When it comes to virtual meetings or events like webinars and conferences, thinking outside the box is the only solution to keep all the participants hooked from the beginning till the end. In fact, an online meeting doesn’t have to be any less than a face-to-face one when it comes to engagement – that is, if you manage to creatively occupy the attention span of the participants throughout.
A recent survey found that 49% of marketers say that audience engagement is the biggest contributing factor to having a successful virtual event and 87% of marketers consider the opportunities generated by virtual events as a success factor. Keeping them inspired, focused, and participating is the only way to ensure that they don’t zone out mentally halfway!
So, the million-dollar question everyone is asking these days is – how to keep the participants of a virtual event focusing on what’s going on all the time? Well, here are a few ways to do just that!
1. Keep the content crisp
Compelling content is the first step towards engagement. It adds to the attendee experience and makes them a willingly captive audience. Build it up. Go for pre-event content to amp up excitement for the upcoming meeting/event, and during the event, deck up short sessions to keep them interested, mix speeches with jokes, slides, add visual content.
Introduce engagement - break long sessions with a quick Q&A break. And once the event is over, keep in touch with a recap, or highlights. This will make everyone feel included, involved, and valued.
2. Keep the quality benchmark high
Keep the production value right at the top. Most of it is just a creative use of the computer and doesn’t cost much, but it will add to the overall snazziness. An interesting meeting room layout, smartly designed presentation of products, walk-thru footage of your company, videos to add to the variety – include all this.
But ensure the quality of each of this is really high. Follow the best video-making practices, mark meeting rooms with branded backdrops, a great sound system and internet. Get the camera angles and lighting on the speakers to the point, spend some time over the graphics. All this goes a long way in capturing attendees’ attention, and keeping it with you throughout!
3. Keep it short or break it into sessions
Just because you had day-long in-person conferences doesn’t mean you do the same virtually. It’s a different ballgame altogether online, where Netflix is just a click away. Anyone watching a long session alone sitting in a room, even if it’s packaged well with music, inspiring keynotes, et al, will find it difficult to concentrate for long.
This Bizzabo survey says a virtual participant watches only 68% of a virtual session that is longer than 20 minutes, on average. Sessions feel longer and attendees are more tempted to click away during a virtual event. Keep meetings and sessions shorter than you normally would to keep attendees focused on the content.
4. Go live with the keynote address
A major part of communication is also the keynotes. It should convey the essence of the event at hand succinctly, and talk about your brand in an engaging manner. All of us have nodded through long, drab keynotes – so keep them short – if not, intersperse them across various sessions.
The content should be educational as well as motivational. If you are going for a pre-recorded event, it would be a great idea to break that with live keynotes. This will spice up the proceedings, and you can also ask the attendees to come up with and discuss quotes from the speech that touched them. And it will build a sense of shared goal among all the attendees – even though they cannot see each other in-person.
5. Go for live poll
Virtual meetings can be spiced up with two to three intermittent polls depending on the length of your online event. This is one of the easiest yet most effective ways to keep the audience alert, and included in the proceedings spiffy. Use the easiest tool available to everyone – the mobile phone.
Most virtual event platforms have integrated polls and provision live polls, Use those features to prod the attendees to get involved. This can work two ways if you plan the poll questions smartly - it will get you some relevant data, and up your session engagement metrics.
6. Add value: use push notifications smartly
Organizers hesitate to send push notifications, thinking it will irk/distract the audience. On the contrary, push notifications can be used to infuse value-added stuff into a webinar or a meeting.
Apart from the direct ones of telling them which rooms to go to, or what to do next, you can engage the audience with a pre-event alert notification, you can push for caring wellness-notes – ‘take a short break and stretch your hands’, ‘splashing cold water on your eyes can relieve strain’… or you can give tips, facts and figures relevant to the subject of the event that can further add value to the attendee.
Quizzes with the promise of a prize at the end... These measures will go a long way in engaging the audience and will make them feel that they are contributing even from a distance.
7. Let them ask questions
It is a practice to relegate Q&A sessions to the fag end of the event. Hosts feel that it’s less irritating and will be a good concluding tactic. But in reality, spreading multiple Q&A sessions across the entire event will keep the audience hooked and involved.
Maybe after every session, you can have a strictly timed Q&A session – you address the leftover questions via email, or during a one-to-one later. This will keep the audience agile and active, as they scramble to ask the questions ahead of everyone else. You can also give them an overarching topic for questions, and weave the answers into the session following that; you can even have your expert popping in and out to answer relevant questions once or twice.
One survey showed that 91% of hosts choose to ‘Keep members connected’ as the top goal of their virtual event. Q&A is a great tactic to connect with the audience; it will open paths for future networking.
8. Call their names
As you answer questions, call out attendees by name once in a while to keep them alert. Speakers can call out attendees to answer or ask questions, or just to patch-in on a certain conversation based on their expertise. It will personalize every session, too!
9. Carry over the live event to your website
Create a page or a nook in your company’s website that can carryover learnings, FAQs, tips, etc. from the live event. You can share important findings, keynote addresses, recording of the event, etc. This will give you a great excuse to reach out to the attendees post the event – with an informative email about the same and build customer relations.
Alternately, the audience will know how methodical you are, and that they can go back to access all info at one location, making your live event all the more worthwhile.
10. Encourage in-event networking
Meetings, webinars, seminars are mostly conducted with the intent of networking. Imagine if you were all meeting in person – there’s so much scope for meeting like-minded people. Similarly, you can generate networking opportunities for the participants of online events, too.
Even though everyone is scattered across the globe, virtual networking is very much possible – if your virtual event platform has in-app services such as CometChat, you can use the mobile app to connect attendees with each other.
You can patch people based on common interests, or shared goals. Schedule ‘happy hours’ into online events to allow people to connect.
11. Create communities for participants
You can create communities and let them connect with each other before and after the event. This will work two ways – one, you will be able to create a dedicated network for your event, and the audience will stay with you throughout if you keep them talking to you and to each other alternately.
12. Gamify to keep them playing
Keep them engaged by intermittently allowing them to play on the mobile app. Even the event website can be gamified. Challenge them with quizzes, give away prizes, and talk about announcing the winners at the end, to motivate them to participate.
Business-wise, this will give you a chance to include more brands in your webinar as you can reach out for sponsors, network with key players, etc. You can even hold surveys for your peripheral businesses and give away points that the attendees can redeem on your platform.
13. Swag them
Giveaway virtual or physical goodie bags. What to fill the bag with? Maybe something that can be used during the live event? Printed cards for each participant with the event agenda and schedule, information about awards, etc. Virtual swags can include discount vouchers, coffee invites, e-wallet memberships, and more. This will helps build a continued relationship with the event participants. You can be smart and use it to talk about what your company does and values, too.
So, there you go. Ensuring the audience is glued on to your webinar just takes a good about of ingenuity and innovation. With a staggering 97% of event marketers saying that even when things get back to the in-person phase, 2021-22 will see more of hybrid events (in-person plus online), it's better to ace the game sooner than later!
About the Author
Vagisha is a content marketer who writes for publications such Hackernoon, Thrive Global, Medium, BBN Times, among others. She was also part of a team at Accenture that extensively worked on niches related to tech, marketing and SaaS.