6 tips for engaging attendees during virtual events

Virtual events can be tricky for attendee engagement. There are many reasons why engagement may suffer in a virtual medium, the most obvious being that it’s very easy to multitask or get distracted while consuming online content. Attendees are no longer sitting in a physical room with others watching the same presentation – they’re in their office or in their home, navigating all of the hurdles present in those locations. Some have multiple projects on the go, some have children at home with them, and many have limited attention spans with so much other content out there.

As an event creator, producer or presenter, there’s only so much control you have over this. Your best bet is to make your content something they won’t want to miss! Here are some ideas.

man wearing headphones looking at a laptop screen in a coffee shop

1. Tell a story

We’ve already brought up the virtues of storytelling, and we can’t stress the importance enough. Telling a personal story about your topic will explain to your audience why you care about it, and in turn will help them care about it, too. Audiences respond to authenticity and when they can empathize with something, they’re more likely to give it their undivided attention.

2. Change up your presentation formats

Whether you’re running an hour-long webinar or a full day of online content, most presentations follow the format of “slide show and talking head”. Try to change up the format to keep things interesting. This could mean something as simple as having the presentation be a conversation between your presenter and your MC, or adding a panel of experts. Different faces and voices will keep the content fresh for your audience. If you are running a presentation with visuals like slideshows, it’s also a good idea to verbally reference your slides. Saying things like, “as you can see on this graph,” or “I just love this picture,” can call attendees back to attention if they were looking at a different tab on their computer or started scrolling on their phones.

3. Ask for participation

woman sitting cross-legged on a black yoga mat

At an in-person event, presenters will often include the audience by asking for a show of hands to do a poll, or getting people to chime in with their own stories or experiences. This is surprisingly easy to replicate in an online format! Most webinar platforms come with a polling function, so you can still collect your audience’s opinions. This keeps their eyes on the screen, especially when waiting to see the results. You can also engage your attendees in the chat box or on social media. Providing a hashtag for your attendees to use to discuss your event online can help them connect with each other, and helps you keep track of the conversations and feedback about your event.

4. Get physical

If you’re hosting an all-day or multi-day online event, a great way to get your attendees involved is to get them up and moving. Whether it’s leading some breathing exercises at the very beginning of the day, or having a yoga instructor join the event to lead a short desk-yoga session during a break, your attendees will appreciate not only the variety of content you’re providing, but also your consideration for their mental and physical wellbeing.

5. Be hands-on

a beige tote bag with "VOLUNTEER" written on it

Engagement should involve all of your senses. At in-person events, there are lanyards and magazines and stress balls, and other fun swag items to interest attendees. Just because your event is now virtual doesn’t mean you have to lose that tactile component. For smaller events like webinars, try putting together printable resource packets with additional information about the topic of the event, or create some printable graphics that attendees can pose with for pictures and share online with your event’s hashtag. Are you running a cooking or mixology webinar? Provide a recipe and grocery list to the attendees beforehand so they can create along with your presenter at home. If your event is larger-scale, like a virtual conference, send pre-registered attendees a swag bag. You can send pens and notepads, toiletry items or gadgets. Include branded items from your sponsors for that extra level of sponsor engagement as well.

6. Be on demand

Even if you have implemented every suggestion above, you’re still not going to get 100 per cent engagement. Attendees will get pulled away by an urgent call or having to feed their children. Maybe they’re in a different time zone and your event starts before they even wake up. Life happens. The best way to engage those that missed the content, and reengage those who were there the whole time, is to record your session and make it available on demand. This could be done by sending a video link to all those who registered, or posting it on your website for everyone to see once the live event is over. Your hard work is valuable and should be shared with anyone you would want to see it!

For more tips on how to master virtual events, check out our previous blogs.

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