How to drive better audience engagement at virtual events

Cassy Aite
September 20, 2021
How to drive better audience engagement at virtual events | Hoppier

Because they're location agnostic and require fewer logistics, virtual events have proven that all you need to host a successful event are good event software, a potent marketing strategy, and strong content. This level of convenience has led to the massive adoption of virtual events over the past few years.

A Bizzabo survey revealed that 50% of respondents attended 10+ virtual events in the past year. Whereas, previously, they used to attend only one or two in-person events per year.

But despite the popularity of virtual events, they are facing a slew of challenges. The Bizzabo survey reports the following major complaints: Virtual events lack the fun factor, attendees find it difficult to network online, and although the majority of participants attend with the goal of learning, the learning productivity of many events is low.

Zoom fatigue, easy access to distractions, and reduced physical movement can be both the causes and effects of these challenges.

With in-person events expected to return in full force, most organizations plan to adopt the hybrid event model. So, marketers need to make a plan for virtual audience engagement.

In this article, we'll share 11 surefire strategies that will help you boost audience engagement at your hybrid and virtual events.

Let’s dive in!

1. Define your target audience

Your target audience dictates every decision you make about your event. Take a look at your buyer persona templates and analytics data to understand their demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics.

For instance, if you're organizing a tech event, you may have two different personas, i.e., technical and techno-functional professionals. Both will have their unique event needs. For instance, techno-functional professionals will be more keen on networking opportunities and product demos while attendees from a technical background may be more interested in learning opportunities.

And your attendee personas will determine how long your event should be, whether it should be single- or multi-day, and how you should organize the session tracks, session duration, featured speakers, etc.

Other key considerations, like your target audience's tech-savviness, accessibility requirements, location, time zones, and languages are essential to make an event engaging.

2. Pre-event promotion

Audience engagement activities begin long before your actual virtual event. You, first, need to convince your target audience that your event is worth attending.

Leverage content to build anticipation, attract new registrations, and engage existing ones. Here is how you can create a holistic strategy that addresses each of these points:

  • Building anticipation: Use social media to promote marquee speakers. Host tweet chats, release promo videos, give them a glimpse of what’s to come at the event.
  • Attracting new registrations: Create gated content such as a white paper, ebook, or a report relevant to the event topic. After a user downloads it, trigger a drip-email campaign that sends exclusive offers to compel them to register for the event.
  • Engaging existing registrants: Create exclusive content such as speaker interviews, webinars, and Q&A sessions that land straight in your attendees’ inboxes. Create Slack or Facebook groups to encourage conversations before the event.

3. Make event swag experiential

Giving away conference merchandise was easy back in the good old days of in-person events. With events going virtual, it has become trickier. The biggest obstacle is managing the logistics. Also, since people are attending more events, they may have already collected a ton of event swag.

Instead of going the old-school route, you can go the new-school and super cool route by introducing an experiential element with your event swag. Use a platform like Hoppier to scale the personalized gifting experience.

The process is pretty straightforward. You allocate a virtual credit card for each attendee with a prepaid balance and predefined start and expiry date. Next, choose vendors from all over the world so that there are no issues for international attendees. You can select individual vendors or choose a category of vendors, like "food and drink." Attendees receive the virtual card via email and can use it to purchase whatever they want from the list of vendors.

A virtual credit card that serves as an audience engagement tool

This way, you don’t have to deal with logistical hassles, and your attendees don’t have to make space to store a new water bottle or a portable charger. And this approach can even save you money — any unspent balance is credited back to your account.

Setting a spending limit for a virtual credit card

4. Break the monotony

Continuous learning sessions can get mentally taxing. As confirmed by Stanford research, staring intently at the screen while processing information wears out the brain quickly.

It helps if you shake things up throughout the day so that you can meet learning goals without compromising on comprehension. Here are three simple ways you can break the sessions' monotony:

  • Interviews make sessions interactive. The dialogue between the interviewer and interviewee takes the audience’s attention away from the presentation slides.
    You can also include fireside chats that are less formal versions of interviews. These chats allow speakers to interact with people through personal stories, which makes learning more engaging.
  • Workshops require active participation from the attendees. The hands-on exercises improve learning productivity. Since workshops tend to run longer, scheduling them for the second half of the day is better.
  • Breakout rooms solidify learning. After two or three sessions, you can plan breakout rooms where participants can discuss learnings in smaller groups.

5. Plan live surveys and polls

According to Markletic, over 81% of virtual event organizers use polls to improve audience engagement. The way to implement this is simple. Assign a moderator to create polls and surveys for each session. At the end of each section, the moderator can display a poll or a question that segues into the next section. The audience can register their answers via the event app. Ideally, this shouldn’t take more than two minutes.

At the end of the session, you can do a rapid-fire Q&A where the moderator asks a set of 10-15 questions to reinforce the learning. You can turn this quiz into a contest and offer prizes and exclusive deals to winners — work with sponsors to come up with your prizes.

6. Unwind with immersive activities

A woman meditates as part of an audience engagement session

Immersive activities help attendees unwind from continuous learning. Strategically schedule both short and long immersive activities throughout the day that can act like fun study breaks. Here are two practical immersive activity ideas:

  • Chair yoga and mindfulness: Sitting continuously in one place can take a toll on our neck and back. Small activities like chair yoga help stretch and decompress the body.
    End the session with a five-minute guided meditation to help attendees refocus. You can either invite an expert to guide participants through these activities or browse YouTube to get some excellent videos. (We love this five-minute routine to stretch during small breaks.)
  • Virtual tasting sessions: Tasting sessions take you on a sensory journey where an expert explains how to savor the taste of various food and beverage items. The items could be cheese, chocolate, alcohol, tea, or coffee. The experts are artisans themselves who have mastered and refined the art of preparing these delicacies. Along the way, experts share the history, trivia, and interesting tidbits about each food.

