Going virtual with your conference doesn’t mean you have to lose the powerful interaction that’s the staple of in-person events.
As associations take their conferences virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are well-founded concerns about the ability to reproduce valuable opportunities for networking and audience engagement. When distractions are just a click away, what’s the secret to keeping virtual event attendees interested and engaged? Fortunately, with the right preparation and a little creativity, you can create fulfilling online conferences that will keep your audience riveted.
Here are seven smart strategies for creating masterful virtual events.
- Prepare your speakers. Most speakers feed off their audience, so presenting without one can take some getting used to. Have an advance discussion with your presenters about what to expect during the virtual event and share pointers as to how they can deliver the best attendee experience. For example, having the proper lighting and sound, and a clean, distraction-free background, can aid viewers in focusing on the material and keeping them engaged. Coach your speakers on ways they can engage online participants, such as looking directly into the camera and responding to people by name when answering questions.
- Get connected to your audience. By making virtual attendees feel involved in advance of the event, it gives you an opportunity to get a head start on building engagement. Connect with them via social media by asking their opinion about potential topics, events, and speakers. Consider giving attendees a platform to ask questions, provide feedback, or complete interactive content. Stay connected to your virtual audience with clever reminder emails that build anticipation for the event.
- Give careful thought to session format and length. Vary the format of online sessions, mixing lectures with panel discussions, round tables and talk show-style setups. Keep meetings and sessions shorter than you normally would in order to keep attendees focused on the content. Limit online sessions to no more than 45 minutes per topic, and intersperse that time with activities such a question-and-answer periods and polls every ten to 15 minutes.
- Review housekeeping issues at the outset. Particularly in the virtual landscape, attendees need to have a feeling of comfort during events. If someone can’t log on, you’ll lose them. If they’re submitting questions and nobody is responding, they’ll feel excluded. At the beginning of the program, your facilitator should cover “housekeeping” issues such as how to ask questions, how to contact technical support, etc.
- Make use of interactive platform features. Chat, live polls, and live Q&As interspersed during the online event and at its conclusion encourage audience participation. They also reduce the impersonal atmosphere that can come with virtual events. If you’re hosting a virtual conference, consider making virtual trade show booths available to create a near-physical experience for attendees.
- Create opportunities for digital networking. In-person events are all about networking, but your virtual event can tap into that power too. For example, you might utilize your mobile event’s attendee list to connect attendees based on their common interests or shared event goals. Video happy hours can inspire attendees to meet, mingle, and make valuable connections.
- Don’t forget to follow up. Engaging your audience shouldn’t end when the conference is over—it’s essential that you continue to communicate with attendees afterward. Consider hosting a follow up session to address questions and discuss content that was covered in the event. You could also direct attendees to active conference forums to keep the discussion going or to additional opportunities for online learning. How about sharing a link, video or other piece of information to remind attendees of a product, idea, or service that was showcased during the conference? Whatever action you choose, it’s important to make the follow-up aspect of your virtual conference meaningful and relevant.
Think outside the box with your virtual events.
While they are vastly different from in-person events in many ways, audience engagement can and should remain a top priority. It just requires you to think more creatively about how to keep attendees focused and inspired.
Used properly, virtual events can keep your members invested in your organization during this challenging time. For more than 20 years, associations of all types and sizes have turned to IBC for robust digital member engagement solutions. To discuss strategies for your membership organization, please contact us today.
About Intuitive Business Concepts (IBC): Since 2001, IBC’s cutting-edge products, unparalleled responsiveness, and award-winning technology services have helped associations, non-profits and unions increase their operational and financial performance.
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