Over the years there has been concern that virtual events would cannibalize in-person events. However, while the number of virtual events many organizations are hosting on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis has grown, in-person events have not disappeared. There are certain aspects of in-person events that will always function differently when attempted to be done virtually.
One example of this is networking. Yes, there are chat pods and video conferences, but nothing replaces a handshake or a hug. Being able to chat over dinner, discuss common challenges in the industry over drinks, and share personal stories and photos among new friends are just a few ways that place-based events can provide valuable networking. Another is brainstorming. Again, this can be done through chat pods and video chats, but there is something to be said to gathering around a table with people to brainstorm and collaborate on a topic face-to-face. Lastly, themes. Having a conference in Nashville? Make sure to attend the country music performance on opening night. Your next meeting is in Austin? Don’t miss the BBQ dinner! Heading to Louisville? Plan to sample some bourbons at happy hour. Being on location, rather than attending from the comfort of your own home, allows for themes to more easily be woven into events that can keep attendees mingling and meeting long after the sessions have concluded.
While these are all true and great aspects of in-person meetings and events, it doesn’t mean that virtual events aren’t important or that they can’t be engaging. While there are plenty of virtual events that offer no engagement at all (which can probably be said for some in-person sessions), that doesn’t mean all events have to be this way! Below we outline some ways to utilize engaging ideas from face-to-face events within your virtual ones.
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You did it! You got them to not only register, but attend your event. They’re excited and have arrived a couple of minutes early. Don’t let them get distracted before the event even starts — keep them entertained with some gamification – like trivia questions, games, and attendee location maps. Or, use the time to have rotating slides displaying relevant information such as upcoming events and information about the organizations who have sponsored the virtual event.
While not the same as a hug or a handshake, having open chat channels during your virtual events still allows remote attendees to interact with one another and give them that sense of engagement and community. We’ve all become so used to using chat in our daily lives – whether text messaging our friends and family, using Slack at work, or even commenting on social media, it’s become second nature for us to chat online and many attendees will dive right in. Kick things off by posing a question in the chat pod at the beginning of the event! Continue to use the chat pod to have targeted discussions and receive relevant feedback.
I’m not talking about the audience (yet). YOU, the presenter, should be asking questions. Kick off your virtual event with a poll and intersperse them throughout the event to keep your audience engaged, while also feeding you useful information as you continue on in your presentation. Make sure to display the results on the screen so that an attendee can see how everyone else responded to the poll.
Post-event, it’s important to try and collect feedback — on the presenter, presentation, topic, event overall, and anything else you might like to know! Make sure to have a clear call-to-action when the event is concluding and have a link to click or a survey pop up automatically to increase the likelihood of attendees responding.
Of course, if your virtual event carries any sort of continuing education credit or certificate of attendance with it, it’ll be much simpler to get attendees to participate in a post-event survey or quiz, but still plenty valuable!
Okay, this time I’m talking about letting the audience ask YOU, the presenter, questions. This might seem pretty simple and straightforward, and it should be! However, too often we see presenters waiting until the very end to open up Q&A. Why wait until the end to answer a question that might have been more relevant in the first 10 minutes of the event?
Instead, remind me people throughout the event that they can ask questions at any time, and make sure to pay attention to that Q&A pod!
While we briefly touched on the benefits of breaking off to brainstorm in groups in person, these can be plenty beneficial virtually. By breaking your audience into smaller groups you’ll be making it easier for them to participate and interact with one another. You can even encourage your audience to use webcams for a more personalized experience.
After breaking out, bring your audience back together to compare notes, conclusions, and any other discussion points from the break.
Perhaps not relevant for every webinar, in specific instances, utilizing a whiteboard during a presentation can be very valuable for attendees – whether you are writing down pieces of information you are presenting or collecting information from the audience. Use a virtual event platform that allows for some sort of whiteboard or notetaking and utilize the functionality just like you would during an in-person presentation.
“Be the first to answer this question correctly and win a prize.” “Look under your seat and see if you have the red envelope that wins the prize!” There are a variety of ways to give away swag and prizes during in-person sessions, but with gift cards and virtual gift-giving the norm these days, giving away prizes during a virtual event is easier than ever. Kick your event off by giving away a prize and then do so again during and at the conclusion of the event. This will surely keep people engaged!
Whether you try out all, some, or none of these things, you can’t forget that first and foremost you must have great content and a well put-together presentation. No boring slides – spend some time on good visuals to help maintain engagement and attention when you are presenting and not performing one of the engaging tasks listed above. Be concise on slides and elaborate while you present, never spending more than a couple of minutes per slide (unless engaging conversations start to ensue!).
Once your slides are ready to go, practice, practice, practice! Make sure you’re familiar with the virtual event software, are comfortable talking an audience you can’t see and who might not be able to verbally respond, and take your time!
Last but not least, having a professional company to help plan and host your virtual event can be a big help too. From setting up your room layout to familiarizing you with the software, providing professional moderation for introductions and Q&A, and customer technical support for your end users so you don’t have to worry about them while you’re concentrating on your presentation can go a long way to making sure your event is a success!
Jocelyn Fielding – Director, Marketing & Sales Operations
Jocelyn is responsible for all marketing activities at Blue Sky eLearn, as well overseeing sales from an operational standpoint. She has over 10 years of experience in sales and marketing, with 7 of those years being spent at Blue Sky, marketing and selling to associations, corporations, and pharmaceutical companies. When Jocelyn isn’t working, she enjoys being outside – whether hiking or heading to the beach. She’s also an avid traveler, has been to six of the seven continents, and is always planning her next trip (or two!).