11/20/2020

8 Critical Steps for A Highly Engaging Virtual Event

The rapid influx of virtual events has left many organizers wondering how their event can stand out. When done right, strong engagement is the most memorable impact your event can have on your speakers, sponsors and attendees. Your attendees become more focused on the content rather than the silence of watching a video on their own, making them much more likely to retain the information. Ensuring your sponsors and partners get the most bang for their buck through attendee engagement and brand visibility can also enhance the overall event experience. Combined, these efforts create a positive feedback loop — from word of mouth promotion (e.g. “This event had a lot of great content and networking opportunities, you should check it out!”) to repeat business from sponsors and partners.

On the other hand, putting engagement on the bottom of your to-do list can have a large footprint on your event. Typical engagement fails that plague virtual events include (but are absolutely not limited to):

  • Inability or no functionality to network
  • Small number of participants
  • Difficulty using the tools or platform
  • Overall lack of engagement (no one is sharing questions, feedback, or talking entirely)

This is such a strong component that it can lead to a disjointed, and subsequently negative, event experience that does not bode well for returning attendees, speakers or sponsors at your next event.

Our team has organized and supported numerous virtual events, and we are happy to share our experience to help you avoid these pitfalls. Throughout this post, we’ll address the 8 critical items event organizers should implement to create a highly engaging virtual event. Let’s get started:

1. Build anticipation

Your team is excited about the event, so it’s essential to start drumming up that same anticipation and excitement from your audience. Whether they already have a ticket or haven’t yet committed to attending, hyping them up for your one-of-a-kind event can help spread the word.

A simple, yet incredibly effective way to build the anticipation is to post short teasers on social media. The most effective ones we’ve seen organizers implement include:

  • Short (1-2 minute) interviews with speakers
  • A compilation video from past events
  • Pre-event giveaways for people that retweet or share their posts

Being direct with your followers can also go a long way, like asking for retweets on your content to help spread the word organically. However, you’ll need to plan content that they will want to share. A great example is using swag. Whether you give it away as a prize, sell it, or provide it for free, encouraging attendees to share a picture of them with the swag puts a human touch on the event and typically gets the highest level of engagement across social media platforms.

If you have influencers in your midst, consider exchanging free tickets for social media promotion. If you aren’t sure who your influencers are in your field, an ambassador program (like this one) will allow you to collect information from interested folks who voluntarily want to help promote your brand. Items to exchange for their promotion could range anywhere from:

  • Exclusive swag
  • Free tickets
  • Early access to information about the event

An often underutilized method to build excitement is reaching out to media outlets. This doesn’t have to be just “standard” media outlets like newspapers (although we still encourage you to use their outlets), but consider digital mediums like:

  • Industry-specific podcasts
  • Radio stations
  • Newsletters that promote events.

This is an area to be creative and find non-traditional promotional tools to help your event stand out from the rest.

2. Plan for an outstanding program

Once you’ve got attendees committed to attending your event, you’ll need to have an action-packed schedule for them to participate in. The more content you can have readily available, the longer they will stay within your platform and continue to engage in the event. Rely on your speakers, sponsors and organizers to assist you in packing the schedule. For example, they can hold side activities in their Slack channel such as:

  • Live demos
  • Polls
  • Breakout sessions

If you’re struggling with more ideas, check out our 6 Tips To Craft The Perfect Schedule.

On the schedule, consider the prominence of your speakers. Do you have industry-specific names a large population would recognize? Who are your event’s “celebrities”? This is not to say you shouldn’t include new or upcoming speakers, but a level of notoriety can go a long way to onboarding more speakers, sponsors and attendees.

Intertwined with your speakers should be time for fun! We have worked with organizers who incorporated these social sessions as another track for their event, others have had “after-event” game nights and happy hours. Many folks come to conferences and events to network and hang out with their peers, so these are a great way to emulate those interactions on a virtual scale. Be creative! If you’re stuck on ideas, ask your attendees what they’d like to participate in aside from the “main stage” content.

3. Manage attendee expectations

The attendees are relying on your team to notify them of any and all details about the event. Think about the messages your attendees are receiving when they: register, join the platform, receive reminders, or ask a question. This is a great place to set expectations about the event before the sessions kick off. By being proactive and providing an FAQ and a Code of Conduct early on with these messages, you’ll save repetition of answering the same question hundreds of times and set the standard for what could happen if the attendee does not adhere to the Code of Conduct.

4. Get people in the mood

A “Pre-party” can go a long way in getting people in the right mindset to participate in the conference. This is a time for last minute stragglers to register and for logged-in attendees to get acclimated to the virtual environment, chit-chat before the sessions kick-off. That doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun while they wait for the schedule to begin. Prepare some pre-party music to get people excited and create a fun environment while they wait. You can even link this music up to a rotating slideshow with your top sponsors and reminders for attendees. This is a great warmup and helps set the standard for the rest of the event.

