The boom of virtual and hybrid events brings a wealth of opportunity to event organisers in ways that were previously hot discussion points around in-person events. We can increase accessibility, reach global audiences in an instant and reduce carbon emissions. Even better, through innovation and mindful use of technology, we are able to offer more inclusivity and equality to access our events than ever before.
But for many, this is a venture into the unknown, bringing a myriad of questions along with it. One that we hear the most is: how do you keep your virtual delegates engaged, receptive and immersed?
Event organisers often worry that when going virtual or hybrid, they can’t match the vibe and engagement of in-person events for their virtual audiences. It is true that when attending an online event, our attention spans and experience is different. Monotonous formats are hard to follow and sitting still for long periods of time is not easy. But rather than simply recreate an in-person event online, you instead need to reimagine your event as one that can simultaneously translate into an exciting and experiential digital event, too.
So, what can we do to ensure that our delegates have an immersive, inspiring and engaging experience at your virtual or hybrid event? We look at tools, tips and methods for you to consider.
Whatever you are hosting virtually or as hybrid – whether an exhibition, conference, talent fair, corporate meeting, graduation ceremony, tourism display, the possibilities really are endless – the first place to start is by looking at how the various stakeholders of your community want to interact.
This is your chance to get really creative; instead of having just a simple series of back-to-back webinars, you can mix it up to keep things fresh to avoid a lull in your agenda. Just a few examples include:
Using a range of formats and sharing information in different ways will go a long way when it comes to maintaining high engagement levels.
Why not include some entertainment on your agenda to set your event apart and get people talking about it? This can be anything from a short 10 or 15-minute segment to a full half an hour, and it is a great way to loosen your audience up and help them feel more immersed and involved in the day.
Get creative and do something completely different, such as:
Even better – you could get these segments sponsored or branded.
This is where you get hands-on with your engagement. Not only will you get your audience communicating, but doing so can build you a solid pipeline of post-event content.
Live polls are a great way to break the ice and get your delegates participating. In an instant, you show them that they will have an influence on the shape of the session – something that is often hard to feel when you’re attending from behind a computer. Plus, it gives your speakers a good indication of what areas their audience may want elaborated on.
Q&As are a step further, allowing your virtual or hybrid event attendees to get clarification or information specific to them and their situation. Enabling them to ask these questions directly helps them to feel heard and answered – even from behind their screen – and they will come away with useful information that they can actively use.
If you are using Malga to host your virtual or hybrid event, you can choose whether questions are instantly visible for everyone to see, or whether these questions are moderated by a member of your team who then decides which ones to publish.
Giving your audience the opportunity to talk to each other in real-time is essential. Through interacting with one another, they can network, discuss content, bond in sharing a common interest and goal, and share personal experiences and challenges. Peer connections and support are what a lot of delegates give as the reason they attend events in the first place, so this component is a must-have.
It is also hugely beneficial for our more-shy delegates who perhaps struggle with networking at in-person events. Striking up a conversation is now easier, getting involved is instant, there is no awkward sidling up to a group of strangers, and their contributions are no longer lost in the noise.
When it comes to virtual events, explaining the value and ROI opportunities to sponsors is something that we know eventprofs are struggling with. With many organisations only just running their first virtual or hybrid event, there just isn’t that historic data available that sales teams usually rely on to inform their sales pitch.
That’s where having a suite of powerful exhibitor tools is crucial. Your virtual-hybrid events platform should allow your sponsors to choose their booth design and upload their branding, which gives them the opportunity to make their brand shine. And with handy features like one-to-one video calling, downloadable meeting minutes, data capture and brochure downloads, your sponsors can capture and follow up on their hard-earned and relevant leads.
How is this beneficial for your delegates? It’s a much more immersive experience. They will be meeting prepared and confident sponsors who have the tools available to provide valuable and in-depth information from behind their virtual booth. And with downloadable and takeaway information, plus the opportunity to speak to sponsors in an instant, a wealth of valuable information is directly at their fingertips.
In a digital event, we would encourage sponsors to have a bundle of touch points in their sponsorship package. Potentially, this could include a selection the following:
In a digital environment, you have the chance to be super creative with what you offer - and you have various touch points with your target audience that you can leverage.
Matchmaking tools are great for helping your delegates to attend the sessions that are important to them, as well as make valuable connections with other people.
Opening a Q&A or poll using an app or specific service outside of your event platform before the big day is a great way to collect questions beforehand, and it can be a good idea for two reasons. Firstly, you can gauge people’s expectations of what they want to learn from your online event and you can shape your agenda accordingly. Secondly, it can give your speakers time to prepare concise answers or incorporate them into their content.