7. Let attendees customize learning paths

If your virtual event covers multiple aspects of the focus topic, not every session will be relevant for every attendee. Planning the agenda with a one-dimensional approach can result in low attendance and engagement.

Instead, you can schedule multiple parallel sessions that cater to different audience personas. Now, you can either offer pre-defined learning paths or let the attendees customize their own agenda. Attendees can always view missed sessions with on-demand recordings if they want to see two simultaneous sessions during the event.

Personal learning paths also provide you with key data on what sessions and workshops participants are more interested in. These insights can help you plan your content strategy and future events.

8. Make networking sessions interesting

Networking with fellow attendees can get a bit difficult when you’re interacting through a screen. Virtual events have tried replicating in-person event ideas like happy hours and networking lounges to facilitate networking. And these ideas have worked well so far. Here are two more ideas to try:

  • Speed networking: Divide your attendees into breakout rooms of three to eight people and let them interact for about five to eight minutes per networking session. Shuffle the groups after each session. This lets attendees connect with more people in a short amount of time.
  • Intelligent matchmaking: There are plenty of tools on the market that leverage AI to make networking more productive. Use one of these apps to automate networking. You can set the matchmaking criteria. The app will match profiles based on criteria and interests. Attendees can check out recommended profiles and connect with relevant people.

9. Reward behaviors through gamification

Whether it’s buying coffee and earning points through the Starbucks app or using a fitness app to reach fitness goals, gamification is all around us. We thrive on incentives and competition.

You can implement the same gamification principles in your event to increase audience engagement.

  • Introduce a points system: Use a points system to encourage participants to complete various activities. You can offer points starting from early bird registrations through to attending sessions, visiting exhibitor booths, participating in networking activities, and so on. Display a leaderboard on your platform to motivate users to participate in as many activities as possible to rank higher. Collaborate with sponsors and exhibitors to reward winners.
  • Plan interactive games: Get creative by planning interactive games like a virtual scavenger hunt or a desert island. Attendees are divided into groups and are tasked with finding various items by visiting different event sections. Gamified networking for the win!

10. Host a virtual party

A woman wears a party hat and pops a confetti can as part of the audience engagement at a virtual party

Just because you're not attending the event at a physical location, doesn’t mean you can’t party. Although everyone is miles apart, you can still plan an elaborate virtual party and have plenty of fun.

Depending on the size of your event, you can host a theme for the party or have multiple options planned for folks to choose from. Virtual game nights, karaoke, cocktail parties, dance nights, trivia, and costume parties are all fun virtual party themes.

You can send food and drinks to your attendees using Hoppier’s virtual credit cards. Similar to personalized gifts, you can set the budget for how much each attendee gets to spend on food and drinks, set the start and end date, and choose vendors.

Vendors that audience members can purchase from when you use a virtual credit card for audience engagement

The setup is a cakewalk. All you have to do is upload a CSV file of the attendees' emails, use one of the readymade email invites, configure your credit card details, and you're set!

11. End the event with live performances

End your virtual event on a high note with some live performances. While there are plenty of ideas to try, here are two to get you started:

  • Virtual improv night: While it’s still dicey to head out to your favorite bars on a Friday night and catch your favorite standup comedian, you can do it virtually. Bring in an improv comedy act to deliver an interactive performance. Improv comedians have a knack for observing things closely and thinking on their feet. This allows them to deliver a memorable performance based on your event content and audience reactions.
  • Virtual concert: Planning a virtual concert can be difficult considering the sheer amount of logistical requirements, even for a virtual setting. But if you can manage to pull it off, it’s going to be an absolute smasher. Try to gauge the common musical interests of attendees during the registration process and onboard your crowd's favorite band or artist. There’ll be no doubt that your virtual event will close with a bang.

5 metrics to measure attendee engagement

Those 11 ideas will help you drive better audience engagement at your virtual events. Use the following five metrics to gauge the effectiveness of your event engagement, so you know what to change to maximize your event's impact.

1. Attendee retention

This is a pretty straightforward metric that indicates how engaging your event was. It is the ratio of attendees at the opening of your event compared to the closing of your event. The higher the retention rate, the more effective your event. Combine this metric with the following metrics to gain better insights into your event's performance.

2. Session engagement

Session engagement can provide you data like the attendee count, session ratings, average view duration, speaker feedback, and audience participation via polls and Q&A sessions.

3. Event app engagement

Event app engagement lets you know how participants are using the app. It includes information like app downloads and logins, screen views, messages sent, and poll responses.

4. Social media engagement

Social media engagement metrics include the number of times the event hashtag or the official event handle was mentioned. Other key metrics are event RSVPs, follower growth, post engagement (likes, comments, and shares), and post mentions.

5. Post-event feedback

Post-event feedback is a goldmine of insights because you get reliable, qualitative information straight from the source. Use post-event surveys to understand which sessions and speakers attendees found the most valuable, which activities were the most engaging, and what attendees would like to see in the next edition.

Ready, Set, Go!

People have been practically glued to their screens for the past year and a half (if not longer). So, there’s no denying that keeping your audience engaged for a sustained period of time is a challenge.

The way to go about keeping them engaged is to divert their attention to a different activity when they’re most prone to getting distracted. That’s why we suggest planning productive breaks, immersive activities, and using gamification strategically. Other ideas like virtual parties and live performances are add-ons that elevate the event experience and make it memorable.

Looking to up your virtual event experience? Check out our webinar on 7 ways to create memorable and engaging virtual events.

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