May 13, 2021

10 Tips to Increase Engagement at Your Virtual Event

BY Nick Forster

May 13th, 2021

Looking to raise the bar at your next online event?

Here are 10 ways to increase engagement at virtual events that every organizer should know…

As event producers, it’s fair to say we all miss the buzz of a live, in-person event. But while the events industry has been rocked to its core by the Coronavirus pandemic, the way that event professionals have rallied to adapt to the world of virtual events is a definite cause for celebration.

The passion for high production values and attendee experience that we all held pre-pandemic can absolutely carry over into the digital realm. Creating events that fully immerse, inspire and excite an audience may pose a different set of challenges, but at London Filmed, we’ve seen time and time again, it’s nothing that a dedicated events producer can’t handle.

We’ve pulled together ten of our top tips for creating virtual events that attract maximum engagement from your audience.

1. Understand what engagement truly means in a virtual context

Start out by setting some clear expectations – of your event, and of yourself. Can your virtual event replicate the exact atmosphere that a conference hall full of 500 caffeine-laden attendees commands in the 30 sections before curtain up? No – and nor should it. You’re looking to engage in an entirely different way.

Rather than working the crowd, your virtual event needs to hold appeal on an individual level. This means completely reworking the way that you consider your audience and adjusting your approach accordingly. The following tips will help.

Takeaway Tip: Look to engage your audience in an entirely different, and much more individual level.

2. Pick your events team and support crew carefully

We’re all used to falling into our specialist roles as event day creeps closer. From speaker liaison through to the painstaking admin of registrations, we all have our own unique talents, and chances are, your team feels pretty comfortable with these within the context of a regular event.

To make sure you’re creating the best experience for attendees of a virtual event, you might need to switch things up a little. Would the skills of the approachable teammate who usually handles registration be better applied to another aspect of a virtual event? Which of your crew feels happiest taking on some of the new technical roles? By making sure you have the right person on the right job, you’ll run a much slicker, more enjoyable production.

And if you identify the need for some specialist help, London Filmed is here to help plug the gaps.

Takeaway Tip: Don’t be afraid to switch up team roles, or to seek expert assistance in areas where you lack experience.

3. Coach your speakers

The way that your speakers engage with your audience from a stage versus a screen is very different. By now, many speakers will have enough experience of delivering keynotes remotely that they’ll have adapted their style of delivery, but it’s still worth making time to talk with your lineup about the way they approach their presentations.

Without the visual cues of an audience responding in real-time to their session, it can be hard for speakers to adjust their tone, pace, and delivery. Even something as simple as not being able to hear laughter in response to jokes they crack can be enough to unsettle an unprepared speaker. All this will have a knock-on effect on the audience’s enjoyment.

To ensure great attendee engagement, your speakers need to be tactically primed to bring them on board. Brief your speaker regarding the format in which their session will be presented and displayed (for example, how will their slides or demonstrations be integrated into the attendee view) and talk to them about the differences or difficulties they may experience, especially if this will be their first virtual engagement.

Takeaway Tip: Check that your speakers have clear expectations about what presenting remotely will feel like.

4. Choose an unflappable host

Whether you’re looking at an in-person or virtual event, picking the right MC to host your event is always important. When you’re making a choice for your virtual event, think carefully about the qualities that you’re looking for. Of course, you’ll want someone with the right personality to carry the tone and atmosphere you’re hoping to convey, but you’ll also need someone grounded, calm, and able to command attention – essentially, you’re looking for an anchorman or woman, who’ll be able to clearly and confidently segue from presentation to presentation without the need for physical props, introductions or the comfort of a lectern to hide behind.

You’re looking for someone who is going to be able to appeal to your audience’s eroded attention spans, keeping them tuned in and attentive. They should also be able to give clear instruction, helping attendees to get the most out of the engagement tools that you’re offering.

Takeaway Tip: Choose a host with gravitas, who’ll be able to keep a sense of consistency for your audience.