Strong branding can also get people ready for the event. Ensure your organizer and sponsor logos are visible in as many places as possible. A few places to consider include:

  • Branded profile picture/headshot
  • Branded navigation bar
  • Slideshow
  • On the presentation template you provide to your speakers
  • Sponsors page (of course!).

We also suggest you create a branded Zoom background with these logos and provide it to your speakers for their talks. You can even make it available to your attendees for breakout sessions.

A physical conference welcome package can be a great way to connect attendees from the items in their hands to the event they have open on their screen. This is yet another branding opportunity for sponsors, and can help create a “conference-like” experience to get attendees ready for the day! Previous event organizers have sent swag such as:

  • Stickers
  • Name badges/lanyards
  • Jerseys
  • Popcorn/candy/snacks for people to enjoy during the presentations

5. Encourage networking

Give your attendees a boost in networking by encouraging your ambassadors, volunteers, moderators and organizers to be vocal during the event. A few ideas include asking questions on Slido, starting discussions on Slack, or live tweeting during the event. Once attendees see a few examples of how to participate, you’re almost guaranteed to see a direct correlation in more engagement from attendees.

Your speakers can also assist in a strong networking experience by participating in the conference before, during and after their talk. They should be requested to join the discussions and offer insights, answer attendee questions, and be available after their talk to continue engaging.

Sponsors should also encourage networking, although they might need some coaching from the organizers so they don’t just slap their logo on the event and walk the other way. Here are the top 4 tips for sponsors to engage and network in your event:

  1. Assign the right people to participate in the event. If this event is full of developers, don’t exclusively send your sales team. Bring along someone with the same general skillset as the attendees so they have someone relatable to bring them into the conversation.
  2. Participate! Ask questions of other presenters and answer questions in the discussions that your company is knowledgeable about.
  3. Present a talk on a product or service as it relates to the event. This is not to say you should exclusively do a sales pitch, but rather explain the work your company is doing and why this is important for attendees to know about.
  4. Plan for fun. Like we mentioned above for organizers, host a happy hour, do a live demo, or offer a giveaway. This can be a welcome break from a full day of learning and is a more approachable way for your company to have a presence at the event.

A unique networking tool we’ve seen is a “passport” or punch card that attendees receive when registering. This is used to win prizes or be entered in a raffle for doing certain tasks. Things they could receive a punch for could include: talking with a sponsor in their channel, watching 3 talks about a certain topic, or asking the speaker a question.

6. Keep people in the know

Automations like Slackbot or Slack Scheduler are great tools to notify attendees about upcoming events or sessions, or even a technical issue you’re having that impacts the attendees. It is better to over-communicate with attendees than to keep them in the dark about what is happening (or what is supposed to be happening).

Utilize your platform’s features to call attention back to content you want people to review and keep up to date on. LoudSwarm has the option to include banner ads on top of each session, which could call attention to items like:

  • Sponsor ads
  • FAQ
  • Digital Swag Bag
  • Code of Conduct

7. Support

Ensure your attendees have an outlet (or multiple) to request support. Whether you have a dedicated person to reach out to, a Slack channel or a webpage to request support on an issue, make sure you notify attendees where to find these resources. To continue your proactivity, you’ll need to plan for staff to handle the support requests that come in. Ideally, you can expect 90% of the questions on topics such as:

  • How to access the Slack channel
  • Reset their login password
  • Refund request
  • Asking if the talks are recorded.

We recommend keeping at least 2 staff members on hand to handle responding to these requests.

You will see multiple of the same question (many of which you’ve likely already addressed in the FAQ), so Slackbot can come in handy with those cases. Rely on these automations for quick responses, and save your support staff the time of answering the same question for the thousandth time during the event.

8. Don’t neglect post-event engagement

Once your event wraps up, keep the momentum rolling. Share the event statistics (attendee count, watch time, giveaways, etc.) with attendees/sponsors and on social media. This is a great time to recap the top insights learned from the event, whether it be lessons learned from organizing or tips + tricks from one of your favorite sessions. Continue to share the presentations and recordings to promote your speakers and begin building excitement for the next event you are hosting.

In your recap communications sent to attendees, notify them of other events you are hosting. Chances are if they had a good time at your virtual event/conference, they’ll enjoy attending another event put on by your team. If you are looking to provide something as a thank you, we highly recommend mailing an event logo sticker. People love to stick them on laptops, cars, phones and much more making it one of the highest viewed and most recognized pieces to market your event for years to come.

Final Thoughts

Being proactive and planning to create an engaging environment is one of the biggest success factors we have identified with LoudSwarm hosted events. Successful engagement tools can ensure attendees have a memorable experience, retain the information from the session, and provide serious word of mouth promotion. If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry - we’re here to help. We encourage you to ask for help if you need suggestions, ideas, or just need to bounce something around with us to improve your event experience.

Could LoudSwarm be a good fit for your upcoming virtual events? Simply LoudSwarm’s features and white-glove service.

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