Current Affairs

Three Tips for Boosting Engagement at Virtual Events

The pandemic may have accelerated the conversion to digital platforms, but virtual events are a tool that may be here for the long-run. As with live events, one of the key factors is engagement. But without seeing attendees or speakers face-to-face, how can organisers ensure participants will be just as stimulated when they’re sitting behind a screen?

Words Lane Nieset

Start engaging before the event begins.

“Driving engagement is probably the most difficult part of our job when we create a digital event,” says Isabelle Deniaud Lassara, Director PCO & Asset Development, MCI Benelux. She advises starting the engagement process ahead of the event, continue engaging during the event and follow up after. “The engagement will rely on the experience we will be able to offer to the participant,” Deniaud Lassara says. “If the experience is timely, unique, creative, and inspiring, the engagement will start and the participant will be active and contribute.”

Associations may want to establish a channel of communication that lasts as long as a year, offering on-demand video content from past events that helps drive engagement and discussion around a particular topic and encourages participants to register for upcoming events. “Make clear what data can be collected that will show participants’ interaction levels with the sponsors’ activities and what the expectation on ROI would be (participation tracking, interaction tracking etc.),” advises Silvano Schär, Head of Sales & Marketing, Congrex Switzerland“This is one of the major advantages of virtual platforms, as audience interactions can be monitored and analyzed infinitely better than during F2F meetings.”

Stick to shorter sessions.

Sessions should be short and professionally moderated, advises Schär. “It is essential that you train the speakers, because most of them are not used to talking to an audience they cannot actually see,” Schär says. “The sessions should give the participants the possibility to ask questions and to engage. At the setup stage, the participants’ journey is extremely important and needs to be well documented.”

Understand the event. 

“Keeping participants engaged and networking—and interactivity levels high during a virtual event—involves a collection of tools and gamification techniques, but it also involves having a deep understanding of the event’s requirements,” says Yannis Antoniou M.Sc., Operational Excellence Manager, GCO Meetings & Events

For example, organisers can create different time windows for an e-exhibition during a virtual international conference and schedule different networking market hours for the e-booths. “By rotating between Asian, EU and U.S. market hours, the sponsor’s representatives manning the e-booth would be speaking the native language that ‘matches’ the time-zone,” Antoniou says, adding that it could also mean that the e-booth’s branding diversifies depending on the time of the day.

This article was written by Boardroom editor Lane Nieset. The right to use it, in parts or in full, has to be granted by the Publisher.

Antoniou recently helped organize a medical virtual event that was a project of high complexity, since it had a lot of moving parts and details that needed to be taken care of,” he says, since it was organized in three different locations (Berlin, Moscow, Sydney) and in three different time periods within a year. The hybrid event featured a small live audience of 30 to 40 people participating in the three meetings, but hundreds tuned in virtually for each of the events. “The challenge was to replicate the look, feel and experience of each event by cooperating with a different local team each time, and, of course, achieving a good level of engagement both for the live and virtual participants,” he explains. 

The project included elements that were identical for all three events (presentation style, agenda flow, broadcast, presenters, interactivity options), but also location-specific elements. “It was a fine example of how you can scale up virtual events by applying the learnings from one meeting to the other, and how you can create economies of scale with re-using a lot of elements, while ensuring engagement by adjusting to local needs and expectations,” he says. “The engagement metrics and participants’ feedback indicated it was a very successful project, and event organizers were very pleased they were able to captivate their audience while maintaining a high level of consistency on how their message was communicated throughout all three events.”    

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