Even before COVID-19, virtual events were trending thanks to the increasing accessibility of sophisticated event technology. Now, in the wake of a global pandemic, virtual events are becoming the lifeblood of the industry. Businesses around the world are using them to stay connected to their audiences. Naturally, we talk a lot about how online events can help keep businesses afloat. But what about keeping engagement high during the event?
Getting attendees to engage with your event in person can be challenging enough. With online events, you face the challenge of curating an experience that is immersive enough to bring your event to life. As we all know, today’s experiential customers don’t want to watch an event unfold from behind a screen. They want to feel like part of it, which means that event planners have to engage their senses, feelings, and thoughts.
Let’s face it. Virtual events come with their own set of unique distractions. Pinging inboxes, social media notifications, and streams of work-related communication all equate to information and sensory overload. On top of that, many people are working from home to the best of their ability, which can involve a steady stream of daily work-related communication. Taking these factors into consideration, keeping your attendees engaged with your event might feel like a daunting task. But everything new is daunting before we know how to do it. We’re all learning, and we all need a starting point. Here are five of the most creative, effective ways to capture your audience’s rapt attention- and keep it.
1. Humanize Your Event
This is actually much simpler to accomplish than it sounds. It just means this: It’s an experiential market, and people want to feel a personal connection to your event. Think about it. We all know introverts whose main motivation for attending events is to make new business contacts and invest in their professional development; the social aspect of events is often draining and distracting for these people. Maybe you’re that person. On the other hand, there are extroverts who feel energized and creatively stimulated by large events that are bubbling over with spontaneous social interactions.
As we temporarily transition into virtual events, we are met with a new challenge: keeping the extroverts (or middle-of-the-line folks) engaged. Without spontaneous, person-to-person contact, some attendees feel as if they’re missing out. So don’t just use audio to communicate with them; use a video chat in which your attendees can see your face as you speak. Since watching someone speak for long periods of time without a break can get monotonous, break up the experience with 5-minute video chats. Designate these chats as a time when attendees can talk freely and spontaneously with each other. Allowing them to see each other’s faces during this time is more personally engaging. And it preserves some level of the interpersonal value you would have given attendees in person.
2. Remember, the Show Must Go On!
If your attendees were looking forward to seeing live entertainment, such as music, dance, or other performances, it can be sorely disappointing when the event goes virtual. Sure, it’s nearly impossible to engage the senses in the same way you would be able to be during a live concert, theatrical show, or other performance. But that doesn’t mean you should cancel your event or stop hosting events until they can be held in person again. It just means that you have to work with your talent to find creative, alternative ways to engage your audience.
For example, some ticketing agents have created virtual stadiums in which customers can view a sports game from their prospective seats before purchasing them. In the same vein, you can use augmented reality to hold a virtual concert. Augmented reality apps allow you to create a visually engaging, immersive experience in which guests can have similar dynamic views to the ones they would have at a stadium or concert venue.
Where’s the live action? If your performers are on board, you can have them record songs (or other vocal performances) live. On the virtual stage, you can show caricatures of the artists. Another option: You can show a stream of favorite past performances while the artists record live. To further personalize the experience and make your attendees feel connected, ask your performers to engage in a live Q and A session at the end of the event.
Historically, attendees want to feel a personal connection with the performers they pay to see. Outside of expensive VIP experiences, this is rarely possible at in-person events, where there would never be enough time or resources for large groups to engage directly with the artists. But virtual events allow large remote audiences to interact at the same time. In this way, they transcend some of the boundaries and limitations of in-person events. So take advantage of that.
Many performers will be more interested in giving their audiences this kind of experience than ever. Remember, they’re losing money and opportunities due to the coronavirus, too. Monetary and professional concerns aside, most truly passionate artists thrive from connecting with their audiences. The lack of opportunities to do so creates a personal void in their lives as well as disrupts their careers. So when you ask an artists to work with you to create an interactive, meaningful experience with their audience, you’re likely to get a positive response.
3. Choose Engaging Keynote Speakers
This is a really important one. The quality of keynote speakers is always a make-or-break element at events, but it’s even more so now. Let’s review: About 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, so it’s not enough to hire an eloquent speaker with excellent material. It’s also vital for the speaker to be skilled and adept at engaging an audience and bringing concepts to life for them. A speaker can be at the top of his field and one of the most intelligent professionals in your industry, but he/she still needs to be relatable.
