While virtual events are becoming a necessity in today’s socially distanced workplace, it’s still difficult for event or conference planners to create buy-in, even while participants are logged on. Understanding that “virtual” will be a reality – or some hybrid version, thereof – for the foreseeable future, it’s critical now to think about how we can create the best experience, one that not only creates engagement, but allows participants to feel connected to what’s going on.
Here’s the first thing – virtual events don’t have to be that different from in-person ones – at least not with some of the big-ticket items. If, in-person, you would have planned a keynote speaker, ice-breaker, or opening session with entertainment, there’s no reason for that not to still happen. In fact, it can be one of the biggest draws to your event, and keep your participants wanting more.
You may want to consider planning virtual entertainment mid-way through the meeting as well, or create a breakout session if you’re on Zoom, to get participants interacting instead of just listening.
Multiple breaks, just like you might have organized in-person, should also be offered, or perhaps a virtual lunch, mid-day mindfulness session, or even a small pit-stop for coffee will allow your attendees to get up, stretch, carbo-load, and return energized.
Making use of the chat function on your platform for group engagement is also critical – it’s an easy way to get the conversation started, particularly if you’re planning on opening with an ice-breaker. In a townhall setting where none of the participants know each other, for example, a quick question or two at the beginning of the meeting will get your audience working together and that’s exactly what you’re looking for – particularly if you need them working together for a common goal. A good place to start is asking them to discuss their role at the meeting/conference, why they are in attendance, and what they are hoping to take away.
For specific meetings, such as internal events or tailored conferences, team-building opportunities are a great way to cultivate engagement, along with giveaways that can be redeemed virtually – a coupon code, for example, at a local coffee shop. Consider rewarding your attendees for participating, interacting with others, or asking questions to keep the engagement levels high throughout the entire meeting, and give them a good idea of what the end product will be, for example, “because of your participation, we’ll be able to…”
And don’t forget to meet your attendees where they are. With many logging on over a smart device, for example, offering mobile app participation adds convenience to the process. Tailoring your agenda with short question and answer sessions, or one-hour speakers, is also helpful, particularly as Zoom-fatigue begins to set in later in the day.
Combined, these tips can help you minimize attendance, engagement, and help you stand out in the virtual event world. Test it out – and let us know what worked best for you!