We see a lot of information on the internet at the moment about virtual event engagement. We all know engagement is so important for the success of any event and it is no different at a virtual conference.
As a company, we run 100s of full virtual conferences a year. From July-December last year, we had over 160,000 Delegates attend over 250 Conferences on our Platform (majority of these conferences are multi-day, multi-stream events). We had over 91 million live stream minutes viewed so we learned a lot about how great events keep their Delegates engaged.
Engagement at an in-person event has always been challenging for speakers and event managers. So it is easy to think “This will be even tougher in the virtual space!”
We have good news (we could all do with some good news!): you can forget all your pre-conceived ideas! Research actually shows that 47% of remote Delegates are more likely to engage in Q&A, and 37% are more likely to participate in a conversation at a virtual booth than a real one.* This research is also supported by what we have seen first-hand this year.
There are lots of different ways to increase engagement at your virtual event. However, we have compiled a list of 5 easy ways to implement strategies that will be sure to see results.
1. Content is key
This one seems obvious but something so many people running virtual conferences forget. The key to engagement at a virtual conference (at any conference for that matter) is the content of the conference.
The number 1 way to increase engagement is having great content. Every day we are amazed at the incredible engagement that occurs when the content is engaging. The content needs to be relevant to the audience of the conference and the more targeted it is, the better the engagement is.
A great way to ensure your content is captivating and targeted is by running concurrent streams where Delegates can choose what they watch and what they don’t. The bonus of running your event with integrated Video on Demand is that the Delegates can then come back after the conference and continue to engage in the content (more on this below).
Concurrent streams are also a great way to enable Continual Professional Development Points (CPD or CPE) to be relevant to the Delegates.
To get full benefit of the above, concurrent streams need to be managed in a seamless way and integrated into the virtual event Platform (we recommend not making Delegates jump out to 10 different Zoom meetings) to keep Delegates engaged and actually on the Platform.
2. Prepare your speakers
Your speakers are not necessarily used to talking to a screen (albeit after 2020 people are getting more and more used to it).
While they can be comfortable with in-person events, they might don’t know what to expect when it comes to virtual, so it is important to prepare them. Having prepared speakers means they can focus on delivering engaging content which, as we know from above, creates more engagement.
This is why we need to take the time to explain what will be happening during the event and give them advice regarding how to deliver the best experience to Delegates (i.e. background suggestions, clothing, ambient noise, lighting, audio, etc).
Their PowerPoint presentations are also an important aspect to leverage engagement – so don’t hesitate to incite your speakers to create exciting and vibrant slides, with for instance infographics, audio or videos. Whilst we are talking about their slides – you need to make sure it is a really easy process for them to control their slides during their presentation.
Another tip for your speakers is to break up their sessions and make attendees feel like they are part of the conversation utilising live polling, Q+A and chat functions on a Platform. It is important this is all integrated into the Platform so you keep your Delegates engaged and on the Platform.
On the day of the event, having your streams managed by a Professional Broadcast Operator enables speakers to come into the event, ready to go and ready to increase audience engagement. The Professional Broadcast Operator meets them in the green room, counts them in and puts them into the broadcast. We consistently have feedback from speakers who say this experience is second to none.
This is such an important part of the conference and something that should be seen as vital to engagement – you want your Delegates watching a seamless broadcast.
3. Guide your audience
Just as your speakers need guidance, your Delegates also need to be guided. It is best not to just assume your audience will know how to interact on the Platform you are holding your virtual event on.
Firstly, start with a Platform that is easy to use and can be used on any device (mobile, tablet, laptop, Apple TV etc). This is a pre-requisite to ensure your audience can actually access the content in a way they feel comfortable with.
For us at Delegate Connect, we are seeing a lot of people attending their 2nd, 3rd or in some cases, we have Delegates who have attended 5 conferences on our Platform this year. This helps with engagement as they know where everything is, and they are now experts at the Platform!
However, there are Delegates who have never been on a virtual Platform and some who are not technically savvy.
Prior to your event, we recommend sending communications to Delegates to on how to engage with the Platform and to encourage them to familiarise themselves with it prior to the day. At Delegate Connect, we produce videos for our clients about their Platform so they can send their Delegates prior to, which Delegates absolutely love.
During the event, we recommend having an MC or moderator controlling the broadcast and letting everyone know how to interact on the Platform. This includes telling them where to chat, ask questions, interact with sponsors and answer live polls. We also recommend having a Chairperson moderating every session: on the Delegate Connect Platform, they get their own portal where they can moderate Q+A, polling and timing.
Being able to send push notifications on a Platform to the Delegates is also a really good way to guide the audience on their Conference journey.
4. Tailor the networking experience
The key to networking on a virtual Platform is to tailor this activity for online – and not just replicate the face-to-face networking functionality.
Make it easy for sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and Delegates to connect via text chat or video chat.
You can encourage networking among like-minded participants through virtual cocktail parties, group chats and meet-ups. The key is to see online networking as a chance for Delegates and Sponsors/Exhibitors to connect with each other – don’t force it upon people but let them make their own decisions.
Another thing to remember with networking is that not all Delegates want to network. It is good to give lots of different options to Delegates for networking (text chat, video chat, group meetings, scheduled meetings) so then there is something for everyone.
We see a lot of events attempting to make their networking really complicated because they think they need to add value to the Delegates. From our experience, opting for simple networking that Delegates can choose to engage with or not is the best way to get your Delegates actually participating in the networking.
5. Have On-Demand content after the conference
It is fitting that if the first point in this article is the most obvious way to keep people engaged, then the last point is equally as obvious but gets missed a lot.
One of the great benefits of virtual conferences is having access to content long after the end of the event. It is very valuable when your delegates couldn’t attend the live sessions or wanted to participate in 2 concurrent streams and had to choose one, or simply would like to re-watch some of it later.
With virtual events, a really good way to maintain engagement after the Conference is to transform your Platform to become a ‘Post Event’ Platform. This means your Platform will change to a content delivery Platform and will allow Delegates to come back to engage in the content for the next 12 months. This is good for Delegates, good for Sponsors, good for Exhibitors and great for the event. It is vital that the Video-on-Demand is integrated into the Virtual Platform – your Delegates have just spent a number of days on the Platform and are now really comfortable so keep them coming back for as long as the content remains engaging.
In summary, the above points are 5 of many but are all things we see people doing every day to increase engagement at conferences.
If you are looking at holding a virtual conference in the future or want to learn more about how to deliver an engaging virtual conference, please feel free the reach out to our team as we would love to speak with you!