5. Revise your schedule design

Remember planning out event schedules for in-person events? Fitting things around catering serving times, and the need for people to use the bathrooms? Presentations could be longer, breaks needed to be clearly defined, and you lost precious minutes to AV switchovers, testing, and set swaps. The rule book is ripped up when it comes to virtual events. Your attendees may not need 45 minutes to queue up at registration, find their name badge and grab a tote bag of freebies, but your schedule should reflect the different challenges that they’ll face.

When it comes to engagement, attention spans are shorter. Your sessions should be too. Look to keep presentations short and snappy to keep people’s focus in a distracting home environment. Social convention keeps folk in their seat at a conference, but it’s much more tempting to wander off to make a coffee at home, so be sure to build in clearly defined coffee/comfort breaks to guard against this happening, helping attendees to keep focus.

Mix up your formats, and make the most of the lack of travel and hotel expenses eating up your budget to invest in bigger names, or more experienced voices to make up panel sessions and more.

Takeaway Tip: Enjoy the freedom to experiment with your event programming, but be mindful of your attendees’ attention spans.

6. Invite interaction

It will seem obvious, but if you want engagement, ask for it! When running a virtual event, it’s all too easy for attendees to feel as though their experience of the event should be entirely passive. By blocking in regular Q&A sessions, you set a different expectation.

Give people different ways to interact. Not everyone is comfortable coming off mute to ask a question in person (or perhaps they’re in a noisier home environment with family to factor in.) So it can also encourage questions via text chat or messaging function. Audience Engagement technologies like Slido & Glisser can have a huge impact here, adding intuitive, easy ways for audiences to become more active event participants. Make sure your host is briefed to both encourage questions and to educate your audience on the methods by which they can be submitted.

Takeaway Tip: Make asking questions easy through a variety of formats so that no one feels they can’t voice their thoughts.

7. Put it to the vote

Polling can be a great way to encourage engagement without asking too much for your crowd. Without a physical “room to read” polls can be a great way to take the real-time temperature of your audience.

We’d recommend looking for a solution that’s integrated into your virtual event platform, if at all possible. This increases engagement by removing the extra step of asking your attendees to download an app in order to participate.

Takeaway Tip: Give people an easy and instant way to make their feelings known with interactive polling options.

8. Break out the breakouts

Remember that engagement isn’t just about attendees responding to presentations and panels. You also want to encourage their interactions with each other – after all, networking is a hugely important element of the events we run outside of the virtual realm.

As with our first point, set realistic expectations. You’re not looking to perfectly replicate the experience of in-person networking (nor would you be able to.) What you can do is set the stage for more meaningful connections to be made. Providing smaller breakout meeting spaces, with clearly defined goals, interests or motives can be a great start at encouraging your attendees to self-identify and select the session that will be the most beneficial to them.

Takeaway Tip: Make networking as unintimidating as possible by keeping groups small and focused.

9. Schedule some light relief

Occasionally, switch up the pace. This will help to keep your audience sharp, switched on, and entertained. You might want to schedule a “mystery speaker” (encourage people to keep guessing), some live music, or even a virtual happy hour preceded by a cocktail making tutorial.

You can also consider gamifying interaction at your event, with leaderboards or virtual badges to be won for the most questions asked or photos posted to a certain hashtag. Get creative here, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

Takeaway Tip: There’s a place for fun at virtual events, don’t be put off from injecting a little playfulness and personality.

10. Don’t go dark

Finally, if you want to keep your audience in the palm of your hand, you need to inspire confidence. In line with the increase in virtual events, people’s tolerance for error when it comes to technical gaffs is decreasing. If your production feels clunky, or you keep dropping out of presentations, you’ll struggle for any kind of meaningful engagement.

If attendees half suspect they’re about to lose the speaker that they’re watching, it’s fair to assume that they won’t be as fully invested in engagement. So take every precaution you can to ensure that the technical production of your virtual event is totally flawless, from seamless transitions through to intuitive routes for interaction.

Takeaway Tip: Ensure you keep your audience in the palm of your hand with high-quality production values and reliable, dependable tech.