There is also often the question of whether to include your own “fake” questions for presenters to answer. Sometimes, there can be a benefit to doing this – it can fill the time it takes for your delegates to start asking questions, as switching context takes a few minutes (i.e., from listening mode to interactive mode). It can also allow you to insert specific messages. But be careful doing this, and make sure the subject of the questions is something that would authentically come up and genuinely fits your event.
Finally, there is the question of what to do if you are inundated with questions and can’t get to them all before the end of your online session. These unanswered questions are brilliant for post-event engagement – you can use them to:
This can be divided into two parts: what you are delivering, and how you are delivering it. Both are as important as each other, because if you have got a killer presentation but a presenter who reads it on autopilot, then you are going to lose impact – as well as your audience.
PowerPoint presentations have their place, but what else can you use? Attention spans can be shorter behind a computer screen, so help your speakers to get imaginative and encourage them to use media that they may not traditionally use at a live event. Whatever this may be – videos, animations or green screens – make sure it gets tested thoroughly.
Perhaps you could run a taster session as a presentation where the speaker offers a ‘deeper dive session’ in a workshop format. This would allow those who are really engaged with your speaker to attend. These sessions would be a live experience only and not recorded, allowing you to create urgency and that important feeling of exclusivity.
You must also make your audience fully aware of the benefits of each live session, especially if your content is available on demand after your virtual or hybrid event. You will really need to impress the benefits of your audience being there live to make sure you don’t end up with zero watchers on the day.
Your speakers are pivotal when it comes to content delivery. When recruiting them, you’ll of course need to follow the same principles as you would for an in-person event; making sure that your speaker is passionate, organised, relevant, engaging and well-briefed. It is also a good idea to choose someone that is either well known in the industry or from a relevant and well-known company.
However, the difference here is that they will be speaking in front of a camera with no audience in sight, and this can be unnerving for those who are not used to it – especially as they can’t gauge reactions and are talking into the void. This is another area that you will need to prepare them thoroughly.
There are different factors to consider depending on whether their session is pre-recorded or live, but this checklist provides a great place to start:
Finally, as with live events, if your speaker tries to simply sell their services during their presentation, your delegates will switch off immediately – or simply click away – as it’s much easier to walk out of a virtual session than it is an in-person one…
Make sure you don’t overload your agenda, but let people know when something is happening so they can plan to take part.
At a virtual event, having too many segments back-to-back may overwhelm your audience as it is a long time to sit still and concentrate for. Make your breaks frequent and strategically placed, but not too long – otherwise, your delegates might start doing something else and miss the start of their next session.
Work out what break lengths works best for your specific virtual event through your test runs. This may end up being around five or ten minutes; just enough to take a breather, grab a cup of tea, digest the previous workshop, organise notes, or tend to any off-screen matter such as family or pets.
If you are including exclusive access sessions such as fireside chats, dedicated networking or speaker deep dives, make sure that these are all laid out within the timings of the agenda and that people can add them to their calendar – for example, if your attendee walks away to grab that coffee, they may accidentally miss out on a super-important element that would really help them.
When running a hybrid event, be conscious of the translation to your virtual digital audience. Whilst we know that not everything translates, the virtual audience should be able to experience the majority of the F2F event with extra bonus materials for attending online. Whether that is something as simple as a poll or a quick-fire presentation with an in-demand speaker, you can get creative and have fun with this short-and-sharp opportunity.
This is obvious, but it really is vital. Your online event software must function seamlessly and be glitch-free, as well as have the tools to make it an engaging and immersive virtual-hybrid platform. Not only that, but it also needs to be safe and must keep your data secure. Don’t neglect any of these areas when making your choice, otherwise you may find your event starts to come undone in one way or another.
Your online events platform must also come with a team that communicates with you throughout: before, in real-time during your event, and after. It’s all well and good using software that works technically well, but if you’re left to your own devices and don’t know how to translate your goals into their tech, you’re at risk of missing out on key features and having an event that doesn’t run smoothly.
Guess where you will find an online virtual-hybrid event platform that has simple yet powerful technology as well as a dedicated team to support you?
Malga can help you deliver a winning virtual or hybrid event. All the above tools are available on our platform, and with our support you’ll be firmly in control.
We come from an event management background, and our job here at Malga is to translate your event goals and aims into a virtual environment. Get in touch today for a consultation or book your demo here.