For virtual events (and events in general), attendee engagement is the name of the game. Simply having a lineup of great speakers and compelling content isn’t enough – for virtual events, organizations and event executives need to take it a step further by creating buzz before, during and after the event is over. So, how can you create true engagement from registration page creation to event archive? Let’s dig in.
Before the Event:
Smart communications that promote the length, format, and event agenda.
In terms of promotions for your events, it’s always best to take a multi-pronged approach and promote it through every channel possible. And make sure you give yourself plenty of time to promote it. Based on the size and scope of your virtual event, promotions could start anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months out from the event date.
There’s a lot of competition in the virtual event space right now and your audience has a lot of events to choose from. When promoting your virtual event, think about what makes yours different and highlight the length, format, and agenda. In terms of length, attendees typically don’t have the same attention span for virtual events that they do for live events, so be cognizant of that and think of ways that you can offer shorter formats that offer as much/if not more value than an in-person event. So if the event would’ve typically been 6-7 hours in an in-person setting, make it 4 hours in a virtual environment to keep your audience engaged.
As for the event format, highlight the spaces, rooms, and functionality your virtual event will have. Talk about how your attendees can interact with exhibitors, connect with their colleagues through various networking features, listen to and connect with thought leaders and presenters through webinars and breakout rooms, etc. Highlight what’s in it for them, the value they’ll get out of attending and why being there is worth their time. Finally, clearly lay out the agenda for your event and walk them down the path in terms of what their day could look like if they attend. During the registration process, give your audience the ability to set their own agenda where they can decide, for example, the sessions they will be attending and the breakout rooms/workshops they will be participating in.
Be cognizant of what your attendees what out of the event.
Want to understand what your attendees are hoping to get out of the event? Simply ask. Surveying your audience will help you curate the experience for them. What does a successful event look like to you? What are three things you want to learn from this event? What type of networking features would you like to see? What types of professionals would you like to connect with and why? What do you like most about virtual events and what do you dislike the most? Their answers to these questions will allow you to personalize the experience and agenda for your attendees, which will result in superior engagement and virtual event ROI.
Have your attendees spread the word and reward them for it.
A great way to build buzz before the event is to have your registered attendees, presenters, and sponsors act as event ambassadors. Create a hashtag for your virtual event and then have them spread the word and promote it to their audiences, letting everybody know they’re attending your event and why.
Before the event, think about surprising your registered attendees by giving them some pre-conference swag – shirts, notebooks, pens, and coffee mugs all work well. It helps get your audience in the conference mindset and can help improve your registration to attendee ratios.
Give attendees a sneak peak of the event environment.
When looking at virtual event platform providers, ask them if they give registered attendees the ability to get a sneak peak of the environment before it actually goes live. Enabling folks to get into the platform pre-event and create/update their profile is a big plus. Also, giving registrants early access to certain areas of the event will familiarize them with the environment and enable them to be more efficient with their time the day(s) of the event. They’ll have a better understanding of how to navigate, interact and consume content. Like the pre-conference swag, providing this early access can increase excitement amongst your audience, improve registration to attendee ratios and help generate greater attendee engagement.
During the Event:
Great looking environments, compelling content, and high production quality.
It’s important to provide virtual event environments that flat out look good and are easy to navigate. Ensure that your platform is easy on the eyes and on brand, and can be customized with banners, logos, and advertisements. The right virtual event partner will give you the ability to choose your event theme (3D or 2D) and offer a number of room templates for your to choose from as well.
Content is no longer king…quality content is king. There are a ton of virtual and hybrid events in all industries right now, so it’s imperative that your event provides content that is highly valuable to your attendees. If your event is going to have an exhibition hall, ensure that your exhibitors are providing content that is relevant and timely. For your webinar sessions, make sure your presenters are exciting and have compelling stories to tell, and that they use the time to educate and not sell.
