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How to make your virtual event more engaging

Everything you need to know about how to make virtual events more engaging.

Three people are doing three different jobs.

For reasons that don’t need explaining, 2020 saw the virtual event take off across industries that may not have dipped their toes into the world of online-hosting for many years to come. 

Yoga classes, pub sessions, comedy gigs and the glossy, live-cast interiors of celebrities’ homes have all found a place in our own homes this past year or so. 

It’s true – we’ve begun to merge into half-human-half-smartphone type creatures in the way science fiction fans probably predicted we would back in the ‘80s.

Despite the dystopian-feel that does seem to be lingering in the air these days, all of this comes with some positive side effects. For one, we’re using technology to its fullest potential, and embracing it for all of its mystical connective powers. 

Professionals that used to be tied to commutes, cramped gyms, stuffy conference rooms and ridiculously long days are now experiencing the true meaning of flexible working. Long-distance friends have realised they can do a pub quiz together every Friday night, after all. Of course, nothing can take away from the profound and devastating impact so many industries – including the events industry – are suffering at the hands of Covid-19. It has to be acknowledged that, heartbreakingly, the virtual event can’t and won’t save so many venues and jobs.

But with this new-found love affair with online events comes hope for many professionals who’d be out of work otherwise. So without further ado – here’s…

How to make sure your virtual events are genuinely engaging (and therefore a success)

Now that many of us have got to grips with our Zooms, Google Hangouts and webinar platforms, it’s time to talk about engagement.

a person taking a video of a group of people

Without engagement, it’s all too likely that our events will simply flop. They might get a good turn-out the first time around, but chances are they won’t the next time, or the time after that. Without that buzzy feeling of being switched on, and truly connected to your event, attendees may simply revert to yawning at the back of the (virtual) classroom, much in the way they did in secondary school maths. 

And – this is the killer – there’s a good chance they won’t remember you, or your event, at all. To avoid this lacklustre destiny, take stock of these simple tips:

Start by communicating what your event will involve clearly – don’t try to be all things to all people

It’s much easier to sign up for a virtual event than make the decision to attend an in-person one. There’s definitely less commitment involved (no travel to think of, or even getting up and dressed, in some cases). This means it pays to be stringent when it comes to making sure those who hit ‘attend’ to your event are the people who’ll actually benefit from it. 

If you try to be all things to all people, with a vague event description, you could end up diluting your audience with people who’ll either log-off half way through, or even openly criticise your event due to disappointment.

With this in mind, make sure to describe in detail the niche of your offering – and strive to put this in front of the right people when it comes to promoting. This could be by using Facebook’s Custom Audiences for events, or carrying out some quick market research via an Instagram Stories poll

a person pointing at a laptop

Check in with your attendees during your event – and make it regular

Whether you’re running an online conference, performing an intimate virtual music gig or doing a live-streamed yoga class, checking in with your audience will be a key part of keeping them engaged.

If you were running a yoga class in ‘real life’, there’s a good chance you’d be going around the room checking people’s poses. In a ‘real life’ conference, there are often those off-kilter, unrehearsed moments during talks and presentations that make the event feel thrilling for the audience – as though they’re truly part of something.

All this should be translated as best as possible across to the world of virtual events. Fitness instructors should show interest in the needs of individual attendees. Webinar speakers should set aside regular intervals for not only prescribed Q&As but more informal chats. Feedback should be regularly asked for around practical things like sound and comfort, but also the content and pace of the event. 

To go back to the school-class analogy of before – the best teachers are the ones who keep their student’s engaged by involving them in the class in a way that’s meaningful to them. Not the ones who drone on up front, hardly noticing that half their audience has checked out.

Go hybrid with virtual event bags

Everybody loves a free gift bag. Sending one to your attendees ahead of your event is a great way to build anticipation and keep people’s attention hooked throughout the session.

By getting your attendees to open different items at intervals throughout the event, things will feel dynamic and the event itself will take on a more tangible quality.

The bag could contain anything from learning materials to silly games and props – it’s amazing how a few simple gimmicks can break the ice and make attendees feel genuinely involved.

Use plenty of live features – it’s the only thing that separates your event from a YouTube video

Use tech to your advantage by incorporating things like live polls and live chats into your event. For things like conferences, webinars and virtual workshops, these should be the bread and butter of online events, and not a nice-to-have.

Letting people chime in via live chat, and garnering their feedback and opinions through polls, is one of the key ways you’re going to make your event feel worth the money. In other words – to make sure people don’t just tune into something similar, pre-recorded and free on YouTube. 

Virtual events are a relatively old concept to some, but a new and exciting one to many. By keeping abreast of the latest tech and putting effort into thinking about what your attendees genuinely want and need to feel they’re getting value for money, there’s no reason they can’t be every bit as fruitful as the ‘real thing’.

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