10 Tips to Improve Engagement at Virtual Events & Webinars
Virtual events attract larger audiences than in-person events because concerns such as travel expenses and lack of time are automatically off the table, making it easier to use events to raise brand awareness and bring together a diverse group of people. The virtual events industry is booming: according to MarketingTech News, the sector, valued at $78 billion in 2019, is predicted to have a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% between 2020 and 2027.
The key element of a successful virtual event or webinar is engagement. As with physical events, virtual event organizers must battle audience distraction that can’t always be controlled. However, virtual events run the additional risk of being dull due to passive content consumption.
This article offers ten tips to help solve the problem of one-way communication and disengagement. Apply these tips to your next virtual event, and audiences will forget where the mute and leave buttons are, ensuring you can utilize each event to develop meaningful relationships with attendees and expand brand awareness and trust.
1. Have a Passionate Speaker
An influential speaker — or, even better, multiple influential speakers — is the foundation for any engaging event. A speaker should believe in the value of the topic they are talking about and how it can benefit the audience. For a virtual event, however, this is not enough; instead, the speaker must be able to passionately convey their knowledge and insight through the video camera.
When looking for speakers who can convey this passion, choose someone who is not only knowledgeable, but also feels comfortable in their own skin and can authentically communicate. Facial expressions, gestures, body language, and the tone of voice enable speakers to establish this authentic connection with a virtual audience. Additionally, a strong speaker doesn’t merely communicate their expertise and knowledge, but also their personal journey and character. By developing an emotional connection, expressing vulnerability, and utilizing storytelling, synergy is created between the audience and speaker, and consequently, between your event and stakeholders.
If you have multiple speakers for your event, a speaker’s ability to interact comfortably with the other participants will also keep your audience engaged. As an event organizer, coordinate rehearsals and confirm that everyone is familiar with the virtual event technology they will use to bring the event to life. This will also ensure clear communication among all stakeholders before and during the event.
2. Carefully Consider Your Event Date & Time
Do not rush to send out a “save the date” note until you have considered your target audience’s habits. What time do they finish work? On which day of the week is your audience feeling most productive? When is the busiest time of the year for your industry? If you are organizing a big virtual event with thousands of attendees, you will also have to consider high-profile speakers’ availability, public holidays, and competing events.
With a virtual event, time zone is paramount. Virtual events mean that people from all over the world and across different time zones can attend. If going global is your vision for your event, pick a time when most of your target audience is active — and not sound asleep. Given that there will always be genuinely interested people who couldn’t make it, you can record parts or all of the event and make content accessible for a certain amount of time or indefinitely. Also, for smaller size events and, depending on your speaker’s flexibility, you can create multiple events for different time zones.
3. Create Hashtags for Your Virtual Event
A hashtag strategy is a cornerstone of an effective and complete social media campaign for your virtual event. Your event hashtags both empower you to reach a larger audience and also help that audience to share your event on your behalf. Hashtags should be applied across all your social media accounts, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. But it doesn’t stop there: push your event’s hashtags on your website, newsletters, promotional emails, and other digital promotions.
Bring hashtags into play well in advance of your virtual event to create promotional teasers about your event’s themes, guest speakers, partners, and prizes. The more enthusiasm you instill in followers and broader audiences, the more registrations and audience engagement you will get. During the event, use — and encourage speakers and your audience to use — the hashtags when posting photos, live videos, recorded sessions, and other related content. After the event, use hashtags to extend conversations with attendees through comments, feedback, and follow-ups. Remember to monitor your hashtags and respond to posts that use it.
But what are the elements of an outstanding hashtag? It has to be unique for your event (i.e. contain the name of the event, year, and location) and relevant to your event’s theme.
Abbreviations are acceptable as long as they are pronounceable, easy to remember, and not already associated with unrelated topics. There are several online free tools to search hashtags and find the ones for your event. Hashtags are not case sensitive, but capitalizing each word may prevent misreading and misunderstanding and enhance clarity.
