual events more cost-effective, but they offer greater flexibility and accessibility to a wide variety of attendees around the world. Audience members can participate in virtual events from any location with an internet connection, and event organizers can easily offer a streaming session at multiple times to suit various time zones.
Sessions can also be translated into multiple languages, and organizers can offer accessibility options for users with impaired hearing or vision. Meanwhile, virtual events give their organizers a chance to gather useful data and then use it both to offer personalized attendee experiences and to enhance their targeted marketing campaigns.
But virtual events also come with their challenges. While high-quality in-person events tend to have a way of creating a “buzz” organically, this excitement cannot be taken for granted when it comes to virtual events. As this post will explain, getting your audience actively engaged during a virtual event requires deliberate planning and careful execution. No less importantly, it requires you to optimize the full event life cycle—from promoting the event and signing registrants up all the way through the post-event follow-up.
Here’s how you can design an engaging virtual event.
Building engagement before, during, and after your virtual event
During the lead-up to your event, it’s a good idea to focus both on promoting the event and on gathering data that you can later use to personalize the attendee experience. To encourage participants to sign up (and to excite those who have already registered), offer registrants a preview of your event, including materials such as teasers and pre-event training sessions. It’s also important to make sure your event’s website includes details such as the event’s agenda and information about its speakers.
But the pre-event lead-up is not all about conveying information to members (and prospective members) of your upcoming event’s audience. You should also use the registration process as an opportunity to gather data about your audience in order to personalize each attendee’s experience. For example, you may want to require individuals to provide their field, job title, level of education, and relevant interests when they sign up for your event.
And what about the post-event follow-up? It’s important to keep the momentum from the event going, even after its official end date has passed. For example, you can keep adding fresh, high-quality content to your event website, using the site as a tool for building a long-lasting community while continuing to accept new registrants. No less importantly, the post-event period is your chance to analyze the data you collected during the event, giving you valuable insights that can help you both to understand your audience and to optimize your future marketing campaigns.
Of course, the effectiveness of your post-event engagement and analytics strategies depends largely on how successful and engaging your event was in the first place. That makes it especially important to include engaging elements within the educational sessions at the heart of your virtual event.
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Integrating engagement into your virtual event sessions
Educational content plays a more central role in a virtual event than it does in an in-person event. And whereas in-person events tend to have a significant amount of organic social interaction built in, social interaction within virtual events tends to happen only when the event organizers deliberately plan for it.
At a well-planned and well-executed virtual event, many of the socially engaging aspects of the agenda typically take place as part of the event’s informative sessions. Not only does this make the entire event more enjoyable for attendees, but it enhances the educational value of these sessions. To really put audience engagement at the center of your virtual event, include one or more engagement-focused components within each of your event’s sessions.
With the options that today’s leading virtual events platforms offer, you can make a wide variety of session types particularly engaging by adding interactive elements. Here are some examples worth keeping in mind:
- For a keynote, include a live Q&A session, a networking chat feature to foster interaction among the audience, and an emoji feature letting the audience provide nonverbal feedback.
- For an expert panel, take questions from audience members with their cameras and microphones on, and include an audience poll.
- For an interactive demo, encourage communication by providing features such as virtual whiteboards that have collaboration features such as group annotation.
- For a breakout session, have all participants’ cameras and microphones on, so that they can have a face-to-face discussion even from a distance.
- For a classroom training session, provide an option for attendees to get accredited based on their new knowledge.
- For a press or analyst room, run a live video chat connecting you with your audience.
- Within the event website’s networking rooms, enable attendees and speakers to interact with each other via video conferencing.
- Within an on-demand video session, integrate gamification and interactivity through features such as in-video quizzes and branching videos.
- Within your event’s sponsor booths, enable your sponsors to communicate directly with attendees in one-to-one video rooms, to conduct live demos, and to share documents.
By encouraging your speakers to add components like these to each of your event’s informative sessions, you can help set the tone for an all-around engaging and educational event. But there’s also another important way to add an element of engagement to your event, and that involves looking beyond the event’s typical, educationally focused content.
Adding an element of fun with social activities
To make your event especially engaging, consider extra activities that could add an element of fun, creativity, and social interaction to each attendee’s day. The idea here is not just to break up your event’s sessions, but to take the opportunity to add a particularly enjoyable component to the day’s agenda.
When done right, these “bonus” activities will leave attendees refreshed and ready for their next informative session—as well as delighting those attendees enough to make them want to attend your next virtual event.
In terms of technology, the key here is using an interactive video room within your virtual event’s platform, where attendees can see each other, communicate, and even collaborate.
Here are just a few of the many supplementary activities that event organizers have deployed successfully:
- Breakfast video networking to start the day off in a friendly and laid-back way before the day’s regular sessions
- Yoga or Pilates sessions to give attendees a chance to use their bodies and not just their brains
- Cooking or cocktail mixing classes for a creative outlet and a delicious treat
- Trivia and other games to add a bit of friendly competition to the event
- Group music lessons requiring no prior knowledge
- A live concert exclusively for ticketed attendees
Making your virtual event accessible
To realize your virtual event’s full potential to engage your audience, it’s important to think about what extra considerations some audience members might need in order to enjoy the event fully. One of the key benefits of a virtual event is that there are user-friendly tools to maximize an event’s accessibility—but using these tools effectively requires some planning and preparation.
For attendees with impaired vision or hearing, it is important to offer both an audio recording of each session’s speaker and closed captions. For speakers of various languages, it’s a good idea to offer translations of both the audio and the closed captions for your event’s sessions. And for participants from multiple regions of the world, you will likely want to stream the video of a single session at various times corresponding to different time zones.
To take full advantage of these accessibility features, consider running your event in a simulive (simulated live) format. This way, you can ensure the quality of all of your sessions by recording them ahead of time, you have the chance to add closed captions and translations, and your audience still feels like they are interacting with the event’s speakers in real time.
How to Design an Engaging Virtual Event: The Takeaway
Most of all, making your virtual event as engaging as possible for your audience requires you to adapt to the differences between virtual and in-person events. Although social interaction is less automatic within a virtual event than an in-person one, virtual events have specific tools that can boost engagement in ways that in-person events generally cannot.
Using those tools effectively can entail gathering and using data to personalize the attendee experience, adding interactive components to informative sessions, supplementing those informative sessions with fun-focused and creative activities, and making sure that even highly diverse audiences won’t see any of their members left out. Combine these kinds of ideas with top-notch informative content, and you’re well on your way to planning and executing a highly successful virtual event.
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