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Like it or not, virtual events are here to stay. They are no longer just a pandemic-induced necessity or fad. Attendees expect organizers to run virtual events. And due to their ability to cut costs, reduce travel and environmental pollution too, they have quickly proved their worth in any digital strategy.
However, research shows that the no-show rate for virtual attendees is a staggering 35%. So, is it that event organizers aren’t doing enough to engage with them, or is the nature of virtually attending an event intrinsically a poor experience?
We spoke with Francesca Pinder from Spacehuntr, a 360° online platform to book and manage venues for events – who shared her insights on the kind of things organizers can do to get their no-show rates down and get more meaningful engagement from their virtual attendees. Have a look at her top eight suggestions:
1) Virtual Event Bags
You can start engaging your virtual attendees before the event begins by sending goodie bags to their home addresses. As for what’s in the bag, it can be anything from branded merch, event programmes, event-related activities and so on.
And the beauty of it is, it doesn’t have to be spectacular stuff. Your guests will appreciate the gesture. Because who doesn’t love the thrill of getting a delivery – especially a surprise one? To take this idea further, you could also include a digital event bag, including gift vouchers, discount codes, or perhaps a free trial for an exciting piece of software.
2) Quality Production and Quality Content
It is stating the obvious because, of course, you want quality production and quality content for your virtual event. But as a gentle thought exercise, think of how much care you typically put into planning your physical event space. You wouldn’t lead your guests into an empty room with only a crackling microphone and a plastic table to entertain them. You want to build an occasion for them, one that reflects well on your organization or client.
Sprucing things up production-wise can include things like getting quality cameras, mics, superior set design, lighting, paying close attention to camera angles and so on. So when your virtual attendees log in, don’t let them feel like second-string guests. Be a professional and build them an occasion too.
As for content, there is no excuse for churning out tired old industry talks. Quality set and production design will go some way to making the content glossier. After that, you need to both choose well and put trust in your speakers and creators.
Just think to yourself, an in-person attendee would never pull out their headphones and start watching the Queen’s Gambit right in the middle of your event because that would clearly be rude. But your virtual attendees, for all you know, could have their PlayStation on in the background. They could be doing chores. The fight for their attention is crucial, and quality content is the bare minimum in fighting the good fight.
3) Creative Ice Breakers
There’s nothing like a joke to break the tension and draw someone into a conversation. Speaking to Spacehuntr CEO Dietrich Moens, he said, “my team loves ice-breakers, especially for our brainstorming sessions. It changes the whole dynamic of the session. Traditionally, these games are quite generic and cringey, but with a bit of creativity, they’re really fun.”
You can check out the Spacehuntr team’s favourite creative ice breakers for conference networking on their blog. The great thing about these games is it eases tensions between strangers and builds camaraderie between team members. And more to the point, they’re just plain fun.
4) Exciting Guest Speakers and Entertainers
This one is for those that want to go above and beyond the call of duty. Of course, your guests will be excited to attend your event for its intrinsic value. But a bit of live entertainment on the side to sweeten the pot? It’s all part of the experience.
You, of course, know your audience better than anyone else, so can decide who the special guest could be. It could be anyone from a comedian to an influencer, or maybe a noted expert from your field? A relevant expert from your field has the advantage over their organic appeal. Getting an entertainer for the sake of entertainment might seem a bit cheap, but if it’s good entertainment, people still appreciate it. It all depends on the vibe you’re trying to set for your event.
The bonus of inviting a special marquee guest is that it could be an integral part of your marketing strategy to boost ticket sales.
As you remember from your time in school – if the class was boring, you might have been compelled to stare out the window. If the class was fun, well, you paid attention, didn’t you? Treat your event like a classroom and your attendees as students. Do you know what students love? Gaming. Yes, gamification. It’s been a hot trend in the event world for a while now, and it shows no sign of going away.
It engages, and it’s fun. It’s really as simple as that. Plus, it’s a great way to make your content and brand relatable and on target. To see how it’s done by the very best, check out these 10 amazingly successful examples of gamification for some inspiration.
6) Live Polling and Q&A’s
Live polling and Q&A’s will turn your attendees into passive audience members into active contributors. And it’s not hard to do – most virtual event platforms like Eventsforce VCD will support these tools. You can also integrate these tools with your event app when running hybrid events so that both your virtual and on-site attendees take part in the same polls and Q&As.
With live polling, you as an event planner can see what is working and what isn’t as your event unfolds. It allows you to be adaptable to your guest’s needs. Live polls also yield important data to analyse and improve your future events. But of course, as Uncle Ben tells our friend Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. Polling can engage, but it’s a fine line. If you force it on your guests too much, they’ll start to resent it.
And as for live Q&A’s, this is more a way of keeping an attendee’s attention than catching it. If the content is good, you’ll enthuse them to participate in the Q&A. If they aren’t paying attention in the first place, you won’t be getting a question out of them. Which is why quality of content is paramount.
7) Quality Networking and Communication Tools
The technology industry and the event sector have been bosom buddies for some time now. From planning, event experience, and analytics, event planners have been diving headfirst into this exciting and ever-evolving technological landscape.
We recommend investing in a reliable event app that will facilitate your attendee’s experience and communication capabilities. One of the main reasons people go to events is to network, after all. Again, partnering with an event tech supplier than can manage all your virtual and in-person attendees on one platform can really help. It will save you time setting this up and more importantly, it will give you the insight you need to see exactly how people are engaging with your events – both on-site and online.
8) Don’t Lose Them in The Breaks
After all your hard work, you don’t want to lose your audience’s attention during the break. Easier said than done though. But there are some ways to limit fall-off from your breaks. Firstly, leave some bait. Give them a juicy segment to look forward to that they just can’t miss. For example, if you happen to remind your guests that the unique entertainment will be on after the break, they’ll be back quickly from the toilet, that’s for sure!
Secondly, give them something to do: a task, a game, a feedback form, some light homework. And lastly, be careful not to make the break too long!
And there you have it. Some actionable tips to tackle one of the most significant issues of one of the event industry biggest trends: engaging virtual attendees around your online and hybrid events.
As ever, this industry is constantly evolving. We’re fascinated to see what ingenious tricks event planners come up with and what new event technology will come along to make virtual attendees feel all the more incentivised!
Considering hybrid events? Eventsforce offers a fully integrated technology platform that makes it easy for you to create engaging experiences for both on-site and virtual attendees – from registration and agenda management to audience engagement, live streaming, networking, contactless check-in and apps. Learn more.