4. Incorporate Social Media Marketing Before and After the Event
Once you have a compelling hashtag, you can start the social media conversation around your virtual live event. However, you don’t want your social media marketing to be salesy — use original content that will add value, while promoting and engaging. Be consistent in your story and the why behind what you do.
Announce the event across your social media accounts and remember to use your hashtag extensively. Boost audience engagement by including graphics and/or short videos. If you have a blog, write about your upcoming event and why people should attend, then share it on your social media accounts as part of a countdown to your event to build up anticipation. Make sure the registration page is included in every post.
If your virtual event is part of an overall strategy to grow your audience, consider paid ads on social media to attract new followers. Additionally give a gentle nudge to your sponsors, partners, and speakers to also promote the event on their accounts, and provide them with the social graphics you created. Don’t be shy: cross-sharing is a mutual benefit.
After the event ends, you can continue the conversation with your audience. Share testimonials, presentation summaries, top questions asked and their answers, and other event learnings for long-term engagement.
5. Make the Most of Live Streaming
The attendees who are present in your live webinar — as opposed to attending the on-demand webinar, which you can share later from the live recording — have a genuine interest in the theme and industry. Give a shout-out to attendees to say thank you and express appreciation for making the time to attend live. You can use this opportunity to make them feel exclusive and motivate them to stick around for the entire live event.
6. Plan an Interactive Program for Virtual Events
OpenReel Events was designed to help you actively engage your audience throughout the live webinar. Our advanced virtual event technology allows you to share valuable assets, like PDFs, pre-recorded brand videos, or CTAs live in the moment. Each speaker can actually interact with the audience — without sending them off of the platform — instead of simply speaking at them. By encouraging the audience to act, they will stay engaged, plus you are offering the additional benefit of takeaway material that empowers each attendee to grow professionally and personally.
7. Encourage Attendees to Ask Questions During the Virtual Event
Encouraging your attendees to ask questions during the virtual event is another excellent interactive conference idea. To gain the attention of your audience upfront, ask registrants to submit their questions via email before the event starts. These questions can be answered in a dedicated Q&A after the speaker’s presentation or worked into the presentation itself.
Additionally, at the beginning of each session, speakers should remind the audience that questions are welcome, and also mention when and where they should ask. We recommend assigning at least one member of your team to interact with attendees on chat throughout the presentation; that person can keep the conversation going and monitor any questions that may arise. They can then answer questions live in the Q&A portal or save some for a dedicated Q&A session with the speaker.
8. Make Extensive Use of Breakout Sessions
Use breakout sessions to strengthen your event. Turn them into short and fun workshops, which are part of and link to the main event. Breakout sessions should be opportunities for networking; a chance to learn more about specific topics related to the main webinar; or a dedicated Q&A session with a featured speaker. One live event can have many breakout sessions, which all happen simultaneously.
For example, let’s say you organize a global UX Conference. You can create several breakout sessions about UX applications in different industries. Another way to take advantage of breakout sessions is to schedule a speed networking where participants talk about their expertise and professional goals. You can also set up lighting talks, which are short presentations offering concentrated knowledge on a topic. Even debates make for an engaging breakout session, in which two participants present their arguments for and against a statement, and the other participants vote for the most convincing speaker.
9. Play Virtual Games with Participants
By starting an event with a virtual audience engagement game, you are warming up your audience to actively engage, rather than simply stare at the screen. You’re also providing another way for them to learn about the topic, simply in an engaging way.
Deploy virtual pub quizzes about the live event’s topic, play online bingo, or simply award points to participants for specific steps during the virtual event. For example, an attendee can earn points for being on camera during a breakout session, asking a question, or sharing on social media with the event hashtag.
10. Award Prizes or Thank You Gifts to Attendees
Your audience took time out of their workday to attend your event, so they deserve to be thanked for their presence. Show your appreciation with a virtual swag bag of coupons, vouchers, free trials, an online course, or on-demand content. Invite your exhibitors and sponsors to get involved!
You can also ask your audience to post relevant content from the event to their personal social media channels, and then give a prize to a randomly selected winner from the pool of participants who used your event hashtag. This improves your brand awareness while also boosting audience engagement.