Driving engagement at a virtual conference can be hard. Not only are you competing for attendees’ attention with overlapping work meetings, project deadlines, and last minute fires, but now we also find ourselves competing with the responsibilities of home life as more companies switch to a remote work environment. In other words, people are attending your virtual event and flipping their laundry, feeding the dog, and/or cooking breakfast all the same time…
In my current role as a Senior Conference Success Manager at Bevy, I’ve helped numerous companies host successful virtual conferences that have brought creative solutions to keep their attendees engaged. I’ve seen almost 100,000 attendees walk through virtual doors and have helped host conferences for Salesforce, Hubspot, and Medallia !
I’ve seen a lot – good ideas, brilliant ideas, and ideas that just didn’t work. So, I’m here to share my experience. Here are six ways you can encourage attendees to stay longer and participate more, and to help you get a return on your virtual conference or event.
1. Communication throughout the event is key
I’ve spoken to many community and event managers who spend a lot of time building out thorough attendee FAQs and exhaustive pre-event communications that give the attendee all they need to know about the platform. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but many attendees will just skim over that email and won’t dive into the beautifully branded PDF you created.
My advice? Pick the important pieces of information, and share them in fun, engaging, bite-sized ways throughout the event. Remind attendees how they can chat, network, and submit questions throughout your entire event. In Bevy, we have the ability to upload a lobby video, to welcome people into the space, let them know what to expect from the event, and give them some hot tips about the platform (we even have a script to help you make the perfect lobby video). Check out the lobby video CMX had at their Winter Soiree in December 2020!
It’s also important to share important messages in the chat, so nobody misses a beat. In Bevy, we have a “pinned messages” feature, that keeps important messages in the chat for longer. For example, you can use a pinned message to remind attendees about when and how they can submit questions through the Q&A tab on a session.
2. Use emoji reactions to encourage attendee participation
In many events, attendees will use the chat as their main form of communication, to connect with each other, and to ask questions of the organizing team. In a recent event I helped host, the event manager showed their speakers how to use emojis in the chat, and encouraged them to do so throughout their presentation.
Speakers used the emojis to engage their attendees, and asked questions like, “use an emoji that describes where you are dialing in from (🎷🐊⚜️ for you, New Orleans!)” or “describe your day so far in three emojis”.
It’s a fun way to have everyone get involved in chat, to break the ice, and to get your attendees to actively participate in your event.
3. Entertain Attendees with Pre-Recorded Content
In person conferences often had fun, super entertaining between-session activities, like ball pits (yes, really!), live art murals, and of course a crowd-favourite – photo booths! With a virtual conference it can feel really challenging to bring that kind of entertainment to the stage, but it isn’t as hard as you think. Videos throughout your conference experience can help fill the need for these kinds of fun entertainment opportunities.
At CMX’s Winter Soiree, the team had a Puppy Room! They used a booth and uploaded a pre-recorded video of puppies playing in the snow. Attendees loved it! At other events, I’ve seen community managers play recap/hype videos from past in-person events, which sparks positive memories for those who used to join events in-person. I’ve seen meditations, morning yoga classes, DJ sessions, and so much more.
One of the most meaningful activities I got to experience was a livestream video to support the nonprofit that the company was partnered with: an animal awareness sanctuary. Never did I think I’d be in the livechat integration and have a customer ask, “where can I watch the koalas!?” talk about a curveball!
4. Collect attendee feedback throughout the event
A previous events standard was for all attendee feedback to be collected after the event is finished. The surveys were long and were typically sent a few hours after the event, which often led to discouraging survey response numbers.
I’ve seen several event managers ask just one simple Net Promotor Score (NPS) question and gave their attendees the opportunity to give feedback throughout the event at any time. This strategy led to the highest number of survey responses they had ever had at an event, in-person or virtual, in company history!
Another use case I’ve seen is to leverage Google Tag Manager. You can use this to trigger specific survey tools to collect feedback live as an attendee user leaves a session. Take that approach one step further and you could offer incentives for attendees who have completed the survey. Then, you can announce the winners in real time during the event – the magic of virtual, am I right?
5. Humanize Virtual Event Interruptions
This last year has required everyone to be more empathic to the realities of relying on technology to collaborate with others. The community and event managers that I have seen excel in providing engaging virtual experiences, recognize the reality of technical difficulties, and don’t shy away from them. Internet connections will drop, Slack notifications will ping during a presentation, and time and time again speakers will continue to talk when their microphone is muted.
It happens, and it’s part of the game! Instead of letting this throw you off, or panic your speakers, get ahead of virtual issues:
- Host tech checks with all your speakers and emcees. Give them some time ahead of the event to play around with your platform, share their screen, turn their mic on and off, etc. Make sure they feel comfortable with the tech.
- Provide an easy way for your attendees to get in touch with platform support and remind them where they can go for help. This will lead to attendees seeking out support instead of just leaving the event altogether.
- Prepare your team and event volunteers with the answers to some frequently asked questions, like where an attendee can go for technical support.
At events hosted on Bevy, we will often have a booth set up with someone from the support team to answer questions live and in real time. It’s awesome when your attendees have help directly from a person, and don’t have to wait for a chat or email response.
6. Your Virtual Conference should end with Community
Lastly, and most importantly, remember that the engagement with your attendees doesn’t end when your virtual conference is over. With your stellar content, paired with my above tips to engage, your attendees will have an amazing time, they will be more inclined to engage and connect with fellow attendees, and they won’t want the event to end. And it doesn’t have to!
Your virtual conference is only the beginning of a (hopefully) long journey for many of your attendees. Think of it as a stepping stone: they enter your conference as an attendee, they leave as a community member.
There you have it!
My goal with these tips is to give you some easy-to-implement suggestions that you can add to your programming and will enhance the overall attendee experience at your virtual events and conferences. Virtual events and conferences are not going away! The event industry’s eyes have been opened to the incredible, and seemingly endless opportunities that are abound in this space.
If you’re hosting a virtual event or conference, make sure to join the CMX community to find thousands of other community and event professionals. You aren’t alone!
If my tips helped you plan your next virtual event, I want to know! If you learned an amazing way to engage attendees that’s not on here, I also want to know that! In any event, I want to know your story.