Speaking of webinar sessions, high production quality is mission-critical and the only way to ensure this is to test, test, and test some more well before the live date. Poorly produced webinars, videos, workshops, and breakout sessions can leave a bad taste in your attendee’s mouth and severely impact the success of your virtual event. For your webinar presentations within your event, it’s a good idea to look at the possibility of pre-recording as many of them as possible and broadcasting them as live events with live elements (Q&A, polls, surveys, chat rooms) the day of. We call these simulive webinars and it ensures that the presentations are well executed and deliver a top-notch experience for your attendees. When looking at which virtual event partner you want to move forward with, having this ability is a must.
Make engagement a two-way street.
One of the best ways to measure virtual event success is through attendee engagement, and the only way to achieve high levels of engagement is to make it a two-way street. Far too often, attendees go to virtual events and all they’re doing is watching presentations, videos, demos, etc. They’re watching, but they’re not doing anything. There are a number of ways to combat this:
- Offer breakout rooms and workshops where attendees can engage, interact, and build relationships with like-minded professionals.
- Create multiple chat experiences – text chat, 1:1 video chat and group chat.
- Get real-time audience feedback through live surveys and polls. Understand what your audience likes/dislikes about the experience and use that as ammo to make your next virtual event even more engaging.
Incentivize your attendees for doing and being active within your event through gamification options like leaderboard, trivia, and scavenger hunt. In these instances, you’re urging your audience to engage and have meaningful interactions, and they’re getting rewarded on the backend with various giveaways and prizes.
Networking is crucial to event success.
One of the main reasons people attend in-person conferences is for the networking opportunities, and there are now multiple ways to truly make your virtual event a networking hub.
One of the best places to start is to create a networking café or lounge. These areas can offer attendees the ability to:
- Participate in scheduled industry discussions and group chats. In a recent virtual event hosted on the Elastic Events platform, one of our clients offered ‘Lunch with the Founders.’ They promoted this as a session in the Networking Café where attendees could interact with the company founders and ask any questions they had for them. Attendees were able to sign up ahead of time for this session, and by doing so they were able to pick what they wanted for lunch and it was delivered to them right before the ‘Lunch with the Founders’ started. It was a huge success and really helped our client strengthen their relationship with their customers.
- Connect with other attendees within the space through 1:1 video chat
- Download and exchange virtual business cards, schedule meetings with their colleagues, and connect with them through various social channels
- Move into breakout rooms that offer a more intimate networking experience
After the Event:
Offer a post event survey.
While the pre-event survey we mentioned above will help you curate a personalized experience for your attendees, a post event survey will help you (and your presenters, sponsors, and exhibitors) understand what your audience liked/disliked about the event and what you can do moving forward to continue to improve the event experience. Post event surveys have proven to be invaluable tools to improve webinar experiences for our clients, and they’re just as important for long-term virtual event success.
Take advantage of on-demand archiving.
The great thing about virtual events – and digital events in general – is that you can extend the shelf life of them through on-demand archiving. Events on our platform come stock with 90 days of on-demand time, but you can essentially archive your events for as long as you want. It’s very important to have an on-demand plan well ahead of time, as opposed to the event finishing and then crafting your plan. You want to ensure that your virtual event provider can get your event on-demand as quickly as possible so you can begin promoting the on-demand environment immediately. If you put as much emphasis promoting the on-demand version as you do the live event, your virtual event ROI will skyrocket.
Create virtual event highlights or ‘Best Of’ videos.
Often, short form content is the best type of content. One of the ways our clients are doing this post event is by creating event highlight reels or ‘best of’ videos. Have a great 45-minute session that you want to breakdown into a 4–5-minute highlight reel? We can help with this. Yes, you still want to make the entire 45-minute session available on-demand, but also offering a shorter version that captures key points makes it easier to promote and easier for your audience to consume. You can do this for all your presentations or just some of them, but it’s just another example of how your virtual event can continue to deliver value to your audience long after the live date.
Jason Stegent is the Founder & President of Elastic Solutions. Email him @ firstname.lastname@example.org