Virtual events provide new opportunities for businesses to engage with customers, partners, and industry specialists, requiring fewer resources whilst hosting a space to network and learn from each other.
As online conferencing software improves and becomes more common, businesses have gained confidence in planning virtual events. In fact, 40% of marketers predict their future events will be virtual, while 35% predict hybrid events.
However, there’s still a lot of learning to be done for businesses to optimize the engagement of their attendees at virtual events. As the event takes place on screen and not face to face, hosts have to do more to keep the attendees interested in the content and prevent them from getting distracted. Engagement is an important performance metric to track. Besides showing how successful your events are, it could also lead to more business collaborations or sales.
What is virtual event engagement?
Whether your talks are about using Gmail as a mail client or recent trends in your industry, you likely want virtual event attendees to learn something, network with others, or participate in some way.
Engagement plays a key role in all of these. With high levels of engagement, your attendees get more from the experience and will hopefully walk away with a positive image of your business.
Virtual event engagement looks different to engagement at in-person events. As conversations are less natural online and the participants are in various locations, engagement requires more effort from attendees, and hence, careful planning by your event team to facilitate interactions.
This means creating opportunities for attendees to engage with you and other attendees, and encourage them to participate.
10 ways to boost engagement at virtual events
Set your goals
Each business will have different engagement goals for its virtual events. These could be to gain new subscribers to your newsletter, source new leads, or gauge public opinion of your brand.
Establishing goals can help focus your event, ensuring that the right features and activities are in place to enable you to garner the right level of engagement.
Tracking engagement can also help you review your event and identify improvements that align more with your goals.
Choose the right platform
With so many video conferencing options available, it’s important to find the right platform for your event. Look at software features as well as participant limits, and continually assess the benefits of any software you already use.
For example, if you use visual voicemail services in Canada, it may be worth looking into the video conferencing options of this software. However, if the software lacks the capacity or functions you need, research other apps or assess add-ons that integrate with what you already have.
Prepare your speakers
When speaking to an in-person audience, you’ll naturally have different requirements compared to speaking to a virtual audience. So it’s important to be on the same page as your presenters, particularly if you’re hiring an external professional speaker.
Having high-quality video and clear audio will make the event run smoother and hold the attention of attendees. Likewise, considering speakers' backgrounds and ensuring they’re connecting from a quiet and professional setting with high quality audio and video can help to eliminate distractions.
Interact with attendees
Virtual events require hosts and speakers to encourage more intentional interactions with or between attendees. Rather than asking a question to the audience and just hoping for a response, you need to encourage action and facilitate ease of response.
Using polls can be one way of doing this, encouraging everyone to vote for an option. Another option is to ask attendees to perform a certain action, such as leaving a word in the chat or selecting a reaction using a specific software function.
Image sourced from DialPad
Gamify the event
Adding a sense of friendly competition to your virtual event can motivate your attendees to be more involved in what’s going on. You may want to introduce a leaderboard or offer points for certain actions, such as interacting with polls, messaging in the chat, or contributing ideas.
Introducing rewards at the end of the virtual event can give attendees another reason to partake, with better options on offer as the participants earn more points. Plus, it adds an element of fun!
Keep the content accessible
If attendees are unable to properly access your event and content, they’re going to quickly lose interest. Including captions during presentations or speeches can be useful for those with hearing difficulties or those unable to use their speakers.
You can also consider providing written copies of activity instructions in case there’s an issue presenting the content. In addition, it’s worth providing ways for people to be involved without unmuting themselves to allow more attendees to contribute in a way that suits them.
Include regular breaks
The longer your virtual event goes on, the more engagement from attendees is likely to wane. Scheduling breaks gives people a chance to grab a cup of coffee or go over the resources in your shared folders before the next part of the event.
This is also a great way to break up different sections of the event. Participants can better keep track of what’s happening, while hosts have time to prepare the resources, content, and functions needed for each talk or segment.
Use a mobile app
Often, one of the biggest distractions to your virtual event attendees is their phones. So why not embrace them? You can integrate people’s phones into the event by encouraging them to download and use your app to help maintain their attention.
Your app may include resources for attendees to use, features to participate in activities, or a support channel for any technical difficulties and questions during the event.
Whilst some attendees may fully connect with a presentation from a speaker, others may value additional resources. For example, video demonstrations may be useful for instructional content such as helping attendees to port a Canadian phone number. On the other hand, diagrams may illustrate product features better.
Sharing resources with your participants can cater to a range of learning styles, helping them understand the content in a format that works for them.
Your attendees are best placed to tell you how your event went. Collecting feedback can help you to gauge what worked and what could be improved to boost their engagement.
Send a follow-up email after the event asking for feedback and suggestions. This could be a survey or questionnaire, or even a review of the event. Identifying recurring suggestions or key areas of the event where engagement was low will help you to make changes to your future virtual events.
Start boosting your virtual event engagement
There are many ways of boosting your engagement at virtual events, but it does require planning to make it happen. If you run an event without making provisions and considering how you want to foster engagement, you’re not going to get the interactions and conversations that you want.
Your speakers and hosts also need to be aware of your goals and the measures you’re taking so they can support you in encouraging engagement.
Keep in mind that different methods of engagement will work better depending on the event, your business, and the attendees. For example, your approach to a short virtual networking event will vary compared to a virtual training event as part of online courses.
Ultimately, you want to create an event that’s enjoyable, memorable and productive. It’s worth experimenting with your engagement strategies and trying new ideas to see what works.
There are various benefits to hosting virtual events, and with the right plan in place, you can easily boost engagement and make yours a success.
About the author:
Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, a business phone system and an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand’s design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways. Check out her LinkedIn profile.