How to Captivate Your Audience in a Virtual Environment

As event hosts and sponsors develop successful virtual and hybrid event strategies, they often balance various goals and responsibilities. 

Planning, designing, and executing a successful event requires a steady focus on your attendees and your organization’s goals alike. Beyond the technical functionality, you need to host the event itself. Perhaps most importantly, you also need to create an engaging environment to capture your audience in a non-traditional setting. 

Below, our virtual environment and engagement experts highlight some ways in which the right virtual environment can help you captivate and engage your attendees for greater audience participation before, during, and after each event: 

 

Make Events Interactive

Whether your event is virtual, hybrid, or in-person, your sponsors and presenters will likely drive the conversation for most of the day. However, one-sided lectures and generic presentations won’t deliver the best experience for your attendees. 

As you adopt a virtual environment, look for opportunities to captivate your audience and get your attendees in on the action during each event. 

 

✓ Live polls and feedback opportunities

While most activities may be presenter-led, you can still increase audience participation by giving attendees a chance to interact and weigh in on them. 

Add interactive polls or chat features to your keynotes and long-form presentations. These tactics keep attendees engaged and offer them a chance to chime in throughout each session. Ideally, your virtual environment should include convenient integrations that make it easy to implement polls and feedback channels across multiple event formats. 

 

✓ Attendee-presenter Q&A sessions 

Give attendees a chance to connect with presenters in real time. One way to drive audience engagement is with live Q&A sessions on a pre-defined topic. 

These can be follow-ups to keynotes and live streams or standalone events where attendees can connect with relevant subject matter experts. As you plan out these sessions, be sure to inform attendees. If they know a Q&A opportunity is coming up after a particular event, they’ll be more likely to stay engaged and draft up a few inquiries during the presentation itself. 

 

✓ Interactive discussion panels 

Take it to the next level by allowing attendees to lead conversations on specific topics related to your virtual event. 

Whether these panels consist of pre-selected attendees or follow the first-come, first-serve rule, be sure to keep them separate from your presenter-led panels. To ensure the conversation stays on track, let audience members facilitate their own discussions on a given topic with help from a panel moderator.

 

Recreate the Hallway Track

The “hallway track” refers to the physical hallways in an event center. In the hallways, people moving between formal sessions naturally mingle with each other — usually leading to some fascinating, unscheduled conversations.[1]

While you can’t allow virtual attendees to mingle and network in person, you can still offer equivalent connection points and networking opportunities in your virtual environment. 

 

✓ Informal networking

From professional trade shows to academic orientations, it’s easy for attendees to get swept up in the agenda and miss out on valuable opportunities to connect. 

Since your hybrid or virtual attendees can’t bump into each other in the hallway or at the coffee table, include similar networking spaces within your virtual environment. Consider adding digital coffee breaks or other content-free activities to each day’s schedule. These events drive audience engagement and give attendees, sponsors, and hosts a chance to connect on a personal level, rather than just on work- or school-related topics. 

 

✓ Live chat and social forums 

While coffee breaks and introductions go a long way, you’ll also want to help attendees develop a sense of camaraderie as the event progresses. 

Support your coffee room introductions with ongoing communication opportunities, like live chat rooms and social forums. You can implement these connectivity features directly in your virtual environment to keep the conversations flowing and facilitate networking and personal connection throughout your event. 

 

✓ Attendee matchmaking 

Topic-focused breakout rooms and discussion panels can help attendees and sponsors connect during your event, but they still require a heavy lift for participants. 

Engagement tools like A.I. Matchmaking can help your attendees connect with the right people during your event, and follow up with them long after they log off of your virtual platform. These features drive audience participation in various contexts, saving people the time and effort it takes to skim through a long list of fellow attendees to find relevant networking or sales opportunities. 

 

Share Engaging Content

No matter the focus of your virtual event, it’s important to adapt your marketing strategy by paying attention to the quality and delivery of your content. As you define and prepare your content, keep your attendees at the center of every conversation. You want to share content that’s relevant, engaging, and valuable for the people attending your event. 

 

✓ Pre-event content offers 

You don’t have to wait until the day of your live event to start driving value for attendees. Instead, look for ways to captivate your audience, promote engagement, and encourage content consumption before your event begins. 

As you draft pre-event emails and social posts, look for opportunities to share blogs, tip sheets, and other content offers to help attendees get familiar with your brand. This is also a great way to support your event sponsors or presenters by sharing some of their existing content or linking out to their social media 

 

✓ Downloadable resources 

While videos, live streams, and interactive presentations are essential to event success, they aren’t the only engagement tools in your arsenal. 

As you schedule out each session, look for opportunities to support your message with downloadable content. Pair the day’s agenda with downloadable content that complements your presentations and delivers lasting value for your attendees. For example, offer a checklist, tip sheet, e-books and guides that mirror the outline of a keynote presentation, and encourage attendees to follow along or fill it out during the discussion. 

 

✓ Always-on environment

You can also support participants long after the live event ends, with on-demand access to the entire environment and associated content. 

A perpetual environment gives participants access to recorded sessions and panels, sponsor contact information, and every downloadable resource shared during the live event. This allows attendees to revisit an event and opens the doors for registrants who couldn’t attend the event in real-time. 

 

Are you interested in learning more about virtual engagement? 

Download the Whitepaper: The New Era of Perpetual Engagement to discover how and why virtual event platforms are becoming integral parts of today's marketing communications toolbox.

 

Download Whitepaper

 

Sources:

[1] https://blogs.vmware.com/opensource/2018/05/15/hallway-track-open-source-conferences/ 


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