When seeking out the best speaker for events, we usually advise event planners to select someone who is a skilled storyteller. Storytelling is one of the most engaging experiential marketing strategies out at your disposal, and for good reason. Effective storytellers let the audience know who they are and what they do right away. If they’re imbued by a genuine passion for what they do, they capture attendees’ attention by sharing the inspiration behind why they do what they do (i.e., why they started their business and what it means to them, ect.). If the inspiration contains a personal anecdote or backstory that is relatable to many people, they make a connection right then and there. Once this connection is established, you can feel a buzz in the room; people are engaged with the speaker and each other, and ideas are being formed.
Although the connection may not be as readily palpable in an online environment, there are still ways to assess engagement. Take regular pauses in which the speaker can take questions. It’s also important to designate a few moments for attendees to engage with each other after major topics are covered. This strengthens the interpersonal element of your event by allowing virtual face-to-face contact. Chat boxes are okay at some points during the event, but for Q and A sessions, your audience should be able to see the speaker’s face. They should also be able to see the speaker’s face while he or she is talking.
Statistics continue to overwhelmingly support the effectiveness of video content in increasing consumption and engagement. According to Hubspot, 55% of people consume videos thoroughly- that’s the highest amount of consumption of all types of content. Half of 18-34 year old YouTube subscribers say they would drop what they are doing to view a new video by their favorite creator. And get this- a Facebook video receives 135% more organic reach than a Facebook photo.
4. Augmented Reality
Adding AR features that highlight key points visually further engages your audience. AR is also a powerful asset to effective storytelling. Generally speaking, people are visual by nature. If they can see a story unfold rather than just see it, it’s much more memorable and creates a more lasting impression. A variety of infographics, filters, and 3D AR experiences can be utilized to draw attendees the story of a speaker’s brand or mission.
Use AR according to the goals you have for your event. For example, if you are leveraging AR for product sales or to launch a new product, you can use it to allow attendees to “try it before they buy it”. It used to be that customers had to try on clothes in a fitting room or test drive a car on the road to decide if they wanted to own them.
Sure, it’s probably easiest to ascertain the best fit or experience when you try on an outfit or test drive a car, and so on. But when it’s not possible, such as now, AR lets customers see how they would look in clothes and makeup. For example, lip color shades can look different on everyone. With AR, the customer can overlay a pure image of the color over his/her face to see how it would look in reality; the same goes with clothes. When test driving a car, potential customers can actually get a 3D view of a virtual road as they “drive” the car by clicking on images of its components. Today’s 3D images also allow consumers to interact with detailed parts of the whole by clicking on them. So whether you’re doing a product demo at a conference or generating sales, you can use AR to give customers an lifelike, interactive experience.
5. Include Interactive Features
Feature live polls, live Q & A, and live chat during your virtual event to increase engagement. Going back to AR for a moment, you can use it to personalize the event; when an attendee joins a breakout session or interacts with a vendor, insert a pop-up image that links them to more ways to connect with the speaker or exhibitor.
Live polls are vital to engagement because they provide feedback in real time. They enable speakers to make attendees’ responses part of their presentation. In this way, your content becomes more valuable to individuals, which is ultimately the goal of personalization. You can also add more value to Q & A sessions with live polls. People can vote on the questions they want answers to, and the most common questions get top priority. This helps you meet the needs of more attendees and allows speakers to personalize their content based on this information.
Consider holding a survey before, after, or during your event. Where a survey makes the most sense depends on your event design. Surveys that are taken directly after your event are always helpful because they provide you with immediate feedback. You can then react to that feedback by directly addressing it with attendees or basing future events on it. For example, if one of your sessions received a lot of positive feedback, you know you’ll want to feature that speaker(s) and topic again.
Just make sure that your survey asks for more than whether attendees liked or didn’t like a session. You can do this by giving attendees the option to tell you what could be improved; they can answer this whether they liked or disliked the session. This way, attendees feel heard and valued, and you have the information you need to keep them engaged long-term.