Virtual events have pretty much been the norm for two years, and people have mixed feelings about them. However, the simple fact that they are practical means that you can expect to continue getting invites to them for the foreseeable future. Whether it’s an industry-related conference, a smaller regional meeting that your religious organization puts on, or even just a way to take a class that was once held in-person, virtual events are here to stay in one form or another.
That said, businesses and organizations that host events have to step up their game when it comes to attracting participants and maintaining their interest. There is no shortage of events being held online, and since travel costs are eliminated and time constraints relaxed (you can now attend back-to-back conferences on opposite sides of the world if you wish), you have a wider audience, but you also are competing with far more distractions than would be present at a live event.
So, how do you get participants excited about your event? How do you ensure they stay for the whole thing rather than clicking over to watch TikTocs or scroll through Facebook? Here are four areas that you must give special attention to when planning your event in order to accomplish your goals for the event.
Build Up Event Anticipation
After people sign up for your event, you need to continue to nurture the relationship. The amount of time between signing up and the event will determine how often you contact them. When there’s only a day or two between these two dates, plan at least one touchpoint, but for a week or more lead time, aim to be in touch at least twice a week.
You can email them and invite them to join a private Facebook group for pre-event activities. You could send them short text messages with helpful tips or motivational quotations. The nature of your event will play a large part in the content you send. You can send out a questionnaire about what people want to learn or get insight into their views on the topic. Sending out a guide or workbook that they can print off and use to take notes is a great way to both engage with them now and better ensure they have a good experience at the event.
Create an Energetic Atmosphere
Having speakers and hosts who are energetic and can engage with the participants is important. When possible, choose speakers who are experienced with online speaking, but if you can’t, do a couple of practice runs leading up to the event. Nothing will get participants to hop over to Instagram faster than a speaker that comes across as boring and monotone.
A great “ice breaker” is to open the event by asking everyone what’s in their cup, and engaging in a bit of good-natured banter around the topic. “Oh, the cola people are showing up!” and “Where are all my coffee drinkers?” Asking about preferred pets, such as ” are you a cat person or a dog person,” is a fun way to get people talking in the chat and grab their attention.
Finally, during the presentation, the speaker should address guests by name as much as possible. This conveys the message that you’re paying attention and care about guests enough to go through the effort of knowing their name even though you may not even see their faces.
Make Sessions as Short as Possible
It seems that attention spans are getting increasingly shorter with every passing smartphone upgrade! In all seriousness, this is true. Some research shows the TED Talk formula of 18 minutes is ideal. Any longer than that and you start to lose people to boredom or busyness. With so many websites competing for their attention, it’s best to let guests know of the time commitment upfront. You can let them know it will be “under 30 minutes” or “the presentation will last 20 minutes with a 15 minute Q&A session at the end.”
Another way to ensure people stay with you (or at least come back) is by promising something at the end. This may be giving away some free swag or a discount on the product you’re promoting. At the start of your presentation, let guests know that you’ll be doing the giveaway at the end and only those still in attendance are eligible.
Keep Attendees on Their Toes by Mixing it Up
No matter how short or long your hybrid events are, mixing up the content of the program is essential. For longer, day-long events, try to aim to keep presentations short, but then mix in some lighter fare like an ice-breaker in the chat room. For hybrid events, you can do a few segments of Q&A live from the in-person group. For an all-virtual event, ask a question and take a few minutes to let people respond, then share the answers verbally. For events that lend themselves to interaction, invite a few people to come on camera with you. This could be for them to ask a question or do a mini-coaching session.
Since virtual events have become a normal part of life, people are more aware of the health risks of sitting in front of screens for too long. Build-in water breaks and give participants five minutes to go refill their cups. Encourage people to get up and move by leading a short stretching session.
Virtual events will outlive the pandemic, so it’s essential to develop and implement strategies that help your organization create awesome events that will educate, engage, and even entertain guests. For marketing presentations that you do on a regular basis, you can implement these tips and use the feedback to make your next one better. If your event is held less often, jot down these tips and put them in your planning file so that you have them handy as you start planning your next event.
With the right technology and a few proven approaches, you can create highly effective hybrid events. Find out how the Pathable event platform can help support the ideas in this article and more: Explore